Can You Feel the Love?

The Deseret News ran an article entitled Women Talking to Bridge Religious Divide, reporting how some women in Salt Lake, tired of religious tension on a variety of issues, are taking a personal approach to just getting along with their co-religionists in other faiths. Is this all it takes, women talking? If only we’d known sooner!
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White Christmas?

No posts for five days . . . holidays and blogging don’t seem to mix. But after three days of trying to drum up conversation with aunts, uncles, BILs, SILs, and the like, surely some of you are ready to sneak off for some online sanity. Let’s compare notes: (1) Did you have a white Christmas? (2) Were LDS services at your holiday destination even duller than the usual three-hour tour of Mormon storytelling?
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Popular Views of Jesus

The religion journalism site Get Religion has a post entitled Dueling Messiahs, discussing “the temptation to remake Jesus in our own image by emphasizing only the portion of his message that confirms our pet ideas.” Popular views of Jesus portrayed in the post and another article referenced in the post include Jesus as “Free-Market Messiah,” as “Cool Older Brother Jesus, who loves absolutely everyone just as they are,” and as “Live Long and Prosper Jesus, who wants to shower people with health and wealth.” Can we do better?

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Thanksgiving

A holiday just for eating — is Thanksgiving great, or what?  But with a Canadian in the family, I struggle to explain a few of the basic features of this holiday, such as why it is in November rather than October, or why football games (always hosted by the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys) are an integral feature of the day.  So I did some online research.

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Fireside

On Saturday night, a car pulled up behind me just after I found a convenient parking spot on a narrow Pasadena street. A tall, confident-looking fellow emerged from the car, stuck out his hand, and said, “Hi, I’m Aaron Brown.” Not one to miss a line, I replied, “Do you mean the Aaron Brown?” Suitably flattered, he confessed, and I introduced myself as his co-blogging partner in crime. And thus we convened an impromptu meeting of the California wing of Bcc, Inc. We’re no vast left-wing conspiracy, but we get around.

The event was actually the monthly meeting of the Miller-Eccles group, whose mission (for those who choose to accept it) is “to encourage LDS gospel scholarship, enlightenment and understanding.” The invited speaker this month was Ron Walker, a BYU history prof who is one of three authors of what promises to be the definitive book on the unfortunate occurrence at Mountain Meadows (forthcoming from Oxford Univ. Press in 2005). Prof. Walker’s remarks made it clear there was simply an awful lot going on in Utah in 1857, and most of it is relevant to understanding how something like Mountain Meadows could have happened. Having visited the actual site earlier this year, I found the presentation to be especially interesting.

Incidentally, the host told us he was pleased to see some “younger” attendees (which he generously defined as “under 35″) at the meeting, which seemed like the kind of discussion the average Bcc’er would find interesting. There is a $10 per person suggested donation to defray travel expenses of the presenters, but the discussion seemed well worth the investment. Check the MESG website for details on future meetings and speakers.

Got A Light?

Not in Utah, where only one in eight in "heavily Mormon Utah" smoke, according to the AP.  This apparently makes Utah the state with the lowest smoking rate in the nation and the first state to meet the federal government’s target of 12.5%, which the article coyly attributes to the presence of "strong social prohibitions" there.  Interestingly, California, where the only strong social prohibition is against driving under the speed limit, comes in second place with a 17% adult smoking rate.  Kentucky comes in dead last with a 31% smoking rate.

Potluck 7: The Blogging of the President, 2004

The Bloggernacle did its part–just about every weblog posted at least once on the election. I link to some of the more interesting pre- and post-election posts below. Television made its first big impact on presidential politics in 1960 with the Nixon-Kennedy debate. Blogging made its first big impact in 2004 by shooting down Dan Rather’s memo story. What role will blogging (or the next Web innovation) play in 2008? Ask me in four years!

