Correspondence

A Mormon friend asked me to comment on a recent BBC series called Andrew Marr’s History of the World. He was a little put out by the first programme’s depiction of prehistory, with its account of the homo sapiens migrations from Africa c. 70,000 BP, Neanderthals, and the origins of civilisation, given its deviance from typical Mormon beliefs regarding the same. Given that British Mormonism’s chattering classes are currently scandalised by a high profile falling away over the issue of “no death before the fall,” I hastily bodged together the following reply: [Read more...]

Why the caffeine statement is important

For those of us who have been imbibing caffeinated beverages (of the cold, carbonated variety) all of our Mormon lives, the church’s caffeine statement comes as no radical surprise. It’s not that I doubt Joanna Brooks’s accounts of childhood Coke avoidance, it’s just that in my neck of Zion, such zealotry has always been a minority position. So far, no big deal. Held up for scrutiny, it’s always been rather obvious to me that the church could take no logical position against this particular alkaloid per se. So, the statement is no Manifesto . . . except that it kind of is.

I bet many of you have heard Mormons talk about the specter of tannic acid as proof for the wisdom of the prohibition against tea. Such a bizarre proof represents a Mormon need to have the Word of Wisdom be a code of health. I know why we do it — the Enlightenment compels us to want religion to make sense and tannic acid renders explicable the otherwise inexplicable avoidance of camelia sinensis, especially given what appear to be its health benefits. You have studies that show that green tea is awesome, I have tannic acid. I win because “acid” sounds awful.

I can think of three models for interpreting the Word of Wisdom: [Read more...]

In praise of the National Lottery?

When the United Kingdom initiated its national lottery in 1994 (imaginatively called the National Lottery), it was accompanied by much tsk-tsk-ing at church. Here was another sign of national decadence, further proof that Babylon was in control of the land. Good Mormons would eschew such evil, etc.

That’s how I left it when I went on my mission in 1995. When I returned, one of the new developments in my town was a shiny new refurbishment of the theatre. The theatre had once been the home of George Bernard Shaw and Edward Elgar’s Malvern Festival, but had since lost some of that lustre. Now it had a new foyer and looked beautiful, all paid for via a grant from the National Lottery. Malvern Theatre is now one of the best provincial theatres in the country. [Read more...]

The liberation of the resurrection

A quick thought for this Monday morning.

I have been wondering whether it is possible to divorce Jesus’ ministry from the supernatural claims that surround it. I have little problem in doing this for Guatama Buddha, for example, whose philosophy has value for me quite apart from the fantastical stories of his life. So, while mowing the lawn the other day (on the spiritual possibilities of mundane things, see here), I thought about the resurrection of Christ and whether my Christian faith needs it to be literal event. Certainly there are Christians who are moved by the metaphorical rather than literal truth of such things. However, I have come to realise that my faith requires there to have been an empty tomb and a fleshy theophany.

Death frightens me a great deal. I suppose I am not alone. It is our curse as thinking apes that we know we are going to die and it is this knowledge, I believe, that is at the heart of our evil. Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die. Establish a fame that endures. Accumulate and accumulate in the vain hope that we can escape our inevitable doom. Find every comfort, beat every foe, look after number one.

Reading George Handley’s account of Lowell Bennion makes clear that true goodness is found in wearing out your life in the service of others, but for the selfish among us that is so very hard to do when you believe that this life is the only life. Kant sensed this and so postulated the summum bonum. Rather than a crux, I see it is a liberation. I can sacrifice — forget myself — because this is not the end. This is Jesus’ gift to the world through his physical resurrection. Take no thought for tomorrow, for tomorrow is secure. Instead, serve God today.

The thing is, do we really believe it?

Gas Prices and the Mormon Commute

The average cost of a litre of petrol in the UK right now is £1.39. That is $2.23 per litre, which is $8.42 per gallon.

Yes, ouch. This post is about the cost in fuel of being an active Mormon in the United Kingdom. [Read more...]

