My wife and I recently watched “The Words,” a movie with nested stories about writers. It featured a trope that occurs fairly regularly in movies about writing: the all-night burst of inspiration that produces Deeply Moving Prose, usually after the person doing the writing has gone through a prolonged period of emotional difficulty. The desired effect of this trope is to imbue the writing with a kind of mystical power—an effect that these movies usually augment by keeping said Deeply Moving Prose more or less sealed off from the viewers, Hitchcock-style, because it’s easier to imagine Deeply Moving Prose than it is to produce it (which may explain the irony that most movies about writing, including this one, are badly written). [Read more…]
Angels have played a significant role in Christian thought through the centuries, and in recent years an important scholarly literature has developed around the subject. Books and articles treat many different genres and periods, from the apostolic, to the medieval, to the early modern era and beyond (our own Ben Park and Sam Brown have work in the area, among others). Such work is important for many reasons, among them the study of the function and nature of angels (as people considered them) as well how these beings link to epistemological, ontological, cosmological, and other areas of religious thought. Current work shows that ideas regarding angels have and do play fundamental roles in cultural, religious, social, and literary worlds with surprising cross-pollination. Mormons are certainly familiar with the role angels play in their religion, both in its founding and more subtly in its past and current lay devotional thought.
The idea of supernatural beings who carry messages from, and do the bidding of the gods is a very old one, and biblical stories of angels acting as divine agents often mark important theological turning points. The angelic experiences told by Joseph Smith seem to portray angels as dignified, somewhat impersonal extentions of divinity but angel stories are not restricted to this narrow vision. Just as the “cult” of angels replaced the cult of Saints in Reformation Europe, angelic ministers replaced in some sense the Protestant individualism of “personal savior” for Mormons. And Mormons found a somewhat unique angelology that allowed them to reinvent Saints and Angels, in effect as one and the same.
Why should Mormons read (or even care about) a work of Anglican systematic theology about the Trinity, a doctrine in which we are prone to saying we do not believe? (But which we enjoy probing around here: see J. Stapley’s recent post, which links to several earlier Trinitarian BCC musings—get this—by three men, including me.)
Here’s why: some of the most urgent theological questions currently occupying Mormonism have to do with gender and the divine. Not only has the Ordain Women movement raised (once again) the issue of women’s ordination, but people are asking questions about Heavenly Mother (see the “Connecting to Heavenly Mother” series at FMH, or the Heavenly Mother category at the Exponent II blog), with some wondering whether she can be separated from earlier teachings about Adam-God and polygamy. A recent review of Terryl Givens’s Wrestling with the Angel drew attention to the ways that our theology (along with Givens’s account of it) struggles to make sense of gender or even to find a place for women. In sum, although many members of the Church (female and male) do seem satisfied with present teachings and practices around gender, a growing minority can’t help butting up uncomfortably against questions about how women fit into the economy of heaven. [Read more…]
There’s a huge, but underexplored, problem with the Book of Mormon: it don’t get no respect.
Richard Bushman bemoans the fact that the Book of Mormon can’t get a toehold in cultural history classes or the Harvard Divinity School, because the world outside of Mormonism gets stuck on its origins. The angelic delivery, the miraculous translation, heck, the gold plates mean must be a hoax. And, as a hoax, they don’t even get to the point where they confront the text.[fn1] [Read more…]
Adam S. Miller, Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan: An Urgent Paraphrase of Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Self-published, 2015). Amazon: $8.99 paperback; $3.99 Kindle.
John Locke, in the preface to his posthumously published paraphrases of Paul’s letters, inveighs against the division of the text into chapters and verses because it hinders comprehension of the text as a unified whole. To understand Paul, Locke says, one ought to read the epistles in a single sitting, again and again, until the big picture begins to coalesce. This advice is the most difficult to implement with Romans, Paul’s longest and most complicated epistle, so a well-done paraphrase offers a way in.
Adam Miller’s new paraphrase sets out to address another obstacle: the difficulty that emerges in the culturally specific details and rhetorical tangles of Paul’s complex argument, which becomes only slightly less difficult when read in the NIV or NRSV than it was in the 400-year-old KJV. Miller, then, aims to “translate” Paul not just into a modern idiom, but into a modern context. Since he considers the message of Romans “urgent,” as his title proclaims, he strives to show the relevance of its argument for 21st century readers. [Read more…]
Working through the Funeral Sermon book, trying to put together a real draft, I’m attempting once again to write an introduction (presently designated as Preface). I’ve written large chunks that have been (and no doubt others that will eventually be) discarded. This post is stuff on the chopping block, but it has some important features that deserve some discussion I think. So I am dumping it on you all. No doubt it is terribly boring stuff, but that’s the nature of the beast. What follows was just an initial draft, so I don’t claim a serious stake in it. I put the pictures in to entertain Steve Evans.
