Broken Soil, Broken Hearts

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

This week, I prepared our small garden space, as I do every year, for the tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, cucumbers, and more than we’ll plant in the coming days. It starts with layering on top of the ground wheelbarrows full of freshly composted soil (filled this year, thankfully, with earthworms and grubs), then working it into the dirt, breaking apart the soil and mixing it in with a rototiller. It’s a violent process, but with the heavy clay content of our native dirt, it almost always needs to be done. [Read more…]

May is BCC Bike to Church Month: share your pics! #biketochurch

IMG_2386 I’m declaring May “Bike to Church” month at ByCommonConsent. May has good weather for biking to church in both the northern and southern hemispheres. I’d love to see photos of BCC readers biking to church. Email sisterblah2@gmail.com, or tweet them @bycommonconsent with hastag #biketochurch.
[Read more…]

Other Approaches to Assessing and Paying Tithes and Taxes

On the occasion of the announcement of the Church Online Donations website, which “will allow members in the United States an additional method to submit their contributions to the Church,” I thought I would share how such things can be handled (but aren’t necessarily by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, just to be clear) on the other side of the Atlantic. Depending on cultural and historical factors that inform how churches in Europe today finance their programs and activities–such as the strength of the relationship between church and state and who ended up with the temporal estates of ecclesiastical states back in ought-ninety-eight–the differences to practices common in the United States can be stark. [Read more…]

God and Mammon in the Mormon Historical Novel

n46844Sacred history, like sacred scripture, has great power to legitimate non-sacred opinions. This is why pretty much everybody in the Christian world quotes the Bible to support whatever they happen to believe. And in the United States, it is why the voluminous writings of the Founding Fathers have been prooftexted and cherry picked down to skeletal bullet points capable of supporting just about anything. This has a lot to do with the way our species thinks: we tend not to use reason to arrive at positions, but to defend positions arrived at in completely unreasonable ways. [Read more…]

Orson Pratt and God: Emergence as Fundamental Mormonism

ON the pioneer trail west, you can get bored. The cure for this is to contemplate questions like, where is the edge of universe, or where did God come from, or if we have bodies in heaven, do we have sex there? Obviously, the last question is the most interesting one, if sex is still interesting for you. If not, how about chocolate ice cream in heaven? You get the picture. Wilford Woodruff cautiously reported this from our friend Orson:
[Read more…]

Grace and Friendship

Some of life’s best examples of grace come through friendship, in little moments of surprise that remind us of the whole world that exists beyond ourselves. Sure, there are the graces that happen when strangers are unexpectedly kind, but what makes grace in friendship interesting is that we expect goodness from the other person. What is grace when kindness and generosity are the rule (even if moments of prickliness do intrude, as they will)? [Read more…]

Mormon Jesus?

Some months ago, I sat with a close friend just outside of Heathrow airport. We shared the Chinese food that was apparently prepared by Malaysian chefs, but we also shared deep interests in religion and theology. It was just the most recent meal of dozens over the years, and as was common, our conversation drifted in and out of chemistry, scripture, and belief. Quite appropriate to the context of our discussion, my friend asked, “Now, Mormons believe that Jesus was not always God, right?” Without blinking I replied that while some Christians might reject our formulation of the Trinity, Jesus was most certainly God from all eternity to all eternity. It was only later—some hours after we separated ways—that I reflected back on my response and wondered if I had mischaracterized some Mormons’ beliefs.
[Read more…]

On Urgency and Elevator Buttons

“a world of made is not a world of born.”—e.e. cummings, “pity this busy monster, manunkind”

Want to hear something really depressing? elevatorThose buttons in an elevator that say “CLOSE DOOR” almost never really close the door. In most situations they aren’t even active because the doors are controlled by automatic settings; they are just there to make you think you are doing something. Same with most of the buttons at crosswalks that you push to make the light turn green. They don’t control the light. They just make you feel better.

These are examples of placebo buttons, or mechanisms that manufacturers build into their devices to manage one of the really annoying little quirks of the human species: we are spectacularly bad at telling the difference between “doing something” and “doing something that matters.”
[Read more…]

The Permutation Machine

Man, these books were the best.

Man, these books were the best.

For your birthday, a friend/enemy leaves a mysterious machine on your doorstep. It is a Permutation Machine, that will let you revisit every decision in your life and see the possible variations and the consequences. You cannot change the past, but the Machine lets you know, with specificity, what “could have been”.

Do you use the Machine? [Read more…]

Emmeline B. Wells

On this day we honor the example of Emmeline B. Wells, whose deep commitment to the gospel drove decades of devotion to the cause of women’s rights.

