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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A Kiva Family Home Evening

. . . do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again;
and your reward shall be great,
and ye shall be the children of the Highest . . .

Luke 6:35

Several years ago our family received one of the most interesting and long-lasting Christmas presents we have ever received from another family in the extended family’s Christmas exchange. The thoughtful family who had drawn our family’s name contributed a modest sum of money on our behalf to the microlending organization Kiva. The idea was that they supplied the money as a gift to us and it was up to us to choose recipients for microloans using that money. This has been a gift that keeps on giving as the loans get paid back and we then have the opportunity to lend that money again to other recipients of our choice. [Read more…]

Killing Narfi: Skyrim and the problem of evil

As Mormons, we have a pervasive, if not terribly well-attributed, belief that, in the next life, if we turned out to be good enough, we’ll get to make our own planets. Folks, why wait? There are a wealth of world-building strategy and role-playing games available right now. One has me in its web right now and it is causing me to consider the creation of a moral universe. [Read more…]

Book Review: Richard J. Mouw’s Talking With Mormons

cover mouwLast week, popular Christian evangelist Ravi Zacharias returned to Salt Lake City to address Mormons and other Christians from the Tabernacle pulpit. Back in 2004, Zacharias’s historic Tabernacle address was overshadowed in the news by Richard Mouw’s controversial introductory remarks. Mouw, president of the Fuller Theological Seminary, issued an apology to Mormons on behalf of evangelicals who he said had sinned against Mormonism by misrepresenting their beliefs and practices. Over the past decade, the evangelical (Calvinist) Christian has continued to dialog with various Mormons in order to promote better interfaith relationships. During the last two presidential elections he became one of the many go-to sources for news outlets seeking soundbites on evangelical views of Mormonism. He’s taken a lot of heat for this within his religious community–early on being told that he didn’t know Mormons well enough and so would easily be deceived by them, later being told he had become too close to Mormons to have a clear view of their dangerous heresies.

His new book Talking with Mormons: An Invitation to Evangelicals is an effort to educate the evangelical community about his ongoing work with Mormonism.  [Read more…]

Book Review: To Mormons with Love

I was hoping for a little more whoop ass, but the book was very sweet and sincere.

I just finished reading a fascinating book a couple months ago called To Mormons, With Love by Chrisy Ross. She blogs here and gives a quick overview of her book here. You can buy her book on Kindle here. Chrisy and her family are nondenominational Christians who live (voluntarily, not because of Witness Relocation or anything like that) in Utah County – and even enjoy it mostly! I’m not sure I know many Mormons for whom I could say the same, but I might live in the opposite of a Mormon bubble. [Read more…]

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.

Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 9.59.27 PM

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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Songs I Wish Were in the Hymn Book

Growing up I always thought the image on the hymn book was Angkor Wat.

On my mission, in one city my companion and I had to walk 45 mins to get to our area to teach.  We were newly together and frankly, she was driving me nuts.  She insisted on singing hymns the entire time we walked through the banana fields and winding rural paths. Relentlessly.  Finally, I couldn’t take it any more, so I started belting out Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.”  She recoiled as if I had just taken a big swig of Vodka, wiped my mouth, and then offered it to her.  But then, she accepted the proffered folk song olive branch and started to sing it with me.  She shrugged and said she guessed it was not inappropriate even if it wasn’t a hymn. [Read more…]

Attractive Lies and Boring Truth

A guest post from Mike Austin. Mike is Provost, Vice President for Academic Affairs, and Professor of English at Newman University in Wichita, Kansas, a member of the Dialogue Board of Directors, and a generally all-around great guy.

Trouble, Right Here in Sal Tlay Ka Siti

“I always think there’s a band, kid.” —Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man

By the time that I figured out that I hated The Music Man, it had been my favorite musical for more than 20 years. When I was ten, my mother took me to see Tony Randall as Professor Harold Hill at the Tulsa Little Theatre, and I was hooked. I listened to the LP for hours at a time, and, when the Robert Preston/Shirley Jones movie came to HBO a few years later, I watched it almost every day for two months. I have seen five stage versions and two film versions of the play a total of probably 30 times. I probably have most of the lines by heart. [Read more…]

Your Comprehensive Guide to Johnny Lingo: A GIF Extravaganza!