POST-ELECTION: Clark, rarely a political blogger, posts a nifty color map showing vote by county, shaded from blue to red by percentage vote–Utah is as red as it gets. John Fowles notes negative European press on Bush’s re-election, which he summarizes as “predictably negative, even arrogantly condescending.” Chris at LYMA promotes “Jon Stewart in 2008″ and thinks the incumbent’s supporters need to come up with a better chant than “Four More Years.” And Mormanity likens this election’s left-wing diatribes to anti-Mormon rhetoric, which he illustrates with a lengthy excerpt that starts, “Ignorance and bloodlust have a long tradition in the United States, especially in the red states . . . .”

PRE-ELECTION: Greg at T&S points out that from 1932 to 1948, Utah voted solidly Democratic. And God didn’t send down fire and brimstone! Although a rabid Republican might argue He did nuke St. George. Justin does a flashback to the election of 1912–Utah went for William Taft, but Woodrow Wilson Kerry won and kept the United States out of The Great War for the first three years. Larry the guest blogger at Our Thoughts talks about the lack of an opposition party in the province of Alberta, arguing that “[i]f we are to survive as a vibrant society in this province we need to allow for dissent and counter ideas.” Look at Clark’s map–not much dissent in the heartland of America either. Finally, Gordon’s post on LDS Senator Harry Reid, possibly destined to be the Senate Minority Leader, features 74 comments giving many interesting details on this suddenly visible LDS politician.

NEXT WEEK: The theme for Potluck 8 will be LDS Sunday School, highlighting the Bloggernackers who have done regular lesson posts or commentary and running a few Google ranking contests. Anyone who does a “Three Things I Love/Hate About Sunday School” post is also at risk to be covered next week.

Bloggernacle Potluck VI

Am I the only one who finds the Bloggernacle more interesting than television? In case you’ve spent too much time watching Scrubs, Lost, The O.C., and the other fare so elegantly showcased yesterday by Steve, here are a few Bloggernacle highlights since the last Potluck.

Justin gives short teasers on two new books by Terryl Givens that are in the works for next year. Yes, they are both on Mormonism. The one subtitled The Cultural History of the Mormon People looks quite promising. I wonder if blogging will make it into the last chapter? Givens, Jr. blogs (he was a regular commenter at T&S at one point) so there is a chance the Bloggernacle will at least get a footnote.

Rusty talks about the tough sell that early-morning seminary is for some Mormon teenagers. Y’all can chime in with your opinion, but I’ve never seen any official recognition of the fact that wake-up times for EMS students have morphed from early morning (7ish) to very early morning (6ish) to very, very early morning (5ish) as high schools have beefed up their curricula and schedules. Declining interest by some teenagers is a sign of their sanity. Failure to adjust by CES is a sign of rigid thinking, the kind of “make the people fit the program” approach that makes the Mormon Church such a wonderful place. Try holding Sacrament Meeting at 6:00 a.m. and see who shows up! My sympathy, of course, to instructors like Rusty who are caught in the middle.

John C. at new blog United Brethren is trolling for advice on what to say to a straying LDS student who is trying to deal with his initial foray into Mormon Studies via Jon Krakauer. I would tell him to tell the kid to start blogging, but the question probably deserves more serious treatment. Go drop in and share your unique BCC insights.

The best I could come up with over at the other blog was Matt’s post on the how regularly he sees Mormons with left-leaning political convictions leave the Church while one rarely sees right-leaning Mormons take the long walk. Try to suppress your knee-jerk liberal reaction and read the post, which recognizes that this is a delicate subject and treats it as a question that deserves serious discussion. We form singles wards and Polynesian branches . . . how about a Democratic branch or two? I’d even settle for a few politically neutral congregations.

Bloggernacle Potluck V

I’m continuing a feature started on my other blog, highlighting interesting posts around the Bloggernacle since the last Potluck, ones that deserve another go-round and additional comment from the BCC community. This should be especially useful for group bloggers who frequent BCC and T&S but don’t get out much (to other Bloggernacle sites). For previous installments, go here.

