Turning Hearts, One Photograph at a Time

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Pit stop, ca. 1960 (Why yes, that is a 1956 Studebaker Sky Hawk in tangerine-snow cap)

For the past several years at Christmastime I have given family members a calendar featuring photographs taken over the past year. The reception has been mixed—some enjoy them, others cloak their views in silence and one respondent reported irritation at the perceived “hey, look at me!” nature of the gift—but even if all the recipients were to recycle them with the wrapping paper on Christmas day, I would still continue to put one together. Not out of a misplaced sense of my own artistic greatness but because in reviewing a year’s worth of photographs, forgotten moments are rediscovered, then-unnoticed details take on new significance in light of later developments and a sense of perspective is restored that sometimes even strengthens the ties that bind, which may slacken over the course of everyday life. [Read more…]

al-Ghazali

Jerusalem_dome_of_rock_2_1880Today we celebrate the life’s work of the Persian jurist and mystic al-Ghazali (d. 18 December 1111), one of the most important intellects in the history of Islam. In his autobiography, Deliverance from Error,1 he describes what we would today call a faith crisis during his youth. Like many who have had such an experience, he began early with a “thirst for grasping the real meaning of things.” He was devout, inquisitive, and quick to observe. He says, “I saw that the children of Christians always grew up embracing Christianity, and the children of Jews always grew up adhering to Judaism, and the children of Muslims always grew up following the religion of Islam.” Al-Ghazali figured that this was because each generation in each different community was basically following in the footsteps of their parents without really questioning. So, he decided to question everything. He wanted to know the truth for himself. But the more he questioned, the less certain he became of everything he thought he knew, eventually reaching a point of doubt so deep that he lost confidence that he could know anything—even the nature of his own existence—with any certainty. He continued to write and speak as always, but inwardly, he wrote, “I was a skeptic.”2

[Read more…]

God (by RJH)

I was asked a lot of questions on John’s Trinity post and will answer some of them here. Let me state from the outset that I do not claim certainties in matters of theology, and would have no authority to proclaim them anyway. I think my beliefs are genuinely Mormon but perhaps expressed in unusual ways; we can certainly disagree and remain fellows. Systematic theologies are impossible to fully attain, especially in Mormonism. Thankfully, we are not judged by what we know but by what we do.

Q: Are you a monotheist? [Read more…]

…And Bitter Weeping

Thus saith the Lord; A voice was heard in [Peshawar], lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not.

It’s Just Business

One of the underlying meta-narratives in the torture report last week is the story of two Mormons who may or may not have just been doing their job. John C’s post teased at this just a bit, but the commenters took it further. (You should read his post before reading this one, BTW, as I’m leaving out almost all of the details around what happened.) 

One commenter asked “What about LDS people who work in the weapons industry making killing machines?” Are they to be judged by the same standard?

Is it fair to expect an LDS moral code to help us make decisions about how we make our living?

[Read more…]

Bible Videos

downloadDear readers,

Let me wholeheartedly recommend The Lumo Project, “a ground breaking, multi-language biblical film resource” (their words, but true). They have made four feature-length films, one for each Gospel account. The Gospel of John is now available on Netflix.

I first came upon the project while watching the BBC’s The Story of Jesus documentary, which uses visuals from the films alongside scholarly commentary, including from BYU’s Andrew Skinner.

Why I like it: [Read more…]

Third Advent: Joy

Isaiah’s phrase—“Strengthen the weak hands, / and make firm the feeble knees”—has become, in LDS parlance, a key expression of our obligation to serve others. In the context of Advent, the most striking aspect of Isaiah 35:1-10 is the repetition of “shall,” which directs our expectation toward the Messianic Age, when “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, / the desert shall rejoice and blossom.” As Latter-day Saints these verses often turn our minds back to the pioneers’ cultivation of the Salt Lake valley, but Advent reminds us that something of this prophecy remains unfulfilled, calling us to rejoice now in anticipation of the rejoicing then.

