I’ve been a member of the BCC community for only about a year, but unfortunately for me, unlike the majority of my fellow bloggers here, most of that time has not included the heretofore ubiquitous, all-encompassing presence of Steve Evans.
The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life, Introduction, pp. 1-7.
However much we study and investigate and explore and sing and paint and write the world, the world always transcends us, escapes us, overwhelms us. No one person, group, or institution can tell the whole story or encapsulate the entire human landscape. This is, in part, because of the infinitely complex creatures we are as human beings; where we seek clarity about the world and feel comfort in the ordinariness we experience, borne out of long familiarity with the microcosmic slivers of it that we call home, this eventually gives way to awe in the face of its vast mystery and wonder. But this, in turn, is short-lived and we are hungry again for clarity and the intimacy of the familiar. Never fully content with what we have received, our souls are in a constant state of longing. [Read more...]
It would seem that in most religious communities governed by Christian social and religious norms there is a tension between what might be called “natural law” or “eternal principles” and the Judeo-Christian injunction to love God and neighbor. In other words, there is a general understanding that there are certain laws or principles that universally govern these communities (chastity, health codes, rules of conduct, etc). [Read more...]
On February 16, 2012 Terryl Givens, University of Richmond professor of literature and well-known expositor of Mormon thought, published a short piece in Sightings, the blog of the Martin Marty Center For the Advanced Study of Religion, entitled, “Romney, Mormonism, and the American Compromise.” Ostensibly a response to the the furor surrounding the practice of baptism for the dead at the beginning of the year, the piece was perhaps more importantly the first portent of Givens’ new project (with his wife Fiona Givens) of overt engagement in constructive (Mormon) theology. This passage from that article in particular is significant in this regard: [Read more...]
This Friday, October 19th, from 11:30 to 1:30, Fiona and Terryl Givens will be at Deseret Book’s flagship store in downtown Salt Lake City to discuss their recently released book The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life.
See this link for more details.
The following is a paper I wrote for the 9th Annual Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology conference, held over the weekend in Logan, Utah. I was ultimately unable to attend and our own Blair Hodges graciously agreed to lend his sonorous voice to present it for me.
The paper was part of a panel dedicated to Adam Miller’s recent Rube Goldberg Machines: Essays in Mormon Theology. Rosalynde Welch, George Handley and Joseph Spencer also presented papers addressing various aspects of Adam’s groundbreaking book (unfortunately, since I wasn’t in attendance I can’t comment on these, though I understand they were superb; hopefully they make their papers available as well). [Read more...]
I recently purchased Charlotte’s Web for one of my daughters. Her school teacher has been recounting various episodes from the book and she wants to read the book for herself now (God bless enthusiastic and inspiring teachers). I read it myself when I was a child, though like many of us of a slightly younger generation (I suspect) I have more vivid memories of the 1973 film version.
The particular book I purchased is the 60th anniversary edition, and it contains a foreword written by Kate DiCamillo . It’s a brief, beautiful, and poignant meditation not only on the text itself, but also on the complex unbearableness and joy of the world we live in. I wanted to share this excerpt in particular: [Read more...]
In a shamelessly obvious attempt to become a perma blogger at BCC, juvenile instructor Ben Park has written the following guest post. Have a heart and give him a read.
There has been a lot of discussion about the label “Unorthodox Mormon” recently—what it means, how long this idea has been around, and what their role (if any) a “Cultural Mormon” would/should have within the LDS tradition. Most discussions seem to assume a few points concerning the concept: it entails a member of the Mormon Church who does not believe in all “mainstream” beliefs or follows every dictate from the Brethren, it is a recent phenomenon attached to Mormonism’s transition into modernity, and that individuals who fall within its parameters are forced to the margins of Mormon culture. This is an especially salient topic in online discussion, as discussion groups, podcast communities, and even several books in recent years have coalesced around supposedly “unorthodox” Mormonism. [Read more...]
As a child grows up, she leaves the world of the familiar and unfamiliar and enters the world of the possible and the impossible.
I remember watching a children’s program on television when I was a child. I vividly recall a scene with a door inside a doorframe, standing alone as if supported on each side by an invisible wall, in the middle of a mountain pass. A man opened the door and you could see inside to a large carpeted room populated with furniture, a fireplace, and several other items (think something like the Wardrobe in the Chronicles of Narnia). The man pulled back from the doorframe to look on the other side of the door–nothing, just the door. He shook his head in amazement and entered the room. [Read more...]
