Margaret’s Heart of Africa

DSCN2836We were staying at a nice tourist hotel in Arba Minch, Ethiopia near the Nechisar National Park that borders Lake Abaya in the great Rift Valley. High cinderblock walls topped with broken glass and concertina wire surrounded pleasant little duplex bungalows in which we stayed. It was a nice hotel. My room had a sit-down toilet in one corner and a large bucket beside a garden hose, which I could use to fill the bucket to flush the toilet. There was also a large dipper that I could use to ladle water from the bucket and pour over me in case I wanted to take a shower (and I did, because it was kind of hot). As I maneuvered the mosquito netting around my bed, I was pleased to catch the scent of pyrethroids that meant an added layer of protection from malaria-carrying mosquitos. Here people still die from diseases that for us no longer pose a problem—malaria, measles, typhoid, even polio, that we (until recently) had eradicated. [Read more…]

Hope and the Evolving Church. And Whales (or Crocodiles).

Early in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Series, the King of Dreams descends into Hell to retrieve his crown stolen by a demon. The demon admits he has it, but demands a battle of wits in order for Sandman to win it back. [Read more…]

Pinewood Derby Unleashed

The Following is from a collection of short-short fictions I’m writing about my home town Pleasant Grove. Below in the comments feel free to discuss the joys and sorrows of pinewood derbys past and present.  


Some folk remember it as the year the Bishop of the Pleasant Grove 2nd Ward went mad. But it was a delightful insanity and created one of my favorite childhood memories. It was pinewood derby time. The whole ward took this very seriously. Very seriously indeed. Every year the boys were suppose to get their official pinewood derby kit and with minimal help from their parents have a fun race down the track amid the cheers of all the participants. But it was never like that. Parents were involved and every year a black market for derby secrets would emerge with some people, like the Hilliards and the Wilds, spending hundreds of dollars on winning designs from the pinewood derby underground. This was before the Internet, so finding those who would sell their secrets was sometimes tricky. But if you got desperate, you could always find pinewood derby designs among the ads found in the ‘Pleasant Grove Soldier of Fortune Monthly’ or in ‘The Feel’n Grovy Beat’ and other rags of ill repute. [Read more…]

Your Missionary Troll

BCC’s John F. wrote a powerful and prescriptive post on the challenges facing the Church’s missionary program. With younger ages and a world gone digital, some of these appear formidable. Craig Harline’s recent delightfully funny book Way Below the Angels, has shown that missionary work has always been daunting even before these challenges appeared, but now with more missionaries, these concerns become even more fraught. Recently Elder Bednar charged the saints to spread the message online and to create a flood of interweb memes and messages that share the gospel and let the world know what our beliefs mean to us. With missionaries spending more time online, how can their time be better used and with more effect?

I have an idea. [Read more…]

Workers Celebrate Labor Day

Labor Day is the one day ants all over the world celebrate their lifestyle, which is all about labor. This holiday is their most religious and sacred. Today I will share with you some of the joy of these celebratory activities. Here an ant rises to greet with the dawn with the traditional Labor Day carol: “Sun Arise! Ye Merry Sisters Rejoice!”
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Church announces Twible will be used as headings for the LDS KJV Bible!

download (1) Well, not really. But they should.

Here at BCC we have issued few edicts. Certainly we have offered sage advice. Motherly wisdom and fatherly Knowsbestticisms. We have indeed cajoled. Pled. Perhaps even subtly tried to shame others into action. But now, I, under the authority granted me by the governing board (which has no idea what I’m up to), I am issuing an edict. I was going to offer a bull, like a papal bull, but a BCC bull. But I feared the jokes that would ensue about BCC bull and refrained. So to the edict. Go now one and all. Both high and low. Both blue and green. Both sour and sweet. And ride thee forth to procure a copy of BCC friend Jana Riess’ book, The Twible.

I recognize that some will be disinclined to follow edicts for edicts sake. To you stubborn souls I offer a modicum of reasons. The best reasons will be found by perusing the book itself. If you have followed Jana on twitter or Facebook than you know the hilarity of these bytes of wisdom as she offers up a tweet capturing the gist of each chapter of the bible. These are both funny and wise. Some forced me think more deeply about the text and made me see things in new ways. Others made me blow diet coke out of my nose.