Please welcome a very funny woman (and my SIL), Jessie Jensen, with her first BCC guest post. She tweets as @JessieJensen, if you’re into that sort of thing, and you might have seen her popular “baby names” posts on her Bloggity Blog.

For better or for worse, Johnny Lingo is an inescapable part of Mormon lore, as immovable as the everlasting hills. This short film, the joint creation of the Sunday School General Board and (what is now) BYU-Hawaii and abounding in abysmal wigs, has been delighting LDS audiences for all the wrong reasons since 1969. If you’re unfamiliar with the storyline, you can view the thing in its entirety here, or you can save yourself 24 minutes of cringing and check out my handy GIF guide instead. Consolidated cringing!

*****

We begin with the announced arrival of the much-anticipated title visitor.

1

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Reading as Response, an Introduction Courtesy of BYU Studies

BYU Studies has posted an understanding, helpful response today to the article in the New York Times (“Some Mormons Search the Web and Find Doubt”) that has caused some stir in Mormon circles online over the weekend.

BYU Studies’ Editor-in-Chief, John W. Welch, notes that “BYU Studies may shed some important light on those subjects. While no one has all the answers to every question, the BYU Studies website, together with many other resources and publications, are now easily available to provide many well-researched and well-written treatments of topics of current interest. We invite people to familiarize themselves with this website. It may come in very handy.”

I really like the BYU Studies response and the selection of potential starting points for reading about certain historical issues offered there. Reading about and candidly discussing our history is the perfect response to this problem. [Read more…]

A peculiar people

Guest post from Hannah J. Welcome, Hannah!

image001

In my first year of university I took a color film photography class where we were required to create a photo series. Every time I look at this series I made, I think about that element of childlike suburban peculiarity that exists within much of North American Mormon culture; carpeted walls and fake paintings, weddings taking place in basketball courts, and virginal 20-30 year olds playing games on a Friday night. [Read more…]

A MAD Man Fold-In

There is something different about Jon McNaughton’s latest painting. Sure it contains the basic elements of distasteful propaganda we’ve come to expect from him over the years, but when I first saw it, it reminded me of the kind of painting I am used to seeing in the pages of MAD Magazine (no offense to “the usual gang of idiots”). Then I saw that the artist himself described the piece as “parody” and I realized I was right. Maybe that is the best context to view “Liberalism Is A Disease”…

[Read more…]

Dead Serious

Round them up and ship them to a camp somewhere.

Over the last several years, a painter in Utah named Jon McNaughton has been trying to make a name for himself by using the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a prop in politically provocative pictures which attempt to communicate his apparent belief that only people who hold political views consistent with those of the current American political extreme right wing are in harmony with the Lord’s Gospel and, in fact, acceptable to God. [Read more…]

Review: Jane Barnes, “Falling in Love with Joseph Smith: My Search for the Real Prophet”

barnesTitle: Falling in Love with Joseph Smith: My Search for the Real Prophet
Author: Jane Barnes
Publisher: Tarcher/Penguin
Genre: Biography/Memoir
Year: 2013
Pages: 304
Binding: Hardcover
ISBN10: 1585429252
Price: $25.95 (or $10 on Amazon)

In this quirky autobiographical biography of Joseph Smith the Mormon prophet, writer Jane Barnes offers an overview of Smith’s life intertwined with her own life experiences of love, loss and death. [Read more…]

“On the edge of beatitude”: Another review of Adam Miller’s “Rube Goldberg Machines”

rgmTitle: Rube Goldberg Machines: Essays in Mormon Theology
Author: Adam S. Miller
Publisher: Greg Kofford Books
Genre: Philosophy/Religion
Year: 2012
Pages: 132
Binding: Softcover
ISBN13: 978-58958-193-7
Price: $18.95

[Note: Adam Miller is co-founder of Salt Press, an independent publishing outfit whose books were recently brought into the Maxwell Institute at BYU where I work. This book isn’t a Salt title, but I thought I’d mention the connection anyway.]