On the road with Hyrum Thane

This is an account of books and friends, red rock and lichen-clad graves, science and serendipity. I am writing while listening to Neil Young’s The Old Homestead on the record player. I suggest you read it to the same.

Out on the floor
where the cowboys dance,
approaching slowly at a glance.
Here comes the shadow of his stance:
The reins are fallin’
from his hands.

I was born in the Shire, where there are no cowboys, only hobbits. [Read more...]

The Sunday Afternoon We Broke the Sabbath to Buy Lunch in a Seedy Downtown Bar Thread

With City Creek not open to Sabbath breakers, it was an effort to find lunch. Sunday pm coming up . . .

A banner is unfurled

Singing away the anti-Mormons

[Read more...]

The Sunday Morning Where Have All the Flowers Gone Open Thread

The weather is gross, but inside the choir is resplendent in lavender and all’s swell. Numerous comments about the British bringing the bad weather, but it hasn’t rained at home in . . . months. So, on to conference, blogged/tweeted by Ronan, Kristine, and Jacob. Hi Becky!

Braving the rain

Peanut Gallery

N.B. Quotes from speakers are not necessarily precise. We’re having to type fast here! Check official transcripts later.

[Read more...]

Dear BBC

[Available on Youtube]

To: James Jones, Producer, The Mormon Candidate

Re: This World: The Mormon Candidate (BBC2)

Dear Mr Jones,

If we are to follow the educational philosophy of Charles Dickens’s  Thomas Gradgrind — “In this life, we want nothing but Facts, sir; nothing but Facts!” — then we would find little to complain about in John Sweeney’s BBC account of Mitt Romney’s Mormonism. Sweeney, the BBC’s go-to cult hunter, famous for his aggressive encounter with Scientology, provided a number facts about Mormonism that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints simply cannot deny.

They are, inter alia: Mormon prophet Joseph Smith married upwards of 30 women. The Egyptian of the extant fragments of the Book of Abraham is not directly related to Smith’s translation. Mormons once swore blood oaths in their temples. As a conservative religion, Mormonism can be a rather alienating place for those whose faith wanders from orthodoxy. The church maintains its own Vatican-like Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. &c.

Some of these facts, and others besides, are bound to make uncomfortable viewing for Mormons. Some are defensible, others are not. Many strike at the heart of Mormonism’s curse as a pre-modern religion that has come of age in a modern and post-modern age. The patina of history has rendered benign the strange beliefs and practices of some more ancient religions. Mormonism is not so lucky and this is why facts, polemically deployed, are not always as truthful as Gradgrind, and Sweeney, would have us believe. [Read more...]

Liveblogging “The Mormon Candidate”

Mormons across the UK are holding their breath tonight as Mormonism gets the John Sweeney treatment. Liveblogging in the comments below of the BBC’s The Mormon Candidate from 19.00 BST.

#themormoncandidate

Gay marriage comes to the UK

I lived in America during the debate about the proposed federal marriage amendment in 2004, something which inspired one of my first posts in the Mormon blogosphere. By the time of Prop 8 I was safely ensconced back in England. Until now I have been able to maintain a relatively dispassionate distance, as the problem was an American one. No more. Gay marriage is coming to my corner of Zion’s vineyard. [Read more...]

Mormonism, a Trinitarian religion

My parents, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for almost 50 years, like to go to church on their many travels. Usually it’s the local Mormon congregation but not always. Every year they visit the Isles of Scilly, a tiny archipelago off the south-western tip of England, and attend services at the local Anglican church. Their commitment to Mormonism is strong but I think they enjoy an annual injection of native religion. They also take Holy Communion.

No doubt the latter admission would raise eyebrows among some Mormons although it’s difficult to exactly say why. Perhaps it is the Communion wine, although even if it were non-alcoholic, it would still encounter suspicion, I suspect. Certainly Mormons see a particular legitimacy to their own administration of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, but is that to deny the efficacy, even to a lesser degree, of this singularly Christian rite when performed by others? What are the intentions behind the rites and does one negate the other?