So follow the edict or your good sense and go buy the book. I know what everyone on my list of good boys and girls is getting for Christmas. This. Go thou and do likewise.

The Great BCC Aphorism Contest!

foot-in-riverLike many of you are wont to do, one night I was curled up in a comfy chair reading Heraclitus and I came across his famous aphorism,

One cannot step twice into the same river . . .#91

(which actually I’ve done several times, so I’m not sure what he’s going on about). He had a few more that were not so famous, but equally memorable and aphoristic,

The way up and down is one in the same. #60

Very Zen. How about this one that left me fairly discouraged, but I’m nothing if not willing to recognize that, ‘If the shoe fits I need to face the music (wait, is that an aphorism too?)–Heraclitus writes,

Eyes and ears are bad witnesses for people who have barbarian souls. #107

Yawp! That hurt. [Read more…]

Death, the Fall, and Darwin: ‘That which is below is like that which is above’, Part 7 of 7

paintings_forest_artwork_fairytales_desktop_1920x1080_hd-wallpaper-781163In D&C 130 we learn:

2 And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy.

Can we read that word ‘sociality’ a little more broadly? I would like to interpret it in an expansive way. A biological way. To look at levels of sociality matching the kinds of deep societies that make up every biological system—a  move that would make Hermes Trismegistus proud (the coiner of the aphorism, “Tis true without lying, certain & most true/That which is below is like that which is above & that which is above is like that which is below”). Sociality implies relationships among things, and in fact relationships among organisms and their environment is my area of study. We call it Ecology. [Read more…]

Death, the Fall, and Darwin: There are only imperfect triangles, Part 6 of 7

DSC05640Fasten your seat belts and hold on. The speculation coming may leave you with whiplash.

Take triangles. Most of us are tempted by the idea that there is some perfect realm where triangles in their formalwear are eking out an eternal existence being flawless and sitting beyond the ravages of time and circumstance.

Plato laid this out nicely with his sense that there was a world of perfect forms or ideas that stamped the shape of things that got instantiated in this world as particulars. The form of the ‘good’ or maybe ‘beauty’ stood as the form of the forms. This got taken as God. Existing up there (I’m pointing up) as the one pure being. Like the triangles, only rather than perfect sides, angles and such, he held all perfections including perfect being—sort of a really advanced trianglely sort of thing only better. And beyond time, where time is some ‘river’ that flows forward but which can be circumvented by this perfect being and who is its source rather than something embedded in it. Time is down here. With us. Not with him—the God of triangles. Oh and these perfect ideal formal triangles escape time too, just like all the Platonic forms. [Read more…]

Death, the Fall, and Darwin: On the innocence of hyenas, Part 5 of 7

In 2 Nephi 2, Jacob receives instruction from Lehi. In a metaphysical discussion he discusses aspects of spiritual reality, specifically the conditions necessary to establish righteousness. He says:

 11 For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my first-born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.

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Death, the Fall, and Darwin: The Only Absolute: There are no absolutes, Part 4 of 7

One more thing to do before we frame an evolutionary interpretation of the Fall—we must destroy absolutes. Absolutes seem antithetical to much of Mormon theology. Ideas such as embodiment, temporality, gendered deities, the agential nature of existence, the implications of emergence, and a god who weeps seem to be antithetical to the God of classic monothesism. Much of the neoplatonism upon which much of Christianity rests, relies on a set of absolutes that misdirect our Mormony gaze in ways that have allowed things like arguments from creation ex nihilo that structure many current creationist leanings to have crept into our creation narratives. Modern creationism seems to fly in the face of what we have discovered about the universe. [Read more…]

Death, the Fall, and Darwin: Emergence bubbling up, Part 3.5 of 7

bee hive utahA little more on Niche theory might be useful:

Niche theory introduces the possibility of emergence. Let me be careful with that word because it has come to mean many things to many people and tends to be a fraught concept. I am defining it in the sense of Mark Badau (Not Badiou mind you). Badau argues for three concepts of emergence. In all three types, the foundational concept of emergence is the idea that a property is emergent if it is a property that can be possessed by the macro scale, which cannot be possessed by the micro scale. The classic example of this is the property liquidity possessed by water in a bucket, but is not possessed by a single water molecule. He then breaks this down into three kinds of emergence, nominal, weak and strong. [Read more…]

