Visualizing Conference, October 2014

Full GC

What stood out for you at the most recent General Conference? [Read more…]

The Joseph Smith Papers Project: A Dilettante’s Guide to Documents Vol I & II

The great thing about Mormonism is that you can call yourself an LDS historian without actually having any training in the matter.  Some of my best friends are LDS historians; a few of them actually have degrees in history, and of them there are a couple that actually studied LDS history.  The barriers to entry are low, friends, and it pays dividends to amass a library of your own and start passing yourself off as an ‘amateur LDS historian’.  As a friend of amateur LDS historians, let me provide a review of Documents, Volume I and II from the Joseph Smith Papers Project.  My aim here is to (1) provide a layman’s review of the books, (2) explain their value to amateur LDS historians, and (3) to explain why, even if the only LDS history you know is by authors whose last name ends in “ousen”, these volumes are worth owning. [Read more…]

Brigham Young’s Couplet

We’re pleased to feature this guest post from John G. Turner, associate professor of Religious Studies at George Mason University and author of Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet, in addition to other writings about Mormonism.

Terryl Givens ends his lucid and immensely informative Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought with a long chapter on theosis, the idea that human beings can progress toward and achieve godhood.

Givens presents Mormon thought as a recovery of “a Christian road not taken,” paths explored by early thinkers such as Origen and Pelagius and then rejected by subsequent definers and defenders of Christian orthodoxy. Mormonism as explicated by Givens insists upon human potentiality, freedom, responsibility, and affinity with the divine. Human beings, the spirit children of heavenly parents, embrace mortality as an ascent — sometimes a very difficult and gradual ascent — toward an exalted return to a heavenly family. [Read more…]

What Happens When Prison Is Over?

A few years ago, a Welsh professional footballer playing for Sheffield United FC in England was having a banner year. In addition to scoring goals by the truckload, he also represented his country on the Welsh national team and was named to the League’s Team of the Year. How good he was, or could have been, is unclear–lots of players are stars in lower divisions but fail to transition successfully to more competitive leagues.[1] Still, his standout performance was naturally attracting some attention from clubs in higher divisions of English football, including the top tier Premier League. Even if that interest never materialized, he was still a professional footballer, was making decent money, and could have maintained that level of income for a number of years–perhaps more than a decade, barring injuries.

Then, just before the end of the season, he was arrested on charges of rape, found guilty at trial by a jury, and sent to prison.
[Read more…]

Polygamy as Discussed in the Church Today

Plural marriage is in the news again thanks to the Church’s new Gospel Topics essays. National news organizations have picked up the story and the Church responded with a note of clarification from the Newsroom. The basic idea is this: some news outlets are reporting this as though the Church was somehow denying that Joseph Smith instituted or practiced polygamy. I can’t recall when I first learned that Joseph instituted and practiced polygamy, but it was sometime before my mission. As Kristine just wrote about, some church members, even life-longers, report that they never heard about it, and the new essays come as a surprise to them. It’s worth taking a look at the Church’s handling of polygamy in its official materials to get a sense of why some members never knew about Joseph’s polygamy until this week.

If you don’t have time to read the whole post, let me summarize first:

The Church has not removed all information regarding plural marriage and Joseph Smith’s involvement from its manuals. At the same time, polygamy has clearly not played a prominent role in official LDS literature, sermons, and lessons. It has been discussed much more in “unofficial” writing including Dialogue and even BYU Studies, which has published a few articles about plural marriage over the past few decades, as have other non-official LDS publications such as Sunstone, the Journal of Mormon History, Utah Historical Quarterly, etc. Many active members of the Church do not have a full grasp of polygamy, the extent to which it was practiced, how it began, the sacrifices involved, and the reasons participants themselves—actual women and men—gave for living “the principle.” The new essays are not a new “admission” by the LDS Church as to the existence of polygamy pre-Brigham Young. They are the culmination of a number of historical studies and initiatives by historians who were sometimes seen as enemies of the Church, and now a new effort on the part of the Church to be more transparent when dealing with LDS history.

Now that the conclusion is out of the way, let’s look at the details. [Read more…]

A Confession and an Apology

Please forgive a self-indulgent post.

I have been one of the people who has thought and said that it’s unreasonable for members of the Church to feel betrayed when they discover facts about Church history that they hadn’t encountered in the official curriculum. I’ve thought that such ignorance reflected intellectual laziness for not having done a little bit of homework to learn about our history, and/or emotional immaturity for “flying off the handle” in the face of the belated discovery.

I was wrong and I am sorry.

[Read more…]

Grappling with the End of Life

P1030496

My mother was diagnosed with stage IV cancer in 2001. This was devastating news, but thanks to a combination of excellent doctors, groundbreaking medicine and resolute determination buoyed by an abiding faith in God, my mother survived and was able to enjoy a relatively high quality of life for over a decade despite several recurrences.