Justin at Mormon Wasp talked about Wallace Stegner and gave a link to an interview he did with Sunstone in 1980. Stegner wrote about Salt Lake City as a unique Western city rather than as a Mormon city, and was the first person to make me actually like the place a little bit. He deserves more attention.

Bret at Nine Moons posted The Manipulation Pattern: A Mormon’s Favorite Tool (ouch!). He wonders out loud about the difference between the manipulation pattern and the commitment pattern, and how we can “avoid falling into the trap of using manipulation.” He has a nice discussion, but I really hope the practice is not as easy to fall into as Bret makes it sound. Perhaps we should be teaching missionaries the Golden Rule instead of the commitment pattern?

Ryan at Intellecxhibitionist contrasts living ordinances with apostate sacraments, also giving a link to a nice talk on The Great Apostasy (“TGA”) delivered recently by Noel Reynolds at BYU Idaho (the new training ground for LDS apostles) from which he borrowed the idea. You don’t hear much about TGA these days, which is a good thing because most of what we used to hear about it was wrong. That seems to be what Reynolds is getting at, although he doesn’t come right out and say it. He lists three myths about TGA, which amount to three ways Mormons have misunderstood it in the past.

Finally, if you have a soft spot in your heart for caffeine but feel a little guilty about it, go read this and you’ll feel better. Thanks to Nate the good humor man for a new vision of hot drinks.

On Senior Missions

The LDS Church is nearly 1,000 couple missionaries short despite the church’s efforts to recruit more volunteers.” So states a BYU NewsNet article, summarizing a recent report they say was posted at LDS.org, although I couldn’t find it there. The article says there are “2,110 senior couples” presently serving, with a need for “3,093 couples” at the present time. Well, if they are short nearly 1,000 couples, they are actually short nearly 2,000 couple missionaries, but let’s ignore BYU NewsNet’s mistake and focus on the problem here: What’s the problem with the senior couples? Is retirement getting a little too cozy these days?

Frankly, I would have thought there was a surplus of senior missionaries out there. It seems like everyone I know has parents or grandparents serving or just returning from a mission of one sort or another. Perhaps some of those seemingly faithful senior couples who claim to be serving a mission on Temple Square three nights a week are actually just sneaking over to Wendover for a little action. Or maybe some Mormons are simply embarrassed to admit their parents or grandparents are kicking back and enjoying retirement like gentile hedonists instead of signing up for the best 18 months of their life, so they pretend their parents are faithfully serving a mission somewhere.

I’ve seen the blue sheet they post on the bulletin board at church and many of the missionary positions offered to seniors (they get to choose their call!!) actually sound fairly interesting. So seriously, what’s the problem? Here are a few tentative ideas: (1) Seniors are just worn out from years of church and temple service. (2) After 50 or 60 years, seniors have learned to resist peer pressure and manipulation by guilt and just say “no” (or “we’ll think about it”) when their Bishop floats the idea. (3) Civil and political unrest around the world makes prudent seniors hesitant to travel abroad. Would you want to live in Khazakstan or Rwanda for the next two years? (4) Big screen TVs, along with 100-channel cable. (5) Too many temples (yes, we overbuilt) are depleting the pool of available seniors by diverting them to never-ending rounds of temple service.

If you have a better explanation, please share it. Or, if you want to have a little fun with Grandpa, call him up, direct him and his browser to Bcc, and have him leave his own comment about his experience or lack thereof as a senior missionary. And just in case anyone should actually do this, I’ll quickly extend a warm Bloggernacle welcome to any pioneering Senior Bloggers who come here to visit. Just click on the underlined orange “Comment” link below and start typing.

Honor Code Skits?