Death, the Fall, and Darwin: Badiou Company and the Void, Part 3 of 7

DSC_4253In his book Being and Event, Badiou construes ontology to be based upon set theoretic elements, principally the void, the empty set which provides a foundation for all subsequent set manipulations. He focuses especially on the ‘belongs to’ operator, and the notion of set itself—a collection of elements. He sees being as such is multiple in the sense that it is not decomposable into a countable set (you can’t map a being into one-one relationship with the natural numbers), they can be element of a set or or as he calls it a ‘count-as-one’. His thought is rich and complex and I don’t want to explore it fully here, but I do want to tap into his notion of an event. [Read more…]

Death, the Fall, and Darwin: Roman Legions of Death, Part 2 of 7

Faulconer appleSo to begin. Assume that the story that science tells is tout court correct. That humans evolved from apelike ancestors and have existed as a species for roughly two-hundred thousand years and became behaviorally modern about fifty-thousand years ago. They have been living and dying for almost eight-thousand generations.

Dying. What do I mean by that? Actually, it can mean a lot of things. For example, it can mean the cessation of living. Scripturally it can also mean a number of things. Paul’s letter to Romans is a great place to start. No I take that back, Jim Faulconer’s book on Romans is a great place to start. Look at the attached photo It shows the index entries for ‘death’ in his book on Romans giving a short peek into the way Paul uses the word. [Read more…]

Death, the Fall, and Darwin: A More Harmonious Reading, Part 1 of 7

DSCN1646‘There is nothing worse than death, Dumbledore!’ snarled Voldemort.
‘You are quite wrong.’ said Dumbledore . . .

—————– Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. p. 718

One of the key challenges in defining a post-Darwinian LDS theology is that of the Fall. The Fall is considered one of the foundational pillars of Mormon doctrine (as Bruce R. McConkie has often argued). This because the Fall is what provides the backdrop for the necessity of the Atonement, another foundational LDS doctrinal pillar. [Read more…]


What if the prophets are right and wickedness will cause the destruction of the last days? But what if it’s not indirect causation such that people are wicked therefore God looking down smites the Earth? What if the wickedness itself causes the destruction? What if the seas are heaving themselves beyond their bound** because the wicked are using up the resources of the Earth in wicked ways: selfish, unnecessary, greedy, used to adorn the flesh of a few, and to vaunt vanity? [Read more…]

New evidence of fossil origins

article-1234473-060777D70000044D-378_468x317I suppose that yesterday’s paper in Nature deserves to be more broadly known, because it has some implications for the faith/science debate. A brief outline is in order. Beardy Card’s lab at MIT has completed the most extensive dark matter (DM) analysis ever done. As we’ve learned dark matter (an unidentified form of matter) is found throughout the universe in great abundance. Dark matter detectors were pioneered by Card and this is the first analysis of the DM contained within our planet ever conducted. The results are stunning. In a news release Card says, “We are still reeling over this, but there can be little doubt that we’ve done the analysis correctly. It’s been confirmed in six independent labs and they are all reporting the same finding. [Read more…]

Science is so cool. You are part Neanderthal!

Q_and_PicardHow deeply I love studying the wonders of the universe. There was a report of a four billion light year across object! That’s 4,000,000,000 light years! Not miles. Lightyears! I watched a show on PBS last night that talked about the recent complete sequencing the the Neanderthal genome. A species near our own, but vastly different, and guess what? Unless you are from Africa, from one to four percent of your genome is Neanderthal! African populations missed this introgression. Now that’s genealogy! (If you don’t believe this, I would encourage you to become an activist demanding the release of all death row inmates convicted on DNA evidence. It’s of the same type.) [Read more…]

Trillim Cooks Emily Dickinson’s Black Cake

Well, the year is ending, and with it comes the end of my posting Trillim’s work on BCC, much to the sorrow of both of you reading them. I gave myself until the end of the year to post those I thought most amenable to separate short (ha ha) postings. I will go back to more regular posts (I’ve actually been on a bit of hiatus), with diatribes on Climate Change, Evolution, and Ecology as I sees her.

