On the loss and recovery of faith

21bFor some of us of a certain age, it is difficult to overstate the effect the Star Wars legendarium had on us. Years later, these events and experiences are still vivid to me:

1981 (aged 5): My first outing to the cinema with my big sister. We watched a re-run of Empire. Images I remember: Luke’s sandy Bespin outfit, an ice planet, Vader’s big head against the stars (which I thought was disembodied).

1982 (aged 6): Playtime at Matthew’s house. I brought my two figures: 2-1B and Bespin Luke. He had more, including an AT-AT. Having a Star Wars figure in my hand and playing with it on Matthew’s living room carpet brings me a new experience of happiness.

1982, Christmas (aged 6): AT-AT. My joy is full. [Read more…]

Dear Church, We Need Our Sabbath Day Back

Like many Mormons, I am made for the Sabbath. Like many of you, I’m exhausted and yearn for a weekly day of rest. Sadly, I rarely get one and that’s a problem. [Read more…]

The Christian Disciplines: Fasting

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Some have exalted religious fasting beyond all Scripture and reason; and others have utterly disregarded it (John Wesley).

At the risk of breaking Jesus’ injunction to keep schtum about one’s fasting habits, I am pretty good at fasting. I generally fast twice a week, meaning 2×24 hours without food, and began this year with a two-day fasting (non-)binge. I do this for health reasons, because I simply cannot do moderation — I cannot eat moderately, it is either all or nothing. For five days a week it is all, for two it is nothing. This way I am able to keep my weight down. It works.

So when Foster talks about epic multi-week fasts I think I could do it. I am a faster. Hooray! [Read more…]

The Mormon Lectionary Project: Holy Innocents

Holy Innocents, Year A

Jeremiah 31:15-17Revelation 21:1-7Matthew 2:13-18Psalm 124, Moses 7:28

The Collect: We remember today, Heavenly Father, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen. [Read more…]

The Mormon Lectionary Project: Fourth Advent

Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A

Isaiah 7:10-16Romans 1:1-7Matthew 1:18-25Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18, 1 Nephi 11:16-22

The Collect: Heavenly Father, purify us through the Spirit, that thy Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; and if not a mansion, then a manger . . . for there is room for him with us. [Read more…]

“Like the most …

“Like the most precious diamond . . .The Madiba who emerged from prison in January 1990 was virtually flawless” (Desmond Tutu).

The Christian Disciplines: Prayer

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“Prayer — secret, fervent, believing prayer — lies at the root of all personal godliness” (William Carey).

Happy Advent! This is my favourite time in the Christian year. We enter a new time in the calendar, one mercifully shorn (unlike Christmas and Easter) of commercial excess. Just remember that Advent is not yet Christmas, so hold off on the New Testament for now and concentrate more on the promise of the renewal of the covenant made in the Old. If you are in Salt Lake, you could have joined with the MCSJ at the Cathedral of the Madeleine. I am sure they will plan some Christmas activities.

I have had reasonable success with last month’s discipline (meditation). I have certainly meditated more than I usually do, so I’ll take that as a win. I must admit to being worried about this month’s focus, mainly because when it comes to prayer, my faith is weak. I am with the disciples, who had prayed all their lives but still said, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). Foster’s chapter on prayer is a challenge because he seems to accept the power of intercessory prayer . . . and I don’t. [Read more…]

Liturgical year

Edit: 18/xi/13

With Advent, and thus the beginning of the Christian year fast approaching, now is a good time for our annual liturgical year post. In years past I have attempted to create a Mormon calendar, but given the hassles inherent in the moveable feasts, I will simply suggest here some resources for fashioning your own:

1. The LDS Sunday curriculum readings make an excellent lectionary. As a supplement suited to the rhythm of the Christian year, I recommend the readings found in both CommonPrayer.net and Oremus (both of which can be downloaded to your electronic device). The aesthetic is Anglo-Catholic.

2. You can also follow the Christian calendar via the above resources. Both offer prayers and thoughts appropriate to the day.