I watched Groundhog Day the other night. I’ve owned the DVD for years but never tore the plastic wrapping until Adam Miller put a bug in my ear via one of his theological essays. (It was just as good as I remembered it!) Miller, the theological film critic. I laughed when Phil, Bill Murray’s character, punched Ned Ryerson in the face at a busy intersection and I teared up as he fruitlessly pummeled the chest of a dying homeless man in a freezing alleyway. “Come on, pops, come on pops, don’t die on me.” Watching Phil struggle through incomprehension, laugh at absurdity, and find joy in relationships, reminded me a lot of reading Miller’s book. I’d already read great reviews of it, I couldn’t wait to get a copy. But I hit many more brick walls than I anticipated. This deceptively thin volume will take much more of your time than you might think. It felt at times like the alarm clock kept hitting 6:00 AM, February 2, and I was in for another round of difficulty. Not that all the essays were the same, but that they were each difficult in their own way. It’s way above my level to feel confident in doing this, but my review is an attempt to help readers like me have a better chance at making it through the book. [Read more…]

Your Sunday Brunch Special: Star Trek

There is a new Star Trek movie. And, this is current (Gospel) events, people.

I realize many BCC readers don’t follow Star Trek. Consider this a drive by catchup on things. One of the devices Trek watchers are familiar with is the Transporter.

As you can see from the clip, the Transporter does something like shuffling molecules over a distance. But not just that. It essentially murders people, and reanimates them. (If you don’t want to think about Star Trek, consider the classic film, The Fly.) Recently, there have been rumblings about such a piece of technology. Whether or not it exists now, is irrelevant to my question however. Suppose there was a Transporter. What does a spirit do during transport? We advertise that spirits are material. Do they get disorganized and then reorganized in the Transporter?* I hope you understand the serious nature of these questions. And you’re welcome.**

———————
* Joseph vs. Brigham here, right?
** Brain and brain! What is brain?!?

“This is my favorite thing.”

Hushpuppy and the girls (photo from collider.com)

In his Sunday Afternoon Conference Talk, Elder D. Todd Christofferson focused on the Redemptive power of the Atonement in our lives. While it is historically accurate and theologically legitimate to discuss a redemptive power and an understanding of Atonement tied to a redemption of humanity from some great debt, I feel like it can interfere with our understanding of the Atonement’s purpose.
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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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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.

Duck Beach to Eternity

You won’t learn much about Mormonism from watching Duck Beach to Eternity, but you will learn a lot about how Mormonism intersects with current-era, white, upper-middle-class privilege. [Read more…]

What Doctors Cannot Tell You, Q&A with Kevin Jones

Q&A with Kevin B. Jones, author of
What Doctors Cannot Tell You: Clarity, Confidence and Uncertainty in Medicine (Book website)

[I have known Kevin since college and have always admired his kindness, wisdom, poetry, and intelligence. He has written a thoughtful book about uncertainty and confidence in medicine, and I’m honored to have him participate in a Q&A for BCC.]

Q: Why did you write What Doctors Cannot Tell You?
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Review: Joanna Brooks, “The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories From an American Faith”

Title: The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories From an American Faith
Author: Joanna Brooks
Publisher: Self published (but not for long…)
Genre: Memoir
Year: 2012
Pages: 204
Binding: Paperback
ISBN13: 9780615593449
Price: $11.99

Rumor has it Joanna Brooks’s self-published memoir, The Book of Mormon Girl has been picked up by Free Press/Simon & Schuster for national publication this August with an expanded chapter-and-a-half. We’ve seen a lot of chatter about her book online recently, so I thought I’d venture a review. I hope you’ll excuse my decision to kick things off with an observation based on personal experience. (The Book of Mormon Girl is, after all, a personal memoir!) My own undergraduate years were spent writing and editing articles for a variety of small Utah newspapers. I remember how daunting it felt to be assigned an article on a subject I knew next-to-nothing about, like computer animation, mechanical engineering, or say, feminism. Oh, how comforting to a journalist is that friendly, articulate insider willing to endure the inane questions of—and likely later misrepresentation by—the stammering cub reporter! [Read more…]

Scholar of Moab wins AML Award for best novel published in 2011

Congratulations to one of BCC’s own!!

(click to enlarge)

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.