Her faith was tested severely at a young age. After joining the Church in Massachusetts and marrying while still a teenager, she came to Nauvoo, only to be abandoned by her husband. Then, when Joseph was killed, her in-laws decided to return to Massachusetts, but rather than leave the Church with them, Emmeline made Ruth’s choice:

Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die—
there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!

The Restored Gospel was her Naomi. [Read more…]

Called of God? Don’t Inhale.

In a 2010 General Conference address, President Uchtdorf told of when he, as a newly called General Authority, was riding in a car with President James E. Faust, who talked about how members of the Church would behave toward him because of his calling:

He said, “They will treat you very kindly. They will say nice things about you.” He laughed a little and then said, “Dieter, be thankful for this. But don’t you ever inhale it.”

In practical terms, a worldwide Church needs General Authorities to administer it, and yet such “high” callings bring the risk, as President Faust pointed out, of going to the heads of those who hold them. [Read more…]

A Primary lesson on the priesthood

I was asked to substitute teach my nine-year-old daughter’s Primary class last Sunday. Coincidentally, my 9-year-old was also supposed to give a talk in Primary that day. Saturday evening, I remembered that I had still not prepared my lesson, which was supposed to be “Jesus Christ Used His Priesthood Power to Bless Others.” I had been putting it off, mainly because I am lazy, but also because I don’t like giving lessons on the priesthood, as it is a topic fraught with…problems, I guess–for me, not necessarily for anyone else. And probably especially not for children. I never worry about how the children are going to react to a particular lesson, at least not since I realized they forget everything that happened in class as soon as they leave the room. I only worry about my ability to not be completely uncomfortable for 45 minutes while I attempt to teach things I don’t understand or believe. That sounds a bit dramatic. It’s probably less provocative to say that I have a great deal of ambivalence about the priesthood. Anyway, that’s what was on my brain while I was procrastinating. Also procrastinating was my daughter, who does not like giving talks or preparing them. I don’t like giving talks or preparing them either, but what I like even less is helping children prepare talks. [Read more…]

Guest Post: Rough Stone Rolling Book Club

A guest post from J Stuart, of Juvenile Instructor (The BCC Farm Team)

Summer Book Club: Read Rough Stone Rolling with Historians of Mormonism

As a Mormon and historian of American religion, I’ve had a lot of people ask me what book they should read to begin their study of Mormon history. Unequivocally, my answer is Richard Bushman’s Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. Weighing in at 561 pages, it is longer than the Book of Mormon—which is perhaps why so few have read Bushman’s tome from cover to cover. The book itself can be physically and intellectually intimidating to historians and non-historians alike. Many Mormons and non-Mormons have read and digested the book in order to see Joseph Smith’s place in the history of antebellum America, American religious history, or just to learn more about Mormonism’s founder. [Read more…]

“Turtle Soup and Venison with a Gold Spoon”: God and Bounderby in a Christian Nation

“There’s not a Hand in this town, sir, man, woman, or child, but has one ultimate object in life. That object is, to be fed on turtle soup and venison with a gold spoon. Now, they’re not a-going—none of ’em—ever to be fed on turtle soup and venison with a gold spoon. And now you know the place.”–Josiah Bounderby in Charles Dickens’  Hard Times

GIF-CD-HT-HJosiah Bounderby of Coketown, the wealthy industrialist in Charles Dickens’ Hard Times, holds two mutually exclusive opinions that govern nearly all of his thoughts. First, he believes that poverty is a choice, and that anyone who wants a better life can do what he did and become a factory owner. Second, he believes that people who want to improve their lives are greedy agitators trying to pick his pocket. To all such people, he attributes the single motive of wanting “to to be fed on turtle and soup and venison with a gold spoon.” Who could support such extravagant choices in cuisine and cutlery?  [Read more…]

The Future of Mormon Thinking – Part 3, “The Subjective”

Photo: Petr Kratochvil

Photo: Petr Kratochvil

Say we grant that Mormonism is profoundly threatened by the claim that our religion is just in our heads.

Say we grant that Mormonism is threatened by the claim that, at best, Mormonism is a subjective pastiche of wishful thinking, soggy reasoning, willful self-deception, DIY clichés, middle management kitsch, and rose-tinted history that, as a whole, not only lacks objective reality but actively suppresses it.

What follows? What follows is that fearless Mormon thinking ought to occupy this position. It ought to adopt this critique as God’s own truth and find out how much water it can actually hold.