In 1957 Hugh Nibley’s An Approach to the Book of Mormon appeared on the scene, the Melchizedek Priesthood manual for that year (cue the sighs of bittersweet longing for the manuals of yesteryear). In retrospect the book was an earthquake, shattering the intellectual and religious landscapes on which the Book of Mormon had been erected and creating new vistas and pinnacles from which to see and receive the book anew. It inarguably helped to shape the entire Mormon academic enterprise, a catalyst in spawning an industry of textual Mormon comparative/historical scholarship. The book signaled the beginning of a new era of academic inquiry and interest in Mormon scripture–one that is still largely with us–and scholarly investigations of Mormon texts will always be indebted to it. [Read more...]
In early 2007 I was in my second semester of a Master’s program in Religion at Claremont School of Theology (now part of a multi-religious consortium, Claremont Lincoln University). By now I had become acquainted with several other LDS graduate students who had made the unusual decision to professionally study and teach religion. We had varying interests: New Testament, Hebrew Bible, Ethics, American religious history, Philosophy of Religion, Theology. Some of us attended the School of Theology and others attended the School of Religion at Claremont Graduate University down the street (where I would eventually pursue a doctorate degree myself). Naturally, however, our shared faith brought us together as friends and colleagues, and we began meeting socially every week in what would come to be known among us as the “Sacred Grove”, in the shadow of the Kresge Chapel on campus. Some of the best and most honest discussions about faith, religion, doubt, family, scholarship, politics, and ethics I have ever had or, frankly, ever hope to have again, were held in Claremont’s Sacred Grove (sacred, indeed). [Read more...]
Part II here.
What can Mormons take away from Kierkegaard and Marion? I have been suggesting that Marion (a Catholic theologian) and Kierkegaard (a Protestant philosopher) are two distinct though not totally opposed poles within which to imaginatively consider the situation in which Mormon thought and apologetics operates. These are not one-to-one correspondences of course, and I hope the differences between Mormonism and Marion and Kierkegaard are obvious. In fact, Mormonism itself could charitably criticize both thinkers on various points. I want to suggest however, that there are some interesting readings of Mormonism that Marion and Kierkegaard might productively contribute to. [Read more...]
A handful of years ago her 17 month old baby boy died. She had several other children, the oldest of whom was only nine. Her Relief Society sisters did not deliberate long. Three of them simply showed up with faces full of concern and began to clean. Sitting on the stairs, she watched them, not really comprehending why they were there. She hadn’t processed it yet, what she had just been through, what had just occurred. All of a sudden it hit her like a wave, all of it at once, and she fled upstairs to her room, collapsing on her bed in uncontrollable sobs of despair. It wasn’t long before all the cleaning tools were found abandoned. The women had made their way upstairs and all lay down on the bed beside her, silently weeping with her and holding her close.
A woman in my ward related this story today. Her story of personal salvation. The body of Christ, in all its beauty, majesty, and glory.
First Part here.
In many ways Kierkegaard and Jean-Luc Marion couldn’t be more different. Kierkegaard, the protestant’s Protestant (19th century no less) and Marion, the Catholic theologian par excellence, and who rarely makes any sort of reference to Kierkegaard whatever in his voluminous writings. However, on some topics their thought converges from different locations (one of these is the concept of love, a main theme in both Kiekegaard and Marion). Apologetics is another. Mormonism, while we cannot accurately characterize it as either strictly Protestant or Catholic, is in some ways an amalgamation of both, with its established magisterium (the priesthood hierarchy) and its Resortationist/Protesant roots and structures. (It is also, of course, much more than than a reduction of American Christianity alone). And while Kierkegaard leans closer to the descriptive in his writings and Marion to the prescriptive, there is, I’m arguing here, significant value in understanding how they as well as others have conceived the relationship of philosophy, theology, and apologetics within a Church. I began with Kierkegaard, here I’ll outline Marion’s approach, and in the third and final installment I’ll make some tentative suggestions as to how they apply to specifically Mormon paradigms. [Read more...]
Few, if any, of the voices assessing the stakes of the “shake-up” at the Maxwell Institute (MI) issue from individuals with a vested interest in promoting serious academic study of Mormon scripture. I find this a bit baffling. The only reason to care about what’s happened at the Mormon Studies Review—except for those seriously committed to a certain style of apologetics—is because the MI, as the heir of FARMS, is ostensibly the only place in the academic study of Mormonism that at least claims to give priority to scripture. The “new direction” of the MI, if there is such a thing (and I’m skeptical), is neither to move in a secular direction (apologetics is already, by its very nature, emphatically secular) nor to cast its lot with Mormon history (the sort of apologetics that are being curtailed are, remember, those focused more on history and culture than on scripture). What’s the future of the MI? Scripture, at last. [Read more...]