Modern Mormons see the sacrament as a renewal of covenants; other Christians tend to be less particular. The only theological agreement is that it somehow invokes the presence of Christ for those who partake. It seems to me that the Mormon who on occasion participates in a non-Mormon Eucharist is not betraying her own uniquely Mormon experience of similar things. I do accept, however, that a degree of discomfort might arise. [Read more...]

Apologising for historical racism

The General Synod of the Church of England apologised in 2006 for its role in the slave trade. The church, through the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, once owned the Codrington Plantation in Barbados, where slaves had the word “society” branded on their backs with a red-hot iron. One teaching that was used by Christians to defend their support of slavery was the notion that blacks carried the curse of Ham. [Read more...]

…groanings which cannot be uttered

Country walks often lead to interesting discoveries. [Read more...]

The Mormon Un-Moment and Its Consequences

Let’s face it, the “Mormon Moment” is rubbish. First off, I sort of doubt that it actually exists beyond a small segment of the chatterati. And even if it does exist, it is basically a miserable little thing, based on a politician nobody likes and a musical that rowdily takes the mick. So, yes, if that’s your Mormon Moment, it’s rubbish. [Read more...]

What I want from a Nativity film

I find most Bible films to be unsatisfying. Here’s what I would like to see in a Nativity film:

1. Authentic-looking actors. I realise that a film is by its very nature make believe, but any attempt to reproduce the biblical world has to look and sound right. [Read more...]

To be called by one’s true name

A story from old Prague: [Read more...]

Towards a theology of taxation

My sense is that modern Mormons, particularly those who identify with the American right, tend to prioritise the nuclear relationship over all others. Who doesn’t? It is an entirely natural way of living in the world and represents the conservative view that we should protect the goodness that humans already have rather than force them into social utopias unflective of human reality. As a Conservative voter myself, I tend to sympathise with policies which give individuals and families the room to flourish.

We cannot escape the fact, however, that God’s plan has never been solely about the welfare of the family, nor the individual within it. God’s personal covenant with Abraham was also a national one; in Christ, individuals become a people, part of his body. Thus we should be concerned with relationships that go beyond our walls. The food crisis in Africa, to take one example, demands that we see the sufferers as ourselves. Helping such people becomes an imperative. [Read more...]

Remembrance Talk

As cathedral bells toll remembrance in Worcester, I thought I’d repost these thoughts on war for 11/11/11.

For Christians, Remembrance Sunday can stir mixed emotions. Today we remember the fallen of war and regret that war seems to be the natural condition of man. We weep along with God who, when surveying the war and murder that polluted his earth said, “I gave them commandment that they should love one another, but they are without affection, and they hate their own blood. As a result misery shall be their doom; and the whole heavens shall weep over them . . . ; wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?” (Moses 7:37).

The observance of Armistice Day — the 11th Day of the 11th month — was originally intended to ensure that never again would the nation commit to the slaughter and evil that have become synonymous with words such as “Somme” and “Flanders Fields.”
[Read more...]

Disdain

I generally don’t have much truck with Mormon notions of persecution. When you have sucked from the marrow of western capitalism as well as Mormons have, there isn’t a lot to complain about.

Except . . . this video showing a love-in between atheist provocateur Bill Maher and anti-Mormon zealot Robert Jeffress  makes me feel miserable as all hell. [Read more...]

Review: Ethics and the Old Testament

Ethics and the Old TestamentEthics and the Old Testament by John Barton

Having had a go myself, I am always keen on efforts to talk sensibly about Old Testament ethics. Oxford professor John Barton’s slim volume offers a collection of his own lectures on biblical morality and does a very good job moving the conversation beyond simple caricatures of the text. [Read more...]

A Life in Pearl Jam

I am, and will always be, a child of the 90s, a member of Generation X, an unrepentant bore who still believes that Nirvana’s Nevermind was, just short of the fall of the Berlin Wall, about the most important socio-cultural event this side of Sergeant Pepper.