Help Me (and Ralph Hancock) Raise Money for the Feminist Mormon Housewives Scholarship Fund

Today brings yet another piece by Ralph Hancock about Joanna Brooks, this time in the Deseret News (no, I will not support that piece by sending link traffic). I have been profoundly troubled by Hancock’s self-appointed and bitingly personal quest to defame and humiliate Brooks at every opportunity (and then some). I feel pained–as a sister, as a woman, as a Mormon, as a feminist, as someone who, like Brooks, has assumed certain risks in choosing to use my voice to speak publicly on issues that matter deeply to me. Until now, I haven’t felt the strength to really respond to Hancock. My hurt and anger has prevented me from being confident that I could speak out in a way that would be as effective in denouncing Hancock’s behavior as I felt the seriousness of the repeated offenses warranted.[1] Today, the imperative to stand firm and proud with someone I am honored to know, Joanna Brooks, has overcome. I am taking up her suggestion and embarking on a fabulous feminist fundraiser in honor of Ralph Hancock. The more he attacks, the more money goes to the Mormon feminist cause.
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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…]

Jon McNaughton’s Idea Journal

For centuries artists and lovers of art alike have studied the masters, hoping for a glimpse into the process of creative genius. Now, an unprecedented find. A never before seen look into the mind of one of the greatest painters our generation has seen…

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Reader Question Box #9: Is Sufjan Stevens Mormon?

Sufjan wings

Sufjan Stevens

Reader Question Box is a series where we answer questions that show up in our website traffic monitoring statistics as Google search terms that led people to us. Copious oddities are to be found in the search term logs, and some worthwhile questions. (In case you missed our previous editions: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8)

Questions: “sufjan stevens lds?” “is sufjan stevens mormon”
Answer: Oh, I wish it were so! However, it is easy enough to prove that he isn’t:

As you can see in the photo, Sufjan has wings. We all know that Mormon angels don’t have wings. Therefore, we can say decisively that Sufjan is not Mormon. QED.
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Review: Stephens and Giberson, “The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age”

Title: The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age
Author: Randall J. Stephens and Karl W. Giberson 
Publisher: Belknap Press/Harvard University Press
Genre: Evangelicalism
Year: 2011
Pages: 356
Binding: Hardcover
ISBN13: 9780674048188
Price: $29.95

If the word “Evangelical” popped up in a word association game, hair-trigger responses might include words like “Republican,” “anti-evolution,” “Jerry Falwell,” or “fundamentalist.” Word association games aren’t usually the best way to understand religion. (When it comes to Mormons, “polygamy” usually tops the list.) Numbering an estimated one hundred million people—sixteen million in the Southern Baptist Convention alone (7, 187)—the American evangelical community is actually more diverse than these labels can hope to communicate. Politically, the spectrum ranges from conservative to liberal (though perhaps heavily weighted toward the former), all bound loosely together by a common commitment to the necessity of being “born again” through Jesus Christ. Such Christians have no central authoritative body and no single all-encompassing creed. But the open marketplace of religion in the United States has provided space for an evangelical “parallel culture,” complete with its own schools, publishing houses, music industry, summer camps, school accreditation agencies, historians, scientists, and family counselors. [Read more…]

Review: Matthew Bowman, “The Mormon People”

The Mormon People (cover)Title: The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith
Author: Matthew Bowman
Publisher: Random House
Genre: History
Year: 2012
Pages: 352
Binding: Hardcover
ISBN-13: 978-0679644903
Price: $26.00

Hallelujah! The world needed an accessible, neutral, brief, birth-to-present history of Mormonism, and it needed it right now. Matthew Bowman has written that book. Including every relevant moment from the boy Joseph’s leg operation to Twilight, and from suffragist Emmeline Wells to Broadway’s Elder Price, all in a slim 253 pages (plus several appendices), Bowman works a space-packing miracle reminiscent of Dr. Who’s TARDIS or Mary Poppins’ carpet bag. Opinion makers in the media, politics, and academia who want to join the conversation about Mormons will be well prepared by this brisk and rigorous overview, and I imagine many keeping a heavily Post-It-noted copy near at hand in the coming months and years. Bowman’s work shines most brightly in its detailed rendering of the uniquely fertile soil for religious innovation in the time and place of young Joseph Smith’s America, and its painstakingly balanced study of the early origins of the church. Interested outsiders will also find, in Chapter 8, an excellent portrait of daily life for “an active, committed Mormon family” today, including the rhythms of weekly meetings and activities, and private devotional life such as Family Home Evening.
[Read more…]

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