Over the last few days there has been a shakeup in the Mormon scholarly community. See here here here and several here for the details, of which I am uninterested in discussing in this post. (Maybe in some future post). I have since heard these current events likened to Trekkies arguing over Klingon verb conjugation–the reaction by some has been so intense because the stakes are so low. It actually wouldn’t surprise me in the least to learn that less than 1% of all Mormons even know of the existence of the Maxwell Institute, FARMS, and FAIR, and that even less than that have any genuine interest in any of them. However, I think it’s inaccurate to say that the stakes are abysmally low or astronomically high, largely because I think we often (all of us) misunderstand the potential purpose and place of religious apologetics. [Read more...]
At InsideHigherEd.com Thomas C. Terry, an associate professor of Mass Communication at Idaho State University has written a column decrying the treatment of Mormons in the academy, or more specifically academics’ negative views about the Mormon faith. This is, of course, an interesting and valuable subject for discussion and Terry’s overall treatment of the subject matter here is positive and in defense of Mormons. But I was particularly interested in his display of his own knowledge of Mormonism and Mormons. A few highlights that amused me:
“Yes, Mormons do not embrace the cross as a symbol of Christianity, but it is because they consider it representing state-sanctioned execution and intense suffering.”
“Mormons are excoriated in popular culture (see: “The Simpsons”) for the way their church was created by someone who was kind of a con man. And the translation of the Book of Mormon was accomplished with a hat. And the Golden Tablets have been lost.”
“Mormon women are more likely to be employed in professional occupations than Catholic or Protestant women (similar to Jewish women) and more likely to graduate from college than Catholic or Protestant women (but less than Jewish women). One survey indicated Mormon women experience more orgasms and are more satisfied with their married lives than non-Mormons.”
“Glenn Beck is a Mormon, but so is Harry Reid. Other famous Mormons are or were: Harmon Killebrew, Jack Dempsey, J. W. Marriott, Gladys Knight, the Osmonds, Butch Cassidy, and Eldridge Cleaver. What does that tell you about Mormonism? Absolutely nothing.”
“At about 13 million members, Mormons are a pretty large cult. So what is so bad about this “cult?” And a cult growing at almost exactly the same rate, decade by decade, as the original Christian church in the 1st and 2nd centuries. It makes no sense, but then bigotry doesn’t. Who wouldn’t want to be on those lists? Seems like good things to be, even if you can’t drink coffee and beer, wear more than one earring per ear, grow a beard (frowned upon only if you want to move up the church hierarchy), and show lots of cleavage. You can have as much hot chocolate and ice cream as you want, though, and I have embraced this provision enthusiastically.”
Part 5 of 5.
Deaths and (Re)births Part 5: The Ascent
In the end, time–which had colluded with the physical world in our slow march toward death–also eventually served as an invaluable ally, and we slowly and gradually climbed out of the deep hole into which we had been buried. No dramatic rescue, no earth-shattering event on an epic scale. A series of small, grace-filled events helped keep us afloat. We were blessed to eventually move into a much larger and newer apartment. My Logic professor unexpectedly, at the last moment, decided to change the format of the class final to a written essay (which I easily produced) instead of a series of symbolic logic proofs (which I would have failed). The twins eventually graduated from their heart monitors and oxygen lines and we began to take them out after many months, first on walks, then to restaurants and malls. Gradually, we began to sleep again. Though it seemed an eternity at the time, the agonizingly slow but steady return to semi-functionality (of which I’ve been able to relate only the hundredth part) had lasted about 2 years. [Read more...]
Part 4 of 5.
Deaths and (Re)births Part 4: The Reckoning
At some point, stumbling around in the darkness, I had stopped even attempting to do homework. Some of my classes didn’t make attendance part of the final grade; I stopped attending these classes altogether. I initially told some of my professors about our plight but received no quarter. My Logic professor responded curtly, “Huh. My son and his wife had triplets.” Despite the round the clock assistance his son’s family was receiving from his extended family and his ward, having triplets was apparently much harder under any circumstances, so I had nothing to complain about.
Part 3 of 5.
Deaths and (Re)births Part 3: The Landing
I was not going to graduate.
I was nearing the end of my final semester at BYU, approximately 14 or 15 months after the twins’ birth. Predicate logic. It was predicate logic that was finally going to close the lid on my academic coffin. To this point I had been able to skate by in my other classes; a “B” in a relatively easy Marriage and Family course, a “C” in a more difficult philosophy class; even a “D+” in Personal Finance, which I almost never attended—I probably should have failed that course outright. But Predicate Logic was a required course for my chosen Major, Philosophy, and you couldn’t get anything lower than a “C” for a Major class. Once you dropped below a “C” you would have to retake the class. I was well below a “C,” and scheduled to graduate the following month. If I didn’t produce that “C” I would not graduate. [Read more...]
Part 2 of 5. First part here.
Deaths and (Re)births Part 2: The Fall
“Well, I have good news for the two of you. First, it’s a boy. Second—he has a sister.”
