You’ll Get the Type of Church Members You Write For: 8 Suggestions for The Ensign

I started writing a comment on Russell’s recent blog post, in which he explains why he’s canceling his Ensign subscription. Once the comment got past a couple hundred words, I figured a full complementary post might be more appropriate. So here goes.

I haven’t subscribed to the Ensign in over a decade. I read it a couple times a year, usually when I’m at my parents’ house, and the experience is sufficient to remind myself why I don’t subscribe, and why I don’t feel particularly guilty about it.

And yet, I spend time in the bloggernacle, where I tend to stick to faith-promoting sites with some level of orthodoxy. When I started reading and later writing for By Common Consent, it was specifically to fill the Ensign-shaped hole in my heart. A faith community needs an outlet where it can share struggles, devotional thoughts, and personal experiences with the divine, and interact with the culture beyond congregational boundaries.

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Is Church Music “Good”?

BCC guest blogger Sharon H. has a background in Humanities education and arts administration, and in her free time, she’s been organizing a pretty epic Christmas concert for the New York, NY stake.

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I remember it was over a mediocre burger within my first week of moving to Texas. My colleague was being friendly, telling me about her church in case I needed one. As we were both music educators, she went into extra detail about her church’s music. She told how their previous music minister was a good Christian man but really impossible to work with as a director. But they had just hired a new minister and purchased a completely new sound system all built directly into the sanctuary—I should hear it—and this new music minister was full of ideas and was already asking her opinion for upcoming events. Exciting, I agreed. Had I found a church yet? I had, actually. Do they have good music?

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Ideas for Easier Journal-Writing

I love our church’s emphasis on journaling, which is hypocritical because I totally suck at it. I enjoy writing, and I see the value in documenting my life, if only for myself. But when it comes to sitting down and writing a bit, I’ve always had a terrible time getting into a routine.

I totally buy into the importance of it. Cataloging my spiritual experiences helps me remember them. Remembering them keeps the foundation of my testimony top of mind, and comes in handy during those moments when I need them. If I don’t record them somewhere, specific spiritual moments leave my memory so quickly.

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Quantum Mechanics and The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Yoda

Ben F. checks in with a third installment in his BCC guest series on faith and physics. (Read his earlier posts here and here.)

YodaEveryone knows that Star Wars is nothing more than a (brilliant) allegory of the Gospel and the Restoration. Luke is Joseph Smith, Yoda is Peter, the Force is obviously the priesthood, and so on. With this understanding, I learned a lot as a child about how spiritual things work, including the important fact that you can use the priesthood to control things with just your mind.

Naturally, this is also how God does his work. Miracles, answers to prayers, revelations, and all other heavenly manifestations are instantaneously and immaterially transmitted from the mind of God directly to his children in need. God, bodily present at some physical location, wills something to occur, and millions of lightyears away, a mountain moves, or a voice is heard, or a prayer is answered. This is what I learned from Star Wars.

I should be careful not to poke too much fun at either Star Wars or God’s miracles, since both are actually quite important to me, but the tiniest bit of creativity is enough to realize that there are much richer and more impressive ways that God could choose to bring about miraculous occurrences other than just thinking something in his mind.

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Strengthening the Strong Ties

Facebook birthdayI had a birthday last week. I didn’t turn a remarkable age or anything, although I am now officially older than Jesus. A few short years ago, turning 30-something might not have been a big deal—a special dinner and a gift or two, maybe. But now, birthdays are marked by friendly emails, texts, and tweets, and a wave of Facebook posts.

Most of the well-wishers just left a short note on my wall, something to let me know we’re still friends. It’s a simple gesture, but it’s fun to hear from old friends, even if it’s only a couple words. What’s most fun for me is hearing from all of them at once—high school friends, college roommates, mission companions, more recent co-workers. It’s a post-modern “This Is Your Life” day of happy memories, or a virtual group hug where I’m the only connection between everyone.

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Cosmological Convergence: The Pavilion That Covers God’s Hiding Place

The Universe

Ben F. checks back in from the halls of science, with a second installment in his BCC guest series on faith and physics. (Read his first post here.)

I would like to ask a simple question as the basis for this post: Is God a native of our universe? Although I lack any significant polling data, I suspect the gut instinct for most Mormons would be a confident “yes.” After all, Mormon theology emphasizes the shared characteristics between God and his spirit children—we believe he has a physical body that exists somewhere in space and time; we believe that his origin is not so different from our own; and we even believe that we can, with sufficient grace, become like he is. Therefore, it seems only natural that he is from the same place we are from—that is, this universe we find ourselves in. Besides, what would the alternative be? That he is from some sort of parallel universe? That would just be crazy, right?