However the Trillim work continues and I hope a volume of selections from the Trillim Archives will appear in the near future. However, the other entries are far longer even than the longer postings I’ve provided. These will likely be removed should the Archive go to press, so read them soon. They may be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and a recent book can be found here.

The following was written shortly after her cruise to Rome in which she discovered what people-objects were, and prior to Trillim’s losing her right hand and her two year imprisonment in Southeast Asia. As always her life’s work has been to explore the connections between things: People, ecologies, and objects of all types large and small. This is one of my favorites because of the pictures that scholars found in an envelope tucked in her journal.
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Gilda Trillim on her ‘Melancholia’

After her return from the Soviet Union, Gilda seems to have fallen into depression. Her friend Babs Lake took her on an Atlantic Cruise that sailed from Boston to Rome to try and break her from its chains. During that time her spirits lifted significantly. She was reading Moby Dick at the time and this was found folded in her hardback copy of the book. It is a fascinating peep into the things she was thinking at the time and would later inform her fiction. It is believed by most Trilliam scholars that this was written about two days into the voyage. The adventures of Trillim can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, and a recent book can be found here.
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Gilda Trillim and the freedom to trap muskrats

Conibear_model_220_body-gripping_trap,_set.After reading Jacob’s post Creation Out of Givenness I remembered something that Gilda Trillim had written (whose life on an alternative time line has been detailed on these pages). After scouring her archives I found this. I include it here, again not to be read (it’s nearly 6000 words, far too long for a blog post, so please, please, remember that this was not put up to be read, I think my fellow bloggers would be quite put out if I left the impression that these long excursions into nonsense were to be thought of as one of BCC’s high quality offerings. Even their patience has its limits.), but rather this is placed here to archive her adventures because in our universe she has not existed but should have. The adventures of Trillim can be found here, here, here, here, here, and a recent book can be found here.

Notes for Gilda’s Novel Muskrat Trap
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Gilda Trillim explores an animated world

A new letter from Gilda Trillim was discovered in an estate sale in Los Angeles, tucked in a copy of one of her books. I had to share it, even though I have little doubt that Gilda is wearing out her welcome in the Bloggernacle (she is certainly not to everyone’s taste). It’s long and I would not read it if I were you. I am placing these here mostly to assemble an archive that allows future Mormon ficstorians to discover her. Still this one opens interesting questions that are worth exploring.

Dear Babs,

I lost the second match and am out. I’m feeling a little blue and empty today. I can almost hear you telling me (in your musical lilting voice) to stop moping and turn to a good book. I will. I promise. Literature has always been my healing balm, the life preserver thrown onto the surface of my hurricanes, and you are right, or the you I imagine telling me to read anyway. I need to find a book that will take me out of this world and plant me in another. Such worlds I have no doubt are as real as this one. Just because it finds its existence principally in my head, does not mean that that astral plane is less real than this one. For all I know I may be a fictitious character in the head of another being who exists on another sphere of existence. I picture him now, a biology professor perhaps, living in the mountains of the west, struggling to make sense of my life as a character in one of his fictions, wondering who I am and how I have come to capture his imagination, the two of us moving in a dance of meaning across the worlds, worlds different in ontology and subjectivity, each of us imprinting on the other new realities and new ways of understanding what it means to be. Surely there is room for multiple realities each playing with and constructing things from the snippets of what reality we each can claim. Am I mad? Or is he? Who can say?
[Read more…]

A Call to Stewardship Conference at BYU

The Environmental Ethics Initiative at BYU is holding a conference with a stellar lineup of speakers, including Margaret Palmer, Professor at the University of Maryland in the Department of Entomology and in the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES); Jonathan Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota; and J. Baird Callicott, University Distinguished Research Professor of Philosophy and formerly Regents Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Texas. [Read more…]

Gilda Trillim Studies Junk Drawer Ecology in Skjolden, Norway

My research into Trillim’s life can be found here, here, here, here, and a recent book can be found here. This letter was just donated to the Trillim Archives in Beijing. It was undated, but its authenticity is beyond reproach. Handwriting analysis, stable isotope analysis of paper and ink, and most compelling, a mention of the letter in a letter from Babs to her mother (referred to as “that crazy junk drawer letter) all confirm it is real. On a small grant from the Trillim Studies Foundation, I traveled to Skjolden and confirm that a small farmhouse, which was owned by a family named Vermeulen, once stood on the site up the valley from the town.