All it took was one perfectly timed and perfectly worded sentence from our ultrasound technician to cause my appetite to disappear completely for 48 hours. Twins. It was unimaginable. During that period I experienced varying waves of total euphoria and mind-numbing fear. Admittedly, it was mostly euphoria. The bragging rights were, after all, unparalleled. Not only naturally conceived twins on our first excursion into replenishing the earth, but opposite sex twins as well. Apollo and Artemis, just like that.
Surely, we were gods. [Read more...]
About a year ago I read Kathryn Lynard Soper’s The Year My Son and I Were Born: A Story of Down Syndrome, Motherhood, and Self-Discovery. The book is one of those precious cerebral volumes whose penetrating insights do so much more than simply relate and describe their subject matter accurately. Instead, they engage in a new retelling of the central human drama of birth, death, and rebirth. (A BCC review of the book by Steve P. is here).* Indeed, human life can be perceived phenomenologically as a series of births, deaths, and rebirths, in which the thick, palpable materiality of some of our experiences destroy us, but then resurrect us to live again as beings who have undergone a metamorphosis. Inspired by Kathryn’s memoir to tell my own story of death and rebirth–how I found myself inserted into the Great Human Story–I’ve (crudely and clumsily) written an essay about one transformative and worldview-altering experience in my life, divided into 5 heart-on-my-sleeve parts. The first part is below. I’ll likely publish the parts each day over the course of the next week or so. [Read more...]
In recent years there has been a significant amount of academic literature that argues, in essence, that political orientation is largely determined by social, cultural, and psychological factors, rather than the initial or continued imposition of the will upon political belief.  In other words, we are largely predisposed one way or another toward political belief and that any talk of free creative production with regard to political orientation, or positive or negative political assent only makes sense within that context. In still other words, I cannot simply choose to authentically train myself to think conservatively if I am more prone to liberal political thinking and vice versa. [Read more...]
We were late once again to Sacrament Meeting this past Sunday. The usual hangups of getting 4 children 8 and younger (including 1 grumpy, teething 15 month old) fed and ready for church. Like every other Sunday we were cursing ourselves for not beginning the process earlier, but also like every other Sunday the process included unanticipated surprises like having to change a messy diaper at the last moment, forgetting until we were nearly out the door a key component of the “care package” we take every Sunday to distract our children at least long enough to take the sacrament. It’s always something. Every Sunday. And like every other Sunday for the past several months I was struggling to scrape together enough desire to go in the first place. Our youngest was enough of a handful at this point that any sort of meaningful experience on any level was going to be unlikely. I had probably squeezed every drop of meaningfulness out of being a Hall Wanderer I could, but since neither of us had callings, we could devote all of our time to developing a method of reading scripture while chasing a baby around the building. “Scripture Chase,” I would call it. It has a certain ring to it….. [Read more...]
Schedule of Events
Wednesday, March 28th in SC 213a
12:00-1:00 p.m. ~ Author Readings (sponsored by the UVU English Department)
Title: An Experiment on the Word: Reading Alma 32
Editor: Adam S. Miller
Publisher: Salt Press
One particular question within the realm of Mormon studies that has stubbornly persisted for the last several years is the question of how theology is “done” in Mormonism. In other words, how does Mormon theological discourse proceed? How should it proceed? How do Mormons talk about their theology, and is this same as how Mormons should go about their theology? In lived Mormonism, because of the emphasis on how Mormonism is or should be practiced or experienced (instead of how it is or should be thought), and, therefore, in the absence of an officially recognized system of doctrines, this is a question that remains presently relevant in unique ways, in comparison to other Christian(ish) theologies. [Read more...]
“Oh look, they’re selling Girl Scout cookies. Turn around up here.”
En route to home after a full day of running errands, my wife had spotted an awning on the street corner to our left, surrounded by several girls in uniform and a woman seated at a table in the middle. I immediately turned around to enter the parking lot adjacent to their location. As we entered the lot we noticed a man on the side of the street with a sign, “Homeless. Any help appreciated.” His appearance–ragged clothes that looked lived-in for weeks, long scraggly beard–was typical of the many homeless we often see in Provo/Orem, usually on busy street corners or near bustling commercial centers. We pulled past him into an empty parking space and my wife exited the van to purchase some boxes of cookies. I couldn’t help, of course, gazing over at the man with the sign. We all do that, I think, when confronted with members of our societies that seem out of place, homeless and otherwise. They seem to exist, to echo Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, somewhere within the bare existence of refugees and the utterly Stateless. They seem out of place in our presence, ghosts that fade in and out of existence, rootless, without any real identity that ties them, even loosely, to the rest of the citizenry. And we can’t look away, either out of compassion, or sadness, or fear, or disgust, or anger, or unease. [Read more...]