[Cross posted at Boap.org’s blog.]
Yesterday we took our seats in the chapel just as the sacrament hymn was coming to a close. As if our late arrival wasn’t disruptive enough (you’ve got to arrive in good time in order to occupy the more discrete but even more coveted last row), our toddler broke the silence between the hymn and prayer by standing up on the bench and exclaiming, finger pointed to the center section of pews: “Da sind ganz viele Michael Häupls!” (There are a whole bunch of Michael Häupls!). Unlike most of you, I knew that Michael Häupl is the long-serving mayor of Vienna where we live, but I was still quite bewildered why sacrament meeting would prompt such a response. After church my wife told me that our daughter was referring to this poster: [Read more…]
November’s Friend Magazine has a remarkable entry that cultivates an attitude transcending mere Toleration in favor of genuinely accepting the religious pluralism that is essential for true religious freedom to exist in democratic societies. That is, the article takes the step from Toleration, or merely tolerating the differences around us (in the case of the Friend essay, religious difference), as the lowest common denominator necessary for a free society to accepting and even appreciating people’s differences on their own terms. Such a perspective strengthens the robust and beneficial pluralism that the Church has argued before the European Court of Human Rights “has been dearly won over the centuries” and is “indissociable from a democratic society.” [Read more…]
Up until ten days ago, I’d never even heard of Fascinating Womanhood, a how-to-save-your-marriage manual-cum-lifestyle popularized by a Mormon housewife in the early 60s. Thanks to historian and author Julie Debra Neuffer, that situation has now been rectified. Neuffer’s new book, Helen Andelin and the Fascinating Womanhood Movement, gives an unprecedented look into the personal experiences and social/political climate that spurred Andelin’s pursuit of an antidote for divorce, the growth of her idea into an international enterprise, and the supposed enemies she made along the way (“…the feminists, the abortionists, the liberals, the BYU Family Relations Department, and the General Presidency of the Relief Society.”) [Read more…]
Sam Brown is an historian, scholar, author and medical doctor. His latest work, First Principles and Ordinances: The Fourth Article of Faith In Light of the Temple is now available, and is a publication of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. We published an excerpt from the book a couple of weeks ago and are happy to offer another now.
We often remind our adolescents and young adults that they will need to stand on their own, that they will need a testimony that can withstand separation from their parents. And it’s true that our attachment to Church and gospel must be stronger than the vagaries of young adulthood. There must be within us something more than just conformity to whatever people around us say. But we must not believe that our walk of faith is solitary. We must be able to experience commitment to true principles and to the people of Zion that can resist mocking voices or temptations of the flesh. But we should not thereby forget that God and the Holy Ghost generally speak to us in the context of our relationships with the Saints. Our lives are deeply blessed by the people who carry the Spirit to us at times of great sadness or anxiety. [Read more…]
Bradley J. Kramer has a new book—Beholding the Tree of Life: A Rabbinic Approach to the Book of Mormon—coming out this week from Greg Kofford Books. Zion’s Books at 274 W. Center St. in Provo will be hosting a book launch and roundtable discussion this Wednesday, 12 November, at 7pm. The roundtable will include responses to the book from Jack Welch, Richard D. Rust, and Delys Snyder. Kramer will also be signing copies of the book at noon on Thursday 13 November at Benchmark Books, 3269 South Main St–Suite 250 in Salt Lake. I’ve read the book and find that it offers an enriching way of approaching the Book of Mormon as a literary and religious text, so I encourage readers of BCC to take advantage of these opportunities to meet its author.
Disambiguation: Bradley J. Kramer is not the same as the Brad Kramer familiar to readers of this blog.
When our co-blogger John F. suggested that our last ranking had jumped the shark, he not only lost our respect and friendship, but he also unwittingly inspired our hearts and minds by directing Steve and me toward the many great acting performances in Mormon cinema. This week, we give much-overdue praise to some of the lesser-recognized latter-day thespians.
As always, these rankings are authoritative.
A Book Review by Michael Austin*.
The Miracles of Jesus
Eric D. Huntsman**
Deseret Books, 2014
(Click on each spread to enlarge.)