Dear Babs, [Read more…]

Gilda Trillim Paints an Apple Seed in the Urals

Possible picture of Gilda Trillim in the convent garden.

Trillim’s work continues to fascinate me. My research into her life can be found here, here, here and a recent book can be found here. Her impossible story continues to raise questions about whether she is real. Of course, she is real. She has been as historically validated as Helen of Troy or Don Quixote or any other figure from history.

A largely unknown piece of Gilda Trillim’s life was uncovered due to some remarkable detective work by Chinese scholar Yuan Mei. He has been relentless in pursuing information on the ‘lost year’ as it is known in Trillim studies. The story of his discovery is worth a book or even a novel in-and-of-itself as his researches have taken him from rural Idaho to the base of the Ural Mountains. [Read more…]

A letter to Babs Lake from Gilda Trillim shortly after the Uber Cup in 1957

I found the following fascinating letter in the Trillim Archives in Beijing during my last research trip there. Her speculations are perhaps a little too bold, but do seem to portend certain trends in Mormon Theology we see today. It was written to Babs Lake and dated May, 19 1957. It’s intriguing to me because she draws on the work of Henri Bergson, the French/Polish philosopher whose work has fascinated me for a number of years. Bergson would have been much more well-known in 1957 than he is today, but her tying his work to Mormon thought and theology reflects an extraordinarily deep understanding of contemporaneous evolutionary philosophy.
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My Turn on Earth

Some of Gilda Trillim’s papers at the archive

Continuing my research into the life and writing Gilda Trillim, I found the following theological poem in one of her high school notebooks. While the title appears to be tongue-in-cheek and added years after she wrote this, the rest seems like the kind of poetic theology that Adam Miller calls for. What’s astonishing is she seems to anticipate many current issues—like intelligent design creationism. While as a biologist I cannot speak to her poetics, her biology is really quite up to snuff and modern. The centrality in this work of a plan of salvation that draws on evolution seems to anticipate my own papers on the issue years ahead of their appearance (and let me be clear, I had not read Trillim prior to writing my Dialogue article or I certainly would have cited her).

I’m not really sure what this is. It seems to be a play of sorts? A hymn of praise in places? Poetry? It’s difficult to classify and outside of the writing Trillim usually does with her minimalist novels. There is a maudlin quality, typical of such reimaginings of the Preexistence, but nonetheless this seems to explore things like consciousness and free will in interesting, if ultimately facile ways. Here is her play (or whatever). [Read more…]

Grace and the Literature of Gilda Trillim

This Saturday the Association for Mormon Letters will have its annual meeting. In support of their work, I would like explore one of Mormon literature’s most important pioneers, although you are unlikely to have heard of her since, sadly, her reputation within the LDS community has largely fallen off. Also unfortunate is that interest in her among American literary critics as also waned since its peak in the late 70s. Still, there continues a steady stream of dissertations, theses, and papers discussing her work. Despite her star setting somewhat in the West, she yet has a large following in China, where a major retranslation of some of her best work was just released this week in Beijing. However, her largest influence continues to be found in Ethiopia where certain aspects of her work seem to speak to the Ethiopian Orthodox mind with more affinity than anywhere else in the world. It was in fact in Addis Ababa working on tsetse fly research that I first came upon the work of Gilda Trillim. [Read more…]

Some Thoughts on Icelandic Sea Captain Elder Arnfinnur Skáldskapur

I’ve not been big on history, but of late I’ve decided to take a page from some of my BCC comrades and try my hand at a bit of historical research.
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President Monson on the set of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit

BCC is pleased to be the first to bring you the exciting news that President Monson as been asked to play Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s new movie ‘The Hobbit.’ Because the previously slated actor had a contract dispute, President Monson has agreed to fill the role. Here in an exclusive interview are the details.

[Read more…]


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