3. A Mormon holiday supplement would be good, and might include General Conference, April 6, the restoration of the priesthood, the birth and death of the Prophet, Pioneer Day, and the visit of Moroni. The marking of national holidays can also be appropriate, provided they are not excuses for jingoism — in our family, the liturgy there is to make such days Flag Days. When I remember, I try to mark the holidays of other major religions, not as a religious tourist, but as a way to educate my children. Family Home Evening is perfect for this kind of thing.

4. What I don’t have, and would like, is some kind of musical resource tailored to the calendar. Kristine Haglund is excellent at suggesting music. What I need is some kind of Kristine-app to automate the selection!

Last year’s discussion of the Christian calendar and its Mormon iteration follows:

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On Consulting the Body of Christ

Were I a Roman Catholic and prone to pondering the power of the magisterium and/or the worthiness of the doctrine of papal infalliblity, and were I of a liberal mind, I would lend every hermeneutic muscle I had to promoting this formulation in the Cathechism:

“Christ . . . fulfills this prophetic office, not only by the hierarchy . . . but also by the laity” (904). 

This would confirm my belief that Christ is revealed in the entirety of his Body, not just in the Head, and that with the Body united, the will of God is secure . . . infallible, perhaps.

I would therefore welcome any attempt to discern the will of God as revealed to the laity, not in order to accept it without question, but to listen to that billion-strong voice with humility and wonder.

The Christian Disciplines: Meditation

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True contemplation is not a psychological trick but a theological grace (Thomas Merton).

I’ll admit to a disappointment. Foster states that Christian meditation “involves no hidden mysteries, no secret mantras, no mental gymnastics, no esoteric flights into the cosmic consciousness.” Alas. It is as I said before — discipline as vainglory is a major temptation for me. Personally, I would love to fly into the cosmic consciousness, but such is not the purpose of Christian meditation.
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The Christian Disciplines: An Introduction

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I go through life as a transient on his way to eternity, made in the image of God but with that image debased, needing to be taught how to meditate, to worship, to think (Donald Coggan).

In reading the scriptures suggested by Richard Foster, I was most struck by Romans 8:18: “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.” As one raised Mormon, I have tended to avoid Romans, so beloved as it is by the evangelicals who are most critical of Mormon works-based soteriology (as they see it). And yet, it is Mormon scripture that reminds us that “the natural man is an enemy to God” (Mosiah 3:19). So, I’m with St. Paul: I know what is right but I’m terrible at doing it and in my natural state, I cannot help that. [Read more…]

The Christian Disciplines

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Just a quick note to invite BCC-ers to join me for a year following Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline. Mormons are disciplined people already but Foster’s excellent book offers a way, perhaps, to expand and enrich our practice of Christian discipline. [Read more…]

Why we need theology


Something about proving contraries?

It’s a well-worn trope that Mormons don’t do theology. To the extent that this is true (it probably is), it is to be regretted. I believe that “doing theology” is essential and its absence leads us into all kinds of religious dead ends.

Absent theology — i.e. reasoned argument about the truth of God — we are left with little more than noise and counter-noise. To apply this to a current controversy, here are some rather ad hoc thoughts on the usefulness of a theology of women: [Read more…]

“What has not been assumed has not been healed”: Ordain Women and the “androgyny” of Christ

4475E11A-D598-47D0-B6DB1BB7A0CC9F48One of the unfortunate consequences of Mormon Great Apostasy rhetoric is that it causes an almost complete disregard for two millennia of Christian debate about the sorts of issues with which we currently wrestle. Let me be the first to point out that there are, of course, some small corners of Mormonism that are conversant with, and appreciative of, the Church Fathers or Aquinas or John Wesley, but these are voices largely missing from official Mormon discourse.

Let me also point out that the solution to the problem of women in Mormonism will not come because of a meditation upon St. Gregory Nazianzen. For Mormons to accept any change in women’s status, the means must be Mormon, i.e. be believed to come through authoritative revelation. All that said, there is no compulsion to believe that such revelation comes unprompted. Herewith is one potential prompt from the Church Fathers. [Read more…]

My faith crises

“Go on then!” said Frodo. “What do you know?”