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Poll: Should the BSA end the ban on gays?

It could happen. Maybe it should happen. What do you think?

Whatever your opinion, the BSA is gathering feedback. Call 972-580-2330 during business hours, or email nationalsupportcenter@scouting.org. And, as always, explain yourself in the comments.

Some Results from the BCC 2013 Reader Survey

Reader SurveyA heartfelt thanks to everyone who completed our reader survey a couple of weeks ago. Some of you have asked to see the results, and while we want to keep the verbatims confidential, we’ll share what we can.

BCC readers are an incredibly diverse bunch. We received well over 200 responses to our survey, from 14 countries and 36 states (and maybe more), and each response was different. For instance, some of you think we’re too lax with our comment moderation, some of you think we exercise unrighteous dominion. Lots of readers love Blair’s book reviews, but one guy can’t stand them. But the most common response was that BCC is great. (Thank you, and we agree.)

When we saw several similar responses to a question, we noted it, and here are some of the most common responses:

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Mormonism in 2012: A (Fashionably Late) Recap

2012I called 2011 “The Year of the Mormon,” and I’m standing by that designation, but what a year we’ve had since then! As the Mormon Moment gets on its bike and rides into the sunset, it’s worth looking back at some of the high points and low points of 2012. Here are my own selections, in no particular order:

 

 

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Mourning with Those that Mourn – A How-To

As a Young Mens leader in my ward, I’m seldom called upon to offer guidance during times of grief. So I was at a complete loss recently when a desperate father reached out for help with his son, who had witnessed the tragic death of his best friend.

The young man hadn’t been to church in years, and in fact I’d never met him. So I was expecting an awkward housecall—I figured the last thing a grieving teenager wants is a stranger from church to talk to.  What should I say? How should I act?

I sent a distress call to the wise BCC permabloggers, who pointed me to a wealth of resources here on the blog. I wanted to aggregate and share their guidance, as we’ve had much to mourn over the past couple weeks. I hope it’s as helpful for you as it has been for me. Please feel free to share any additional resources and reactions in the comment.

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“Look for the Yellow Vests”: Mormons and Sandy

My friend Joshua Brown shot this footage of the Sandy relief effort yesterday in the Rockaways here in NYC. In case you weren’t aware, Mormons have played a very active role in the relief effort; for instance, the local missionaries have worked tireless every day since Sandy hit. Their contribution has been noticed. A co-worker of mine organized a non-Mormon volunteer team last week, and here’s what she had to say:  [Read more...]

A Re-Release for New York Doll

We just got word from Greg Whitely, the director of the excellent documentary New York Doll, that the film is being re-released with some mormon-y bonus footage, and it’s watchable online.

If you haven’t seen the film, get on it–it’s the perfect combination of modern mormonism and early NYC punk. The movie follows Arthur “Killer” Kane, bass player of seminal punk band New York Dolls, as he navigates life as a 55-year-old Mormon obsessed with family history and temple work, and the possibility of a return to rock glory. The best part of the film is the wealth of great commentary from icons like Morrissey, Iggy Pop, Chrissie Hynde, Mick Jones…the list goes on. If that doesn’t get you going, you don’t love mormonism, or you don’t love rock and roll. Watch the movie! Share with friends!

As part of the re-release, Whitely is offering free MP3s of New York Dolls lead singer David Johansen singing “Come, Come, Ye Saints” and “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief.” And if you’re in New York City this weekend, IFC Center will have a special midnight screening at midnight Friday/Saturday. (Technically Saturday, but you know…midnight ambiguity).

If you’ve already seen the film, leave your review in the comments.

Tonight: BCC Electioncast

Is today’s presidential election the end of The Mormon Moment, or just the beginning? I’ll be video chatting live with a few By Common Consenters right here at 10:30 Eastern tonight, discussing our favorite moments from the recent flood of mormon culture as we watch the map get painted red and blue.

Come back to this page at 10:30 and push play!

A few questions about the missionary surge

We’ve all heard the anecdotal tales about BYU bishops being flooded with interview requests from newly prospective missionaries. And now we have quantitative confirmation of the coming surge, as church spokesperson Michael Purdy released some startling numbers tonight:

“Typically approximately 700 new applications are started each week. The last two weeks that number has increased to approximately 4,000 per week. Slightly more than half of the applicants are women.”