I say this aware that the kool kids will — clutching their vinyl copies of old Mudhoney records  — no doubt sigh at such ‘MTV’ sensibilities.

Rubbish. ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ changed the world. But Kurt is dead and so we look to others to help us reconnect with those splendid days when Mariah Carey and her evil minions were dumped from the charts. Enter Pearl Jam, whose biographer in the new movie Pearl Jam 20 seems to have benefited from the Mormon injunction that we record everything for posterity. Cameron Crowe’s film gives us amazing and encyclopaedic  glimpses of Seattle circa 1991 when out of the ashes of Mother Love Bone, Eddie Vedder and co. arose.

It will sound melodramatic to call Pearl Jam’s music the soundtrack to my life, but watching the film follow Pearl Jam over the last two decades I kept being reminded of who I was at the time of each song. Here are a few highlights: [Read more...]

Creation and Collaboration

A sacrament meeting talk given in the Loughborough Ward, Leicester England Stake on 12th June 2011.

I remember the first time I felt the Spirit. I was a young boy watching a recording of the crew of Apollo 8 reading from Genesis 1 as they looked back at the beautiful blue orb we call home. I began to believe then, as I still do now, that God is the creator of this earth. The words, so wonderfully rendered by the King James translators, still resonate:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

[Read more...]

Cultural Learnings from Provo

Some reflections on a recent week spent in Provo: [Read more...]

Preaching America without offending the world

Our pal Aaron R has noted that while “the D&C teaches that the [US] Constitution is inspired,” such rhetoric is “conspicuously absent in British Mormon religious discourse.” He further notes that Armand Mauss has recently argued that “it these types of doctrines which inhibit Church growth in some areas and he subsequently calls for reinterpretations of these doctrines.”

I have had my own run-ins with hyper American patriotism in what is supposed to be an international church. Nonetheless, I do not believe there is a need for Mormonism to downplay the inspired nature of the Constitution. The mistake is in making it Exhibit A in American exceptionalism, as if because the American founding was inspired, nothing else comes close. There is a way to proclaim 1776 without alienating the world, and President Obama on his visit to London just nailed it. Witness: [Read more...]

On the Royal Wedding

I have before me the souvenir issue of the Daily Telegraph, awash with the colour and joy that was the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. For me, a favourite image is not the balcony kiss or that dress, iconic though they already are; rather, it is the image of the mass of people on the Mall. In all its massive yet polite reverie, this image offers a strong contrast with another scene from yesterday’s news, namely that of angry Syrians tearing down a poster of President Assad.

And so I am led to wonder: what is the secret of peaceful, consensual government? Part of it may be chronological. Where once English kings were reviled and even beheaded, the centuries have led us kindly to this happy place. The Syrian Arab Republic has existed for not much longer than Queen Elizabeth has been on the British throne. Still, the constitutional monarchy of the United Kingdom does seem to be a singular, remarkably robust thing. Let us explore what all this means. [Read more...]

Heroic

In case you miss it in the sidebar, here’s the video of the most interesting thing to happen in the COB for years: [Read more...]

In praise of the handbooks

When the new church handbooks were released last year, our stake president advised us to “press the reset button” on the way we administer the kingdom. Like everyone else, Mormons are susceptible to cultural accretions which soon take on the patina of gospel truth. For all the great questions of life (e.g. should we sit or stand for the intermediate hymn?), someone could point to some instruction by some visiting authority or something some leader heard when visiting some relative in Salt Lake or some such. [Read more...]

By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and owned slaves

Biblical texts from around the time of the Babylonian exile assert that Judeans were slaves in Babylonia. The book of Lamentations cries that “Judah has gone into exile with suffering and hard servitude” (1:3) with a “yoke on [their] necks” (5:5), their “boys stagger[ing] under loads of wood” (5:13). Babylon thus became the biblical motif for a place of captivity, to be contrasted with the joyous freedom that accompanied the return under Cyrus. [Read more...]

EMSA 2011

The European Mormon Studies Association
Annual Conference

Durham University, England

4–5 August 2011 [Read more...]

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