Late August is when freshmen at semester schools move to campus and start learning what campus life is all about. At BYU, a fair percentage of campus life seems to be centered around the Honor Code these days, as reflected in this Deseret News story about Honor Code skits performed during Orientation Week. My recollection of how the system worked a few years ago was that if you didn’t drink beer or coffee, sleep with your girl friend, steal from the Bookstore, or get caught cheating, you were more or less safe. Seems like rules have proliferated.

This strikes me as odd, since the increasing size of the applicant pool and more stringent admission screening (seminary attendance, a searching Bishop’s interview, etc.) arguably delivers an increasingly well-behaved and religiously dedicated group of LDS students to BYU each Fall. So what exactly is behind the increasing emphasis on the Honor Code? Is it the looming presence of a GA as BYU President? Is it that more religiously dedicated students means an increased demand for detailed rules? I’m curious to know what motivates the ever-increasing emphasis on the Honor Code and how it is perceived by the average BYU student (off the record, as opposed to as quoted in the Daily Universe).

What Does Testimony Meeting Really Mean?

This Sunday, my ward offered the usual cast of stock characters for an LDS testimony meeting: the returning wayward member who confessed to a variety of heinous but unspecified sins; a couple of grandmotherly types who discussed their ailments or those of other family members; a couple of auxiliary leaders sharing the good things happening with this or that person or group; a dynamic Polynesian sharing an aggressive but touching testimony; and of course a dutiful high priest or two expounding on the temple as a metaphor for life. Why do we do this once a month?

Wearing my critical hat, I might offer that it is a simple meeting to plan–no planning at all, in fact. Insecure leaders obsessed with apostasy are no doubt thrilled with a monthly meeting where we all get together to remind ourselves how true the Church is and how wonderful and inspired our leaders are. And the willingness of leaders to support a meeting with no agenda and no programmed message is symptomatic of the stunningly low quality of Mormon sacrament meetings overall. Meetings can be dull or boring but leaders simply can’t grasp the idea that a meeting can be “too dull” or “too boring.” That would imply a need to change something.

Wearing my faithful hat (I still have one), I would offer that it’s at least a departure from the normal routine of dreary talks. These days, real people and their joys or problems seem rather more interesting that the ad hoc doctrines that infest Church manuals and high council talks. And from time to time there are moments of high drama that just don’t happen anywhere else. It’s not quite Jerry Springer, but then it’s not phony either.

While it may be an easy meeting with no agenda, it’s also true that allowing any member of the congregation to come share their thoughts from the pulpit is an unusual vote of confidence in the general membership. I suspect there are Evangelical churches where members of the congregation are invited to come share their conviction that Jesus is love and the Bible is true, but in many denominations the average member would have to climb past a pack of deacons, noviates, and lay ministers, then wrestle the microphone from the iron grip of an aging minister to address their message to the congregation from the pulpit. Could the Mormon tradition of an open mic on fast Sunday actually be a vote of confidence in the average Mormon sitting in the pews?

The Perils of Religious Voting

I stumbled across an interesting set of directives to Catholic voters entitled A Brief Catechism for Catholic Voters. It’s written by a Catholic clergyman with a PhD and it’s posted on a website that looks pretty darned Catholic, so I’ll take it as a fair expression of conservative Catholic thinking on this tricky issue of church and state. Mormons, too, like to mix religion with their politics, but sometimes we see our own difficulties more clearly by viewing someone else’s. [Read more...]

Don’t Believe Everything You Hear

What an odd piece of advice to hear over the pulpit, but hear it we did earlier this month, as explained (for late arrivers or early snoozers who missed the announcement) in this Salt Lake Trib article. And the Trib article gives “the rest of the story”: the blunt advice appears to be a response to notes (apparently accurate) made of an apostle’s Stake Conference remarks, subsequently circulated via email to various members, including (according to the article) CES employees. [Read more...]