“Too much; too many dark things,” said Strider grimly.


Aged 9, Malvern, England

I am at a St. George’s Day service with the Scouts held in our local Church of England church. It could not be more different than my Mormon ward and I am now at an age when I am starting to learn that Mormons believe their church is the “one true.” I suppose I believe this too . . . and yet the music and the aesthetics of this ancient church are wonderful. I feel good. I “feel the Spirit” . . . so is this church also not true in its own way? Holy envy has been with me ever since and has enriched my Mormon life. [Read more…]

Tolkien: The Quenta Silmarillion

ImageThe Tale of the Silmarils introduces readers to many of the themes found in the Lord of the Rings (LOTR): the lust for power, the struggle against an evil lord, the frailty of men (and elves), war, and ultimate redemption. It is altogether a grimmer tale than LOTR but one which enriches any reading of Tolkien’s main works.

The Quenta Silmarillion (QS) raises several questions which are interesting in the philosophy of religion. I say religion deliberately as the QS offers a rather useful view of the construction and development of myth, sacred or otherwise. Obviously Tolkienism is not a religion: His sub-creative sojourn in Faerie is consciously fictional but the creation itself is, I think, in some ways true. More basically, his is also simply the construction of a story, which is how most religions begin. More on this here.

Two philosophical problems present themselves in the QS: free will and theodicy. On free will, the term employed by Tolkien is “doom.” The elves who vow to regain the Silmarils, leave Valinor, and kill their kin at Alqualondë, find themselves under the Doom of Mandos:

Tears unnumbered ye shall shed; and the Valar will fence Valinor against you, and shut you out, so that not even the echo of your lamentation shall pass over the mountains. On the House of Fëanor the wrath of the Valar lieth from the West unto the uttermost East, and upon all that will follow them it shall be laid also. Their Oath shall drive them, and yet betray them, and ever snatch away the very treasures that they have sworn to pursue. To evil end shall all things turn that they begin well; and by treason of kin unto kin, and the fear of treason, shall this come to pass. The Dispossessed shall they be for ever. [Read more…]

Q&A with Jeffrey Walker on Joseph Smith and Habeas Corpus

Jeffrey N. Walker, “Habeas Corpus in Early Nineteenth-Century Mormonism: Joseph Smith’s Legal Bulwark for Personal Freedom,” BYU Studies Quarterly Vol. 52, No. 1, 2013, 4-97.

BCC: Tell us about your background and your interest in Joseph Smith and the law. [Read more…]

Priesthood commemoration talk

Given in the Worcester Ward, Cheltenham England Stake on 12.v.2013 and heavily indebted to Lowell Bennion’s “What it means to be a Christian.”

I should like to add my voice of praise to the young men who have spoken to us today and also to their leaders, who serve them so selflessly. My talk today is directed towards these young people, among whose number is my own son. President Hinckley used to say that the purpose of the church is to make bad men good and good men better. Here are six things that I think, if followed, will make the youth — and indeed all of us — better Christians. In preparing this short talk, I have been influenced by Mormon writer and educator Lowell Bennion and I shall frequently be quoting from him. [Read more…]

Tolkien: Tom Bombadil as God

tom-bombadilHey dol! merry dol! ring a dong dillo! Ring a dong! hop along! fal lal the willow! Tom Bom, jolly Tom, Tom Bombadillo!

I am going to return to The Silmarillion anon but in the meantime, here’s something to cause MCQ and RAF certain pain. [Read more…]

Pratt: American Hero

Givens and Grow‘s account of Pratt the missionary is not only innately interesting, it also invites thoughts about Mormon missionary historiography. Owing to my own background, I am naturally drawn to his British missions. Here is what came to my mind as I read the book: [Read more…]


Givens and Grown want Parley P. Pratt to be the “apostle Paul of Mormonism.” I am intrigued by this suggestion and think it deserves some attention. [Read more…]

(Malchus’) Ear

All four Gospels record that in the melee that surrounded the arrest of Jesus in the Garden, someone cut off the ear of the slave of the high priest. Mark records it thus:

Mark 14:47 One of the bystanders drew his sword and struck the high priest’s slave, cutting off his ear.