Indeed, today’s readings use unfulfilled prophecy precisely to keep us in joyful expectation. The psalm tells us that the Lord “gives justice to those who are oppressed, / and food to those who hunger,” that he “cares for the stranger” and “sustains the orphan and widow.” Certainly the Lord does these things, but the work is just as certainly not complete. We must yet look forward to the time when we might with finality echo the Canticle, replacing Isaiah’s future tense with the past: “He has filled the hungry with good things.” Our memories shadow forth the taste of divine nourishments past, stoking our present hunger for the banquet to come. [Read more…]

Mormons and the Trinity

“More than any other group in America, and despite very large theological differences with orthodox Protestants or Catholics (Mormons are not Trinitarians, to name just one basic belief), the LDS church is far more effectively passing on classic Christian cultural beliefs, attitudes, and practices about marriage.”
(http://www.nationalreview.com/article/394510/mormon-advantage-maggie-gallagher)

Do we agree with Maggie Gallagher that “Mormons are not Trinitarians”? (see, http://bycommonconsent.com/2012/03/12/mormonism-a-trinitarian-religion/) [Read more…]

Mormons and Muppets, Secular and Sacred

counttabernacleIt felt like I won the lottery when I received them in the mail: four tickets to see my long-beloved Muppets join the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for their annual Christmas concert in Salt Lake City. That’s because I literally did win a lottery to get the tickets. Last night they kicked off a short series of shows with a public dress rehearsal. Here are a few quick thoughts. [Read more…]

On Disappointment and Happiness

Disappointment happens—and it hurts. What’s worse is that there are opportunities for disappointment everywhere.While there’s nothing particularly modern about disappointment, modern communications technologies can amplify our awareness of disappointing events and also provide fora in which we can express the disappointments we feel. These technologies, in other words, have expanded our capacity for disappointment. Just as it’s now completely normal to encounter a Facebook post articulating disappointment with an occurrence on the other side of the world, it’s also long since become commonplace to posit “the internet” as a factor in leading people to become disappointed with the Church. If disappointment is a basic part of human experience, I believe that it’s worth thinking about what part disappointment plays in our efforts to build Zion and how, then, we can engage in that work in our current technological environment. [Read more…]

The Senate torture report is a condemnation of Mormon moral reasoning

*I just learned that I am being misinterpreted in a news article at the International Business Times. The reporter misquotes the title of this blog post (saying I find the report to condemn the Church, rather than to condemn the moral reasoning of some members) and then takes quotes out of context to make it seem like I am basically anti-Mormon (she says I conclude by saying we are morally bankrupt if we consider Bybee and Jessen to represent the best LDS moral thinking; I do say that, but I keep talking. In fact the next sentence is “I believe that the Church, the Gospel, and the Doctrine are great.”). I am not anti-Mormon and neither is this post. If you come here from that article, please know that this is not the post you are looking for.*

Since the release of the Senate torture report yesterday, one thought has refused to leave me: we contributed to this. Not just in the sense that Mormons overwhelming supported the Bush administration that implemented this approach nor in the sense that Mormons reportedly are very overrepresented in the intelligence community. No, two Mormons were very prominent in the drafting and the implementation of these policies and they are, by all accounts, considered to be good Mormons. Our brothers did this; so are we their keepers or no? [Read more…]

Music, when Soft Voices Die


Music, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory;
Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
Live within the sense they quicken.

Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,
Are heap’d for the belovèd’s bed;
And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone,
Love itself shall slumber on.
–Percy Bysse Shelley

[Read more…]

Why the church should practise financial transparency

Two initial points lest this post evoke all manner of silliness:

1. There is absolutely no evidence that the Mormon Church’s reluctance to disclose details about its finances are the result of any corruption. All evidence points to an honest stewardship.

2. It is absolutely fine for a religious institution to invest money to make money.

Having established those principles, I would like to suggest that the church be open about its finances as a way of modelling wise and ethical stewardship for the benefit of its members. [Read more…]

Happy Birthday

The very first thing we talked about in our newly formed Relief Society Presidency meeting one year ago was this: how should we celebrate birthdays? A card? A candy bar? What should we do? What should we do? A card in the mail? Sing happy birthday just before the lesson on Sunday? A cookie? No, a candy bar. Oh, no, how about a card in the mail with a lovely stamp on it? What should we do?

Now, this was my first foray in being a part of a Relief Society Presidency, so what did I know right? But I was pretty sure accepting the call to be the second counselor didn’t require me to make sure everyone got a candy bar on their birthday. That’s not what the bishop explained to me. So I sat in my chair silently huffing about how long the discussion was carrying on. [Read more…]

Just Serve

This is how easy it is to volunteer for a service project.

This is how easy it is to volunteer for a service project.

Today in our third block we had a combined meeting with the adults and youth about justserve.org. The website has apparently been around for a couple of years (though today was the first I’d heard of it), but they’re now expanding it into the Phoenix valley. Our bishop joked that they’re doing the pilot program in CA, TX, and AZ first because “we want to make sure we get it exactly right before Utah screws it up.”