OK, I’m just going to admit it: I was a little bit skeptical when I first got Eric D. Huntsman’s newest book, The Miracles of Jesus, and saw that it was a glossy, gorgeously illustrated book fit as much for framing as for reading. High production values in books make me nervous, as I always wonder what they are hiding. And then there is the fact that it is published by Deseret Book — the official publishing arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Official publishing arms make me even more nervous, as I usually have a pretty good idea what they are hiding. All I needed was a third strike to set it aside and move on to the next book in my pile. [Read more…]
Academic approaches to scripture sometimes arouse suspicion in LDS circles, especially when they include the Higher Criticism (“Moses didn’t write the five books of Moses?”) or reading the Bible as literature (“So you think this is a work of fiction?”). People using or advocating these approaches often draw charges of privileging the intellectual ways of the world over the pure spiritual truth of God, of trusting in the arm of flesh, or of kowtowing to secular disbelief in the interest of seeming more acceptable.
Guest post by Michael Hicks.
I’m not always consistent. But I’ve been consistent about two things for many years.
First, in discussions of Mormon music I always say that the masterworks of indigenous Mormon hymnody are mostly in the Primary Song Book. Second, whenever I hear Janice Kapp Perry spoken of in a disparaging or even mocking way–not uncommon among BYU music majors–I always speak up in her behalf. [Read more…]
Your weekly, or however often I get around to it, view into some of the weightier conversations between Steve Evans and myself. Today, we talk about an article on the internet that is full of crap.
Scott: So yesterday there was that article at Wired or wherever that foolishly claimed to have the “definitive” ranking of every season of every TV show that matters.
And it was BULL CRAP
Steve: Look, it was a noble attempt.
Scott: The collection of shows itself was fine–a few notable misses–but the rankings? BULL CRAP
Steve: Plus who cares what the best season of E.R. was? They’re all the same.
Nurse: DOCTOR! HE’S DYING!
Doctor: NOPE, HE’S SAVED NOW!
Nurse: LET’S KISS!
Steve: Gunshot wound! I need a CBC, x-ray, fluids STAT! [Read more…]
So, Joseph Smith waxed eloquent on the social aspects of the before life, and the afterlife. We get a pithy summary courtesy of Orson Pratt and William Clayton:
“that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there”
And this makes me shiver a bit. Niles Crane, fictive Seattle psychiatrist expresses my thought best:
I’ve always liked the notion [after I die] of meeting the great figures of history. But then I think, what if it’s like high school, and all the really cool dead people don’t want to hang out with me?*
*On the wall in the St. George temple is a painting. All those cool dead people? They’re hanging out with Wilford Woodruff.
Letter to a Man in the Fire* is a brief meditation on the question of God’s existence and God’s goodness in the face of inexplicable suffering in the world. (Really brief. I read it in about two hours.) Reynolds Price’s letter, written in response to a young man dying of cancer, is suffused with an unusual mix of uncertainty and devotion. Price spends a lot of time agonizing over whether it’s appropriate to even write a letter recommending the existence and—in some sense—the goodness of a Creator to someone whose present suffering directly calls those views into question. Price’s reluctance is appropriate especially because so many people who write answers to theodicy questions forge ahead with affirmations of God’s goodness without dwelling long with the sufferer in their very real pain. He wants neither to “diminish for an instant my sense of the grinding wheel you’re presently under” by offering weak platitudes, nor “burden you further with darker thoughts than you’re otherwise bearing”—a frighteningly acute description of the strange negotiations comforters must make as they go along trying to “mourn with those that mourn” as well as “comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (80; Mosiah 18:9). [Read more…]
Warning: This post contains spoilers for Darren Aronofsky’s movie Noah. If you don’t want any major plot points revealed before you see it, don’t continue reading. If spoilers don’t bother you, go ahead. If you don’t intend to see the movie and nothing anyone says could possibly persuade you otherwise, you’re probably safe too, but whether or not you’re interested is another story. Don’t worry if you haven’t yet read the Bible story; nothing could possibly spoil that.
Last Thursday Brother J and I went to see Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. My husband and I both very much enjoyed The Fountain, so we were eager to see what Aronofsky would do with a big Hollywood budget. I didn’t realize there was any controversy over the movie until right around opening weekend, when I started seeing indignant posts on Facebook about how much the movie gets “wrong,” i.e. deviates from the Biblical account. [Read more…]
When I was in high school or college, I bought The Shape of Jazz to Come, Ornette Coleman’s seminal 1959 free jazz album. I listened to jazz at the time, especially Miles’s electric stuff, but even more I listened to James Brown and Prince and P-Funk and various alternative rock bands. In fact, I’d probably never heard Ornette Coleman before I bought the album.[fn1] I bought it because I knew it was important, and I wanted to like it. [Read more…]