This enemy is too big a threat for fearless Mormon thinking to do anything other than love it with a whole heart. [Read more…]

Defending the family by exploring changing gender roles

Recently, at the General Women’s Session of April Conference, several talks where given on the theme of “defending the family.” There have been a number of responses to this session already (including two very good ones here at BCC), so we can safely say that this is a topic that has been covered. So, why bother talking about it some more? Because I think that I have found, hiding inside President Bonnie Oscarson’s talk, a message regarding marriage and family that is practically progressive in its outlook. [Read more…]

You Missed the Teenagers!

Two vignettes illustrating what is arguably our best shot to keep our youth actively engaged in the faith: [Read more…]

Nineteenth-Century Mormon Materialism and the Cold Bloodedness of Science

Matthew Taylor (“Ghost-Humanism,” J19 1, no.2 (2013): 416ff) begins his interesting take on ghosts and nineteenth-century science with this quote from William Gilmore Simms: “we can no longer get a ghost story” because “the materialists” have made “the world . . . monstrous matter-of-fact in latter days.” Taylor writes that Simms’s corollary that the “cold-blooded demon called Science has taken the place of all the other demons” is telling in this regard, but more indicative is the era’s endless fascination with ghostology, or the attempt to identify “a scientific theory . . . reconciling ghosts and natural phenomena.”
[Read more…]

Mormonism in the American Mind (4): Those Funny, Funny Mormons

f070b614501f92c2ce93bbd33b5a5f52Judged by the standards of the rest of the world, Mormons are pretty funny. Trust me on this; we’re a freaking riot. Funny underwear, Jackson County, Kolob. None of the punch lines in the Book of Mormon musical had to be forced or wrenched from context. It was all there just waiting for a clever satirist to do some clever satire. That’s pretty much how clever satire works.

It turns out that Mormons have always been pretty funny. Gold plates and peep stones are funny. Polygamy, when situated in the proper narrative, can be hilarious. And those beards! This is why Mormons have been a fixture of American satire since they came of age together a hundred and fifty years ago. This means Mark Twain, of course, but that’s just for starters. Dozens of nineteenth century humorists spoke and wrote regularly about the Mormons. It was, like, a thing.
[Read more…]

The Shortest Ending of Mark

Last weekend, I taught the 12-13 year olds all about the longer and shorter endings of Mark.  Bible nerds out there are nodding appreciatively, but for the rest of us, here’s the concept.  Imagine that Mark 16 (the end of Mark) concludes with this verse:

And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.

No Mary Magdalene, no snake handling, no injunction to go out into the world and preach to every creature.  Nobody sees the risen Christ. [Read more…]

The Future of Mormon Thinking – Part 2, “The Secular”

Photo: Petr Kratochvil

Photo: Petr Kratochvil

Say we grant the claim that secularism is, today, the enemy of Mormonism. What follows?

What follows is that secularism ought to be first in line for Mormon love and Mormon thinking. Secularism ought to be greeted fearlessly. No one should be thinking harder or better about secularism than Mormonism. And no one should be doing more to rethink truths from the secular position than Mormonism.

Now, again, a fearless extension of the truth to the secular position doesn’t amount to either an adoption or a rejection of that position. Rather, the work of thinking must transfigure that position.

It must proceed as an occupation that simultaneously transfigures all three elements involved: the enemy, Mormonism, and the truth. If our fearless thinking doesn’t transfigure all three, then, whatever else was managed, truth will fail. [Read more…]

Even beauty queens are more than just their looks

Not Ms. Virginia–just a simple girl in a modest bathing suit.

Yesterday a friend drew my attention to this Deseret News article about Bekah Pence, the newly-crowned Ms. Virginia United States. A good portion of the article is devoted to Bekah’s efforts to remain modest while competing in the pageant. For example, she was the only contestant to wear a one-piece suit during the swimsuit competition. (And she still won! #GuardiansOfVirtue) She describes how important it was to her to stay true to the church’s standards of dress.

“I’m a firm believer in not just being modest, but you can also be absolutely drop-dead gorgeous, not just beautiful,” she said. “I feel like girls don’t feel that way. They think that it’s a step down if you’re modest. They don’t think you can be absolutely gorgeous, but I felt that way. I felt like, ‘You know what? This dress is amazing, and I feel gorgeous in it — and I’m modest.”

Pence not only learned this for herself, but she was also able to explain her choices to the other contestants.

“I was the only one with a one-piece,” she said about the swimming suit portion of the pageant. “They would make a comment like, ‘That’s cute,’ and I would just say simply, ‘Yeah, I really wanted to wear a one-piece. I like to be modest,’ and it was cool that they thought it was cool.”

[Read more…]

The Future of Mormon Thinking – Part 1, “Thinking”

Photo: Petr Kratochvil

Photo: Petr Kratochvil

What follows is not a description or a prediction, but an invitation.