[Read more…]

Your Sunday Brunch Special: A Ghost Story

Early America was replete with ghost stories, hauntings, and the like. While transcribing a diary/autobiography I came across this one, which I share for your enjoyment.

This story is set in a large farmhouse near Paris, New York, ca. 1810. The narrator recalls his childhood, one that was relatively carefree, though not unacquainted with death. At the time of the experience, a younger brother was quite ill, and the narrator had just suffered a severe case of complicated measles. The family were attentive Presbyterians, and apparently a little hell-fire was preached in their local congregation.
[Read more…]

Eliza R. Snow and the Gospel of Work

Eliza R. Snow reveals much about herself when she describes her early search for religion:

[W]hen I asked, like one of old, “What must I do to be saved?” and was told that I must have a change of heart, and, to obtain it, I must feel myself to be the worst of sinners, and acknowledge the justice of God in consigning me to everlasting torment, the common-sense with which God had endowed me, revolted, for I knew I had lived a virtuous and conscientious life, and no consideration could extort from me a confession so absurd. [1]

By claiming freedom from hell on the basis of her own merit, Snow transgressed against a standard trope of Christian autobiography dating back to Augustine’s Confessions and evidenced in the title of John Bunyan’s 17th-century classic Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners: instead of a life radically transformed by God from the grossest depravity to a state of grace, she understood her life as basically good and freely oriented toward God. From the perspective of Augustinian or Calvinist orthodoxy (not necessarily shared, to be sure, by other participants in the Second Great Awakening), Snow’s position might appear in the suspect guise of works-righteousness. Rather than claim to merit heaven by her works, I believe that she worked diligently to show her love for God. This energetic life of serving God by serving other people is why we honor her today, on the anniversary of  her death.

[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…]

Finding Harmony amidst Cultural Change

The sixteenth century was a cruel and confusing pendulum of religious change in England. Henry VIII, erstwhile Defender of the Faith, broke with Rome in the 1530s, albeit more in church government than in doctrine. (The irony: Anne Boleyn was a Protestant.) His son, Edward VI, took things in a more Protestant direction, although his brief reign was followed by his half-sister Mary’s (also brief) attempt to return the country to Catholicism. Her half-sister Elizabeth then returned England to a firm but moderate Protestantism, eventually prompting pressure for further reform. Thomas Tallis, the greatest English composer of choral music during this period, lived through all of these changes and managed not only to stay a firm Roman Catholic through all of them, but also to remain in royal favor. Tallis’s achievement has much to teach Mormons as we navigate the shifting currents of the cultures in which we are embedded. [Read more…]

The Markan Nativity

On my first New Testament quiz of the year I always set the same question: “Outline Mark’s version of the Nativity story.” Without fail one or two students fall for it and quickly learn that their assumptions about the gospels will not always withstand the scrutiny of actually reading them. The absence of the traditional birth narrative in Mark then becomes a running joke in class in the run up to Christmas, with hilarious gags such as

“Who will win the Turner (modern art) Prize this year? The empty space entitled ‘Christmas according to St. Mark!'”

doing the rounds.

All of this, of course, does not do justice to the Markan account, whose account of the nativity of Christ is rather profound. True, there is no star, no shepherds, no Christmas card scene, but the theology of Jesus’ (re-)birth is no less interesting for all that. In Mark 1, Jesus is born in four ways:
[Read more…]

Joseph Smith Papers Documents Volume 3 Release Presentation

Ok, here I am on the fourth floor of the Church History Library. The official release date for Docs vol. 3 is today, but books arrived a week early, so you may have already purchased a copy. Waiting for the group to begin. The volume editors are here along with some media outlets and bloggers.

Matt Grow, Gerrit Dirkmaat

Gerrit Dirkmaat (left), Matt Grow (right)


[Read more…]

Gratitude & Selfish Altruism

Poverty creates a cycle of low self-esteem that is tough to break.

Why do we give?  Is our altruism ever purely unselfish or do we give in part because we hope to gain something? In the wake of Thanksgiving, my son was assigned a talk on gratitude in which he talked about some of our family experiences, and it reminded me of a post I did a while back.

Eighteen months ago, we had an opportunity to join a house building in a small village outside of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  My husband was working as treasurer for a Cambodian women’s charity, the Tabitha Foundation, that provides jobs to women who would otherwise not be able to support themselves or their children.  In addition to providing jobs for these women, the foundation was also breaking ground to build a women’s hospital.