That’s an increase of almost 6X! DesNews reminds us that these are “not submitted applications, rather online applications that have been opened and started.” Nevertheless, the ginormous spike will surely translate to a ginormous spike in submitted applications. Which raises lots of fun questions. For instance:

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Bible Bashing

I’m reading a loved one’s latest missionary letter, and it’s a blow-by-blow account of some righteous argument he reportedly “won” while tracting. It’s a hilarious/sad/scary story, as the argument focused mainly on theodicy (and are there ever winners in theodicy debates?). His letter drips with hubris, righteous fire, and above all, familiarity–that used to be me (and perhaps you as well).

Everyone told me as a missionary that we shouldn’t “bible bash” and argue because “the Spirit can’t work where there’s contention.” Nobody told us not to bible bash because we were stupid 19-year-olds who didn’t know anything.

There’s probably a lesson in here for adults, too…

A Platitude of Attitude

[This is not a screed against my Facebook friends, whom I love. It’s just a gentle reminder, and a crude sequel of sorts to Sam MB's and Karen H's wonderful posts earlier this week.]

There’s a paradox inherent in the idea of “true religion”: as certitude increases, empathy tends to decrease.

That’s probably a platitude, but I think it’s one worth bringing up as we go into an election season full of high-decibel cultural clashes between political parties, geographies, religions, and within the LDS community itself. Even now, I browse Facebook and see friends who are so firm in their faith in Jesus Christ that they are completely incapable of civil conversation. Paradox!

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Thanks, Jon Stewart

Just now on The Daily Show, Mr. Stewart presented a lovely segment that ruthlessly mocked the media’s coverage of Romney’s faith. The high point for me was watching Robert Jeffress rationalize his endorsement of a non-Christian cultist over a mainstream Christian.

If Mr. Stewart keeps up this level of coverage, he might just end up with a Boggs-Doniphan Gentile of the Year Award to add to his pile of Emmys.

Which would be awkward, as Mr. Stewart is in no way a gentile. But it would be his due, as Stephen Colbert won the BDGotYA in 2009.

I’ll post a clip as soon as it’s available online. In the meantime, those on the West Coast can watch the episode at its regularly appointed time.

UPDATE: Here is the clip. (wordpress.com doesn’t embed ComedyCentral videos)

Liahonaroo: A Mormon Music Festival in Music City

Next weekend is the first-ever Liahonaroo Festival, a family-themed art and music show just outside of Nashville. Cool idea, right? It’s like Bonnaroo, but without the drugs, public drunkenness, and traffic jams. Which is to say, it’s not at all like Bonnaroo.

The two-day event kicks off Friday at 7pm at the Wilson County Fairgrounds, and the lineup includes more than 30 artists and musicians from around the country (I believe the majority are not LDS, though the show organizers are). My own band, Shakedown at the Majestic, will be playing Saturday night, so be sure to say hi if you’re around.

Tix and info are available at Liahonaroo.com. And if you think this kind of event would work in your community, leave a comment and say so. Maybe the organizers could be persuaded to take this thing on the road next year.

Excited About Romney, Despite Myself

So that’s it: The Republican nomination process is finally over. (Gingrich might still be kicking around, but once Nate Silver calls it, the thinking has been done.)

Ever since Romney first announced his candidacy in the last election, I’ve been very conflicted about Romney, and about the idea of a Mormon candidate, and about Romney as that Mormon candidate. To be blunt, he has uncanny valley issues of seeming almost-but-not-quite-human—I’m not even sure he would pass the Turing Test. The NY Times hilariously describes him as “the first quantum politician.”

And it’s way too early to say whether a Mormon candidate/president is going to make things easier or harder for the church. But we at least know that there will be an increasing level of scrutiny and curiosity about Mormonism, and there’s a chance that it will lead to increased bigotry. (To know the church isn’t necessarily to like the church.)

But despite the obvious flaws with the first Mormon presidential candidate, and despite the potential for it to blow up in our faces, my heart leapt when I first read the rumors on Twitter this morning: “Breaking: Washington Post says Rick Santorum will suspend presidential campaign.”

Whoa. The Republican candidate for president is a Mormon. A former stake president. That’s so effing cool! 

Now that we’ve all had a few hours to reflect, share your thoughts below. My contribution is this: I was way too hasty when I named 2011 “The Year of the Mormon”…I assumed the buzz about Mormonism wouldn’t get any louder. Just wait.

Word Cloud: For The Strength of Youth

My ward got the new “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlets today. Not really pamphlets, though, as the new version is well over 6K words. The counsel inside is wide-ranging, and as I was reading through it this morning, I wondered what a word cloud of the text would look like—which words are most used in FTSOY? Here’s what I found:

The cloud supports my opinion that the booklet is wide-ranging, as there are lots of different ideas and topics represented, but the biggest words aren’t tied to them. And it might just be me, but I think the word cloud conveys an impression of “warning” language. Do you agree? Which words are more frequent than you’d have thought? Which would you have expected to be more prominent?