Bowling for Fahrenheit

Surfing for something to kick around the blog, I noticed Christianity Today’s review of Michael Moore’s latest film/documentary/satire/comedy (real name: Fahrenheit 9/11, whatever that is supposed to mean). CT calls it “heavily sarcastic, rather entertaining, and somewhat incoherent.” [Read more...]

From the Mouth of Babes Shall Ye Be Taught

Sounds vaguely scriptural (see maybe Matt. 21:16 or 3 Nephi 26:16), but I’m actually thinking of my Elder’s Quorum meeting on Sunday, where an 18-year-old, newly-minted, recently graduated (I think he graduated) elder taught the lesson. [Read more...]

A Curriculum Experiment

I here report the results of an experiment performed Sunday in a soft, comfy chair in the pleasantly air-conditioned foyer of a chapel in the great state of Southern California. The materials used were a copy of the current Heber J. Grant lesson manual and a ball point pen (blue ink, fine point Papermate Flexi-grip model). [Read more...]

Historians Debate Krakauer

The Deseret News has a short piece reporting remarks at the just-concluded Mormon History Association conference by two LDS historians commenting on Jon Krakauer’s recent book, Under the Banner of Heaven.
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Theological Triage

In a weblog editorial over at Crosswalk.com, Albert Mohler argues the need for Christians to practice theological triage by identifying essential Christian doctrines that need defending from the ongoing onslaught of secularism and from internal Christian doctrinal bickering. [Read more...]

The Good Old Days, Live on PBS

Think of it as reality TV for the discriminating viewer: Colonial House, an 8-episode televised adventure of a small colony of people living as if it were 1628. From the intro page, here’s the setup: “Indentured servitude. No baths or showers. Public punishments. Welcome to daily life in the year 1628!” [Read more...]

More on Marriage

I think John’s prior post on “the spouse problem” deserves another go-round, since it raised more interesting issues than one thread could address. The unusually personal responses in the comments suggest that mixing faith and marriage, which looks easy on paper, is often something of a challenge in Mormon marriage. I’ll note as well that mixing faith and singleness in The Family Church has its own challenges, but that topic deserves a separate post. [Read more...]

Reformed Mormonism

Not a term you hear too often. The idea of “reform” of the Church is utterly alien to the orthodox LDS perspective, as if a “restored” church couldn’t possibly ever be in need of reform. I just finished The Catholic Church: A Short History (Modern Library, 2001), by Hans Kung, the noted Catholic theologian. [Read more...]

Efficient Blogging

Our Fearless Leader recently encouraged The Twelve Bloggers of Bcc to step up and blog a bit more. So I’ll pitch in by sharing my patented “3 Paragraph System” for pasting together a friendly blog post in ten minutes or less. [Read more...]

A Visit to Mountain Meadows

Last month, I took the family on a mountain biking trip to Southern Utah, and took in a few Church History sites along the way (chatty first installments in this series here and here). To round out the Church History tour, on Friday afternoon DW and I pointed the SUV northwest and drove the thirty miles to the Mountain Meadows site. [Read more...]

Secular Arguments on Polygamy

Two recent weblog articles discuss polygamy from a purely secular scientific and legal perspective. First, Polygamy, the Naturalistic Fallacy, and Gay Marriage at jonrowe argues that even a cursory review of human cultures shows that polygamy is quite natural, but to argue that it is thereby established as good is an example of the naturalistic fallacy. He sees monogamy as socially preferable for reasons detailed in the post. He is interested, I think, in distinguishing secular arguments supporting polygamy from other secular arguments supporting gay marriage.

In response, Sex and Nature at Freespace argues that one shouldn’t dismiss an argument from nature as a “naturalistic fallacy” without properly understanding what the term “nature” refers to in ethical discussions about human behavior. Given the roughly equal proportion of males and females in human populations, he sees “patriarchal polygamy” as an unlikely outcome if women are given a fair say in choosing forms of marriage, and everyone having a fair choice rather than being subject to coercion by the state or social institutions is his concept of “human nature.” Briefly, he thinks most women would choose one husband over, say, 1/10th of a husband, so if women are unconstrained polygamy will not persist.