The gospels do not record this incident in the same way. In Matthew, the slave’s ear is cut off; Jesus then rebukes his disciples, calling for calm, and rebukes the mob for their clandestine malevolence. In Mark, the slave’s ear is cut off but Jesus only rebukes the crowd. In Luke, all three elements are narrated and a fourth is introduced: Jesus heals the ear. In John, Simon Peter is named as the one who wielded the sword and Malchus is named as the slave. Jesus only rebukes his disciples. There is no healing.

Here is a nice opportunity to do some source criticism, given the elements that are the same and those that are different. [Read more…]

Why Santiago de Compostela?

caminodesantiagoOn Easter Monday, some of us here at BCC are converging on a small town in Galicia, Spain. The journey to our meeting place in Sarria begins for us from Germany, from England, and from the United States. In Sarria we shall meet as old friends, shake hands, chew the cud. And then for the following five days we will be walking the Way of St. James (El Camino de Santiago) to the cathedral city of Santiago de Compostela.

How it is that a group of Mormons are making this most Catholic of pilgrimages will be further explored in a later post. In the meantime, here is why I personally feel the draw of St. James’s shrine: [Read more…]

Habemus papam

That was quick!

This is my body, this is my blood

I have recently become more interested in the historical Jesus. For me, the starting point of my Christian faith must be an understanding of who the mortal Jesus was and what he was trying to do for his contemporaries. There are other Jesuses, of course — the premortal Word and the Christ of the Church — but given the absolute theological centrality of the historical Incarnation, I want to know how Jesus of Nazareth was meant to be understood in the context of 1st century Palestinian Judaism. I believe in Jesus’ divinity but it is his divinity as uniquely embedded in a historical moment that most compels me. I am also more and more convinced that Jesus was attempting to change men’s hearts in the here and now. That is not to ignore the promise of “treasure in heaven” but I think the real value of that promise is to guarantee a happy ending — and thus provide a relief — to our mortal travails. It is in this context that I would like to offer the following reading of the Last Supper. [Read more…]

Gospel Doctrine Lesson #7: “The First Principles and Ordinances of the Gospel”

Notes, commentary, and questions for LDS Sunday School teachers using the ‘Doctrine & Covenants and Church History’ manual. Feel free to share your thoughts or ideas regarding the lesson in the comments.


The intent of lesson seven is to discuss the “first principles and ordinances of the gospel,” a reference to the fourth Article of Faith (AoF) in which they are presented:

We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

My take on this lesson will be to compare the doctrine of Article 4 with the related confessions in the Anglican formulation known as the Thirty-Nine Articles (39A). As a Mormon living in England, it seems worthwhile to consider what these ideas mean in the common religious tongue before considering whether there is a distinctly Mormon reading. (It would also be interesting, but beyond my ken, to understand these ideas in their Second Great Awakening context. Please add literature in the comments.) [Read more…]


“[I]n today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.”

Tolkien: Cosmogony

Blogging the Ainulindalë and Valaquenta from Tolkien’s The Silmarillion


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Tree of Life II

A substantive discussion of one of the most interesting videos the church has ever made is taking place over at T&S. Just as interesting is the fact that the church media people seem to have employed Terrence Malick. [Read more…]

Tolkien: On Fairy Stories III

imagesHaving briefly considered Tolkien’s defense of fantasy fiction and asked whether the Book of Mormon partially treads the borderlands of Faërie, I want to finish this look at Tolkien’s thought by saying something about three works that further illuminate Faërie: the poem Mythopoeia, and the short stories Leaf by Niggle and Smith of Wootton Major. We thereby cover the canon of Tolkien’s literary philosophy.  [Read more…]


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