The Daily Universe: An Obituary

I was seriously (seriously) bummed to read today that The Daily Universe is discontinuing its daily print edition, moving to a weekly print format (“The Weekly Universe”?) and increasing the emphasis on its digital component.

I’m sure this makes total sense, given the current media landscape that BYU’s journalism students are graduating into. Traditional print skills like copyfitting and page design/layout aren’t as crucial as they once were—certainly not as crucial as search-optimization and multimedia-reporting skills. A friend of mine in the Comms department at BYU told me the change was necessary because of the resources involved in “feeding the beast” and keeping a daily print edition on schedule. I get it.

Here at BCC, we like to poke fun at The Daily Universe with features like Police Beat Roundtable. But all jokes aside, several of the BCC permas got their first taste of ink-stained wretchedness while working for The Universe, and I’ve seen a couple of good backlist discussions today about the value of our experiences there.

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2011: The Year of the Mormon

What a wild year it’s been. Never has Mormonism been so culturally relevant, and never has the undulating curve of popular opinion shifted so wildly, so quickly. As the year draws to a close, I think we’re safe in naming 2011 “The Year of the Mormon.” The BCC permas have picked out a few reasons why:

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Church-Hacker #17: A Meditative Fifth Sunday

Your bishopric will love this fifth-Sunday idea from BCC buddy Chris Gordon:
We tried this on a 5th Sunday in EQ last year and I thought it went well. Our bishop at the time wasn’t a big fan of ward-level 5th Sunday meetings, so we often had to improvise. One 5th Sunday we brought in an iPod playing hymns softly and spent the time in quiet devotional. It was a reminder to find quiet times of contemplation, reading, studying, and prayer.
The only thing that derailed it a bit was my forgetting to exclude MoTab’s latest rendition of “Amazing Grace”–complete with bagpipe accompaniment–from the playlist. (Scottish reverence isn’t.) Fortunately, we were all reminded that the Spirit is not, in fact, a rodent to be scared off at the slightest disruption, so no harm done.

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Got your own Church-Hacker idea? Submit it! (The church-hacking guidelines are here.) See all entries in this series here.

Goal Tending and Missionary Work

In our ward council last month, the ward mission leader gave a short address on the importance of setting achievable goals. He’s new in the calling and in the ward, and because our ward doesn’t baptize much, momentum is somewhat against him.

As a first step toward reversing this, he assigned us to go to our quorums and auxiliaries and set specific goals for each group, which he can then collate into an all-up ward missionary goal for 2012.

The key to baptisms, he told us, is to set achievable goals and work toward them with faith. It’s a quantitative message which I’ve heard in countless missionary-themed meetings, as I’m sure you have too.

I’ve generally rolled my eyes at such talk, but the way I think about goal-setting has changed significantly in the two years since I started working in the ad industry. You might not know it from watching TV commercials, but good ad agencies are experts at setting goals and measuring results.

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Church-Hacker #16: Impromptu Ward Choir

BCC reader Joanne has an easy way to fill out too-short sacrament meetings (we’re assuming there is such a thing):

(“The Holy Ghost led them…to sing” — Moroni 6:9)

When the Sacrament Meeting talks finish unexpectedly early, why not fill the time with impromptu music instead of impromptu speaking? The person conducting Sacrament Meeting could invite all willing congregants to come forward and sing a hymn of their choosing as a group. Those folks would have one minute to quickly decide how to sing the hymn (1st verse unison, 2nd verse men, etc.).

Another alternative would be for the bishopric and music chair to ask (in advance) a few versatile, confident musicians to prepare a few simple backup musical numbers for these situations.
Sounds good, right? I like the idea of an impromptu ward choir. The organist in my ward (the incomparable D. Fletcher), has been known to take to the podium before the closing hymn and organize a simple arrangement for it. Last week’s example, for Adam-Ondi-Ahman: All versus sung in unison, men sing the 2nd verse, women the 3rd, listen for the key change before the last verse, and repeat the last line three times.

Sometimes D. will also organize an impromptu hymn as his testimony on Fast Sundays. These off-the-cuff musical moments are often the highlight of my Sabbath.

Any similar experiences with impromptu music in your ward? (If not, you should totally move into mine.)

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Got your own Church-Hacker idea? Submit it! (The church-hacking guidelines are here.) See all entries in this series here.