Since neither of those two weblogs offers comments, this seems like a nice forum for discussing the ideas they raised in these posts. And polygamy does come up here from time to time, doesn’t it?

A Christian View of Gender Formation

A recent Albert Mohler editorial gives a straightforward summary of the conservative Christian view of gender formation. He aims to “tell the truth about what God has revealed concerning human sexuality, gender, and marriage,” which any LDS commentator would follow with a quote from the Proclamation. Instead, Mohler derives his equally conservative view from God’s intention as expressed in Creation. He cites Genesis 1:27 (“male and female created he them”) showing that God’s “intention was clearly to create and establish two distinct but complementary genders or sexes.” Heterosexuality is part of the created scheme, he continues, so homosexuality is a transgression against God’s will (expressed in Creation).

By contrast, the LDS view is that “[g]ender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” So our earthly gender is “natural” in the sense that it existed before our spirits were incarnated sometime between conception and birth. God’s will is expressed in the matter only insofar as He matches spirits to bodies. The “matching spirits to bodies” process is problematic whether God makes the assignment or not, as was noted here recently. The Christian view avoids the problem by avoiding Preexistence; spirits are created somewhere between conception and birth.

Of course, the Christian view raises a different problem: if God does the creating, He seems to bear some responsibility for the plight of those who are physically or mentally disabled (also discussed here recently). And a liberal Christian might argue that if He created genders, He also created the psychological makeup that sometimes develops into homosexual attraction so it isn’t necessarily against God’s will. So the Christian view, rooted in creation, encounters difficult questions as quickly as the LDS view rooted in the gendered preexistence of spirits. But isn’t it interesting to see conservative Christians, starting from an entirely different theological view of spirits and Creation, nevertheless end up with the same doctrinal view of homosexuality?

One Thing I Like

Hi gang. I’m delighted to accept Steve’s invitation to come blog with Bcc’s talented crew. I think I’m the only West Coast blogger on board, so for those of you sitting in the Eastern time zone I’ll be the late night PJ (post jockey), spinning out Top 40 posts after midnight. When I first started blogging (here’s my first post way back in August 2003) it was fun just to publish something Mormonish to the web and the world, but with the emergence of the Mo-Blog I have really enjoyed trading comments and ideas with fellow bloggers. And if I ever said anything too blunt or even a little ugly to any of you in times past, I swear it was my evil twin.

To get started on a pleasant note, I’d like to take up Richard Bushman’s recent challenge “to name one concrete, personal thing [I] like about the church.” I have noticed that Church members extend full fellowship and friendship to those individuals who are physically or developmentally disabled. In classes, in choirs, in sacrament meetings, if these folks don’t quite fit right in, adjustments are made rather seamlessly and no one bats an eye. It’s not even a case of “making special arrangements,” which can take on a condescending tone sometimes, it’s more like just recognizing them as equal members of the group.

By contrast, I was sitting in a Berkeley bookstore one evening a few years ago as one of the 20th century’s finer philosophers was starting to share some selections from his latest book with a few dozen assembled fans before a book signing. A young man with Down Syndrome was browsing at an adjoining bookshelf and began calling loudly across the bookstore to an attendant, asking a question three or four times, oblivious to the fact that he was distracting the group. The philosopher, not quite sure how to handle the interruption, directed a couple of comments at the young man. Not mean, but not kind either, kind of “hey, can’t you see we’re busy here?” I recall feeling troubled, more than just uncomfortable. Not to judge, but I think this was a “kindness and decency” test that the speaker failed on that day (perhaps he did better on other days). Funny, I can’t think of ever hearing similar remarks in an LDS setting, even for one who was rather distracting or who missed all the notes or even who missed easy grounders or layups. On this score, at least, Mormon culture hits all the right notes.

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