[Read more…]

First Advent: Hope

Today, with the start of Advent, we begin a new liturgical year—a new cycle of sacred time that anticipates by a month the beginning of a new secular year. During Advent we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth while also stirring up our longings for the time when he will come again. Along with the traditional identification of this Sunday with hope, this double expectation makes Advent a good time for new beginnings. Unlike the secular new year, Advent gives our resolutions a clear focus: Christ. Because he came once, he can come again—and, more importantly, he can be with us now. [Read more…]

Forgiving the Prophet

This guest post comes to us from MargaretOH.

There’s been a lot of talk about prophetic fallibility recently. My own thoughts have been swirling around the question of how much I am required to forgive of a prophet, understanding that he is an imperfect man as well as an anointed one. Like Kristine, I was lucky enough to grow up in a family that inoculated me to many of the difficulties of church history. I don’t remember specifically learning about Joseph Smith’s polygamy, just like I don’t remember learning my alphabet. It was part of the background of the faith I was raised in and my questions about and reactions to it came slowly as I grew, rather than falling on me all at once as an adult. I remember coming home upset one day about something I had learned about Joseph Smith (I can’t recall now exactly what it was) and going to my mother for an explanation. Her response was that the failings of Joseph strengthened her faith instead of withering it because, “If God can do such marvelous work with such a flawed man, then the power of the divine is real. And it means that there’s hope for me as well.” I’ve fallen back on that idea many times when the limitations of a prophet feel like too much for me. [Read more…]

Mormon Lectionary Project: Year 2

With a new liturgical year beginning this Sunday (the First Sunday of Advent), the Mormon Lectionary Project has completed its first cycle. As we enter into the project’s second year, here are some brief notes on what to expect. Our goal is to collect the project in book form after this year, and these plans reflect that goal. [Read more…]

Thanksgiving Morning Live Music: “Thanks A Lot”

I realized early this morning, while extracting the giblets from our now thawed turkey, that it had been ten years since I last shared these sentiments with anyone online on Thanksiving Day. So I decided to do so again.

I’m a lucky man. The Fox family has a home, we have our health, and–often, anyway–we have a lot of genuine happiness. We’re all together this holiday, and we also have many friends and large families spread all over, a small portion of which will be spending Thanksgiving with us this year. We have traditions that, however silly they may seem, bring meaning to our lives. We have our faith, however inconsistent and complicated our experience of it is. In the midst of a world filled with anger and confusion and disagreement and violence and despair, we have–if I am honest with myself, anyway–only minimal amounts of any of the above. We are, in short, very lucky, and have much to be thankful for. My holiday wish is that many of you, in your own distinct ways, will be able to say much the same.

Canterbury 2015

CanterburyCathedral

Canterbury Cathedral

Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote.

Herewith find yourself invited to the Mormon Society of St. James’s 2015 pilgrimage to Canterbury.

As you will see below, this will be a slightly different pilgrimage from recent years (Santiago 2013, Trondheim 2014), mostly because of the difficulty in finding reliable accommodation for what, we hope, will be a relatively large party of pilgrims.

The most important thing at this stage is for you to take note of the accommodation options and book them early. Even if you’re not certain you can come, there won’t be any harm booking hotels now and cancelling later. [Read more…]

Transcending Mere Toleration in November’s Friend Magazine?

York Minster, the largest gothic cathedral in northern Europe (source: http://tinyurl.com/o3je4gm)

York Minster, the largest gothic cathedral in northern Europe (source: http://tinyurl.com/o3je4gm)

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.”[1] [Read more…]

The love of many shall wax cold – Libertarianism and apocalypse

Dissolution seems to be our most recent zeitgeist. With the recent referendums in Spain and the UK, the strife in Ukraine, and the increasingly schismatic politics in the US, it seems that long-held social ties and traditions hold less value than in the past. We seem more and more capable of drifting away from one another.

I have a tendency to see the rise of modern conservative libertarianism as concurrent with this trend. [Read more…]

Cultivating the Garden of Friendship

In a recent post I expressed my belief that the world is an entropic chaos tending toward death, and that in rebelling against this we can make beauty, which the all-devouring nature of the void requires that we make again and again. I mentioned this idea in conversation with a new friend the other day, and she suggested that it would be better to think about how to cultivate beauty, to find ways of sustaining it over time. This seemed to me a good and wise correction, and although seeds of the idea do appear in my post, especially in the idea that human connection is the highest form of beauty, I wish to develop them further here. Zion, after all, is at once a place and a form of human community where the people are, as the scripture reminds us, of one heart and one mind, dwelling in righteousness, and having no poor among them. [Read more…]

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