In the future, Mormon thinking will be fearless. It will be fearless in the truth. And the only way to hold a truth fearlessly is, as John says, to hold it with perfect love. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear” (1 John 4:18). Only love is fearless. And only the fearless see the truth. If we fail to love, fear will cloud our eyes and skew our judgment.

In order for thinking itself to be fearless, that thinking must be conducted as an act of love. And in order to be conducted as an act of love, we must do as Jesus says: we must love our enemies. [Read more…]

Mormonism in the Internal Revenue Code

taxWhenever possible on April 15, I like to put together a quick post about some Mormon-related trivia from the tax world. This year’s edition: church financial disclosure.

In brief: tax-exempt organizations by definition don’t pay taxes. Prior to 1943, they also didn’t file any tax returns—they were pretty much entirely outside of the tax regime. That changed with the Revenue Act of 1943, which required tax-exempt organizations to file annual information returns. Broadly speaking, those returns lay out the sources of the organization’s income and where it spends that money.[fn1]

The return-filing requirement continues today, in largely (though not entirely) the same form. And, in marked contrast with most tax returns, the law requires tax-exempt organizations’ returns to be made available for public inspection. (If you want to inspect some, sign up for a free account here and have at it.)  [Read more…]

New blogger: Adam Miller

We’re extremely excited to announce that Adam Miller has agreed to join BCC as a regular permablogger. Adam’s thoughts on grace have been fantastic and we’re looking forward to much more. Please join me in welcoming Adam aboard!

Of One Body: The State of Mormon Singledom

We’re pleased to promote this event planned by friends of the blog Sharon Harris and Matt Bowman (bios below), and featuring our own Kristine Haglund.

smaller title

This is not your regular singles conference. While singles conferences have adopted more educational, service-oriented, and think-tank approaches in recent years—with Silicon Valley, Boston, and Northern Virginia singles conferences as notable examples—most of the time the idea of a singles conference conjures up either the spring break vibe of hundreds of singles scoping each other out at Duck Beach or the awkwardness of singles getting together in a gym to try to meet a special someone while dancing and drinking fruit punch. Basically, singles conferences revolve around creating situations in which singles are encouraged to meet, flirt, and date, and that underlying motive often seeps into all the other activities. [Read more…]

Christian Discipleship in the Age of the Superfan

JCFan“Jesus wants disciples; he doesn’t need a fan club.”

That line came from a Catholic priest, Father Greg Boyle, who has spent much of his life working with gang members in Los Angeles. Father Boyle was speaking to a packed auditorium at Newman University, where we had invited him to lecture on his book, Tattoos on the Heart. He said this in response to a question from the audience. The question was, “why don’t you teach these young men to be good Catholics?”

Father Boyle didn’t elaborate. He let us work out the implications ourselves, but they were pretty clear. It is the fan club member, not the disciple, who worries about who is (and who is not) a “good Catholic” (or a “good Christian,” or a “good Mormon”). These are not the sorts of questions that disciples ask because they are not the sorts of problems that disciples worry about. [Read more…]

The Bloggers’ Tale #Canpilgrim

Day Five: Canterbury to Dover

(Peter) We made it. The first 18 miles or so of the Via Francigena have been trodden by MSSJ pilgrim feet, with we hope many more to come in the next two years. Today we saw sun and rain, a bad fall, a good lunch and the bittersweet conclusion of our short but sweet pilgrimage. Before we scattered to the winds, we met on Dover’s beach, and two of us braved the cold channel waters to finish the trip in a fitting manner.

While plans are still very preliminary, we’re thinking St. Bernard’s pass in Switzerland next year and Rome the year after. Stay tuned to BCC for further details as plans crystallize.

For now I’m off to spend the night in an airport. Safe travels, everyone; I hope to see you soon.

[Read more…]

Called to Teach

teach

In my post O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion I mentioned in the comments that I had conveyed the gist of that post (to the effect that the herald of Isaiah 40:9 may have been a woman) to my GD class and that the idea was well received. A commenter then asked the following question:

Thought-provoking post, thanks! It leads me to ask, though, for those of you who are discussing the Divine Council and the gender of heralds during your SS classes, how much do you ever adhere to the GD manual? I’m still trying to get my class situated with basic historical context, but it usually involves major deviation from the stated lesson objectives and I’m starting to question the value spiritually.

I gave a short response in that thread, but I’d like to take a shot at a longer explanation here. [Read more…]

Review: Volume 23 of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies

JBMScoverFINAL_FullThere’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…]

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