Church-Hacker #15: Christ-Centered Testimony Meetings

An idea for better testimony meetings, submitted by Tevya of Mormon Life Hacker. (Sounds like Church-Hacker, but it isn’t. Go check it out.)
Testimony meetings that are about anything but testimonies seem to be a common problem. In college, a few of us were very concerned about this after a particularly bad testimony meeting. My good friend had an idea he’d seen done in another ward–he suggested it to the bishopric, they implemented it, and it worked fabulously!

It’s simply this: print a nice picture of Christ (here’s one that’s high-res enough for printing), and then beneath it, print these 3 steps in a very large, plain font:
  1. Tell us your name.
  2. Tell us a little about yourself.
  3. Tell us how you feel about the man in the red robe.
Put it in a sheet protector, to keep it nice. Each fast Sunday, put it on the pulpit. The first time he does it, the conducting bishopric member could explain it, and it may even be appropriate to explain it each month, so people are aware it’s there when they come up.

I love that the 3rd one doesn’t say “talk about Jesus” or something like that. It requires just that little bit of extra cognitive effort to make the association, and get’s them thinking a little more, rather than just skimming it and going ahead with what they planned to talk about.

Let’s stay focused, people!

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Got your own Church-Hacker idea? Submit it! (The church-hacking guidelines are here.) See all entries in this series here.

A Little More Conversation

I was having dinner at Cynthia L’s house tonight, and she pointed out something that I’ve noticed as well: our Mormonism makes us more interesting to other people. People like inviting us to social events and chatting with us because we have that one weird thing that makes us distinct—a built-in conversation starter. “This is my friend Kyle…he’s a mormon!”

Of course, the chatting is easier lately, what with the “Mormon Moment” we’re enjoying. The stranger who just found out I’m mormon has a million ways to break the ice—BYU’s newly improved football visibility, the Broadway musical, the presidential candidate(s), the crazy polygamists, The Jimmer. The conversations can start in any number of ways, but they always seem to follow the same well-worn path:

  1. “Why aren’t you drinking?”
  2. “My best friend in high school was a mormon.”
  3. “What’s it like?”
  4. “I went to church as a kid but…”

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Church-Hacker #14: Ender’s Game

Here’s a mischievous (but useful!) idea from our very own Norbert:

“Today I caught a guy calling other member’s phones during sacrament meeting, at about 11:05. (We start at 10.) He said he always starts when a speaker has gone over and doesn’t look like he’s about to finish. He feels like the ringing phone triggers the speaker to wrap it up. I did not discourage him in this practice.”

It’s the ultimate church-hack, harnessing a wireless network to trigger on-site devices to trigger a reaction from the speaker. Brilliant!

And now, an ethical question: Is doing a service to the many (the congregation) justification for rudeness to the one (the speaker)? Is the one’s own rudeness sufficient to justify a retaliatory rudeness? And is rudeness an appropriate word when talking about efforts to end or prolong sacrament meeting?

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Got your own Church-Hacker idea? Submit it! (The church-hacking guidelines are here.) See all entries in this series here.

Through a Social Network, Darkly

A friend of mine from college passed away this week, after a long struggle with cancer. Hers was a sad passing (she was way too young) and a happy one (she’s free from pain now). I have many fun memories of her, and though I hadn’t seen her in 8 years, we kept in touch somewhat over Facebook.

She’s one of my first acquaintances to pass away in The Facebook Era, and she embraced the technology. She shared her struggles with her 700 Facebook friends, and she posted pictures of herself as the treatments took her hair and the cancer took her vitality. Her Wall was full of her cheerfulness in the face of adversity. Her Wall has also been covered with prayers and well-wishes for months, giving us all insight into just how many lives this woman has touched.

I have witnessed closer friends suffer from similar diseases, but never from the same vantage point as Facebook offered.

Let me step back for a moment to say that this is not a pity post.

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The Decline and Fall of Something or Other

I don’t know if it’s because of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, or because my part of the country just went through a freak earthquake and hurricane scare in the same week, or because I’ve been watching the market a bit too closely, but the idea of American decline has been on my mind recently.

An article in this week’s New Yorker says I’m not alone. “Decline, Fall, Rinse, Repeat,” by Adam Gopnik, is a jaunt through the long history of American “declinism” (new word?) and the popular literature of the declinist movement.

I haven’t yet read the books Gopnik examines except Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond, but the article grabbed my attention by speaking to some current cultural memes:

  1. Is America going down?
  2. Is the Western World as a whole in decline?
  3. Is such a decline inevitable or can we slow/stop it?
  4. Why are we so obsessed with envisioning our own downfall?

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