[Read more…]

Sunday thought: Remembrance and reconciliation

3rd Sunday before Advent; Remembrance Sunday

Amos 5:18-24

Today marks Remembrance Sunday across the Commonwealth, the Sunday before Armistice Day. The focal point of the commemoration is London’s Whitehall, where the Queen and other senior royal, political, and military figures laid wreaths at the Cenotaph. For the first time since 1946, the Republic of Ireland has played an official role, with the Irish ambassador laying a wreath in memory of the 30,000 Irish who died in the Great War. [Read more…]

Ancient Prophets

Something to think about as you lie awake in bed tonight:

Twenty years from now, David A. Bednar’s only going to be 82. Dieter F. Uchtdorf will only be 94. L. Tom Perry will be 112.

By 2034 standards, it’s possible that those men will no longer be considered that old.

[Read more…]

Your Friday Firestorm: Is a Fetus a Person?

In England there is something called the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA). If I am injured as a result of a criminal act I can claim for compensation from CICA. This is possible because I am classified as a “person” according to the Offences Against the Persons Act 1861.

A girl is currently seeking compensation from CICA because of what her lawyers believe were criminal injuries inflicted on her by her mother . . . when she was a foetus. Her mother drank half a bottle of vodka and eight cans of strong lager a day during pregnancy. The girl’s injuries are on the spectrum of foetal alcohol disorder.

The High Court is currently having to decide whether:

A. A fetus is a person; and

B. Whether drinking excessive alcohol in pregnancy constitutes a criminal act.

The ramifications for the legal status of a foetus (and its implications for abortion law) and the potential criminalisation of pregnant woman who abuse alcohol or drugs are potentially very interesting. How would you rule?

Messy, Redux

I’ve removed my earlier post in which I linked to an incendiary and insulting piece. [Read more…]

Bonfire Night on the Church Farm

I grew up in the golden age of British Mormonism. Young families with lots of kids enjoyed everything the church had to offer: three hours on a Sunday morning, back again in the evening for a “fireside” (a less formal meeting), Monday night with family doing Mormon-y things (scripture reading mingled with Scrabble), Friday night youth club, Saturday camps and other fun. Mormonism was our religious and social life. We were truly a “congregation of faithful men (and women, girls and boys)” to adapt Cranmer’s vision of the visible Church. Above all, church was fun. No event in the calendar better proved this than Bonfire Night at the church farm.
[Read more…]

A gentle man, acquainted with pain

swkMormon Lectionary Project: President Spencer W. Kimball, d. November 5, 1985

One of his several biographies bears the subtitle A Short Man, a Long Stride. In his physical prime he stood at five feet six inches. His voice, soft sandpaper. The result of a throat surgery. Having neither the appearance nor the bearing of your prototypical leader, Spencer W. Kimball served for twelve years as the twelfth Church president (1973-1985). It was an unexpected presidency, considering his advanced age and health problems compared with the relative vigor of predecessor Harold B. Lee. It was a presidency of unexpected developments. President Kimball oversaw some of the most significant changes in the modern Church—doubling the number both of operating temples and missionaries, inaugurating what would later become the General Women’s Session of General Conference (October 1978), and extending the priesthood to all worthy male members and temple blessings to black members of African descent (June 1978). The Lord has said “I might show forth my wisdom through the weak things of the earth.” [Read more…]

Faith, fidelity, faithfulness

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. Sam will be at a book reading and signing at the King’s English bookstore on Nov. 5 (details here). It’s an excellent book, and while a review is forthcoming, here is an excerpt to tide you over.

Faith, Alma explained, requires an experiment upon the word of the gospel [1]. The image of experimenting is powerful, but it can easily be misunderstood. [Read more…]

How the Church calendar works: The Case of St. Jerome, whom no-one really likes

Followers of the Mormon Lectionary Project may have an inkling that our base calendar comes from the Anglican tradition, which we then adapt in Mormon-y ways. The Anglican calendar itself closely follows Roman Catholic tradition but in ways more acceptable to our WASPish aesthetics (no Feast of the Conception of the Most Holy and All Pure Mother of God for us, thank you very much Pius IX). If we ever have an MLP entry for St. Jerome, we might find ourselves ahead of the Church of England whose liturgical commissioners remain unmoved by a campaign to reinstate him in the calendar.

The feast of St. Jerome is currently a “Commemoration” according to Common Worship, whereas his fellow Doctors of the Church enjoy “Lesser Festivals” — a higher rung on the ladder (Principal Holy Days enjoy top spot). Jerome used to share their position in the Book of Common Prayer but was demoted in 1980. The importance of St. Jerome’s scholarship is not doubted — cf. the Vulgate! — but he was, according to Oxford church historian Diarmaid MacCulloch, “an extremely disagreeable man.” It seems that Jerome, whatever his God-given intellectual talents, was seen by many as less than saintly.

What say you? VOTE: [Read more…]

Review: A Song For Issy Bradley by Carys Bray

71pTGcqw86L._SL1334_Reviewed by Rebecca, friend of the blog and FMH old-timer.

First impressions are good: the dust jacket is lovely and textured and includes praise from authors such as Nick Hornby. It’s the kind of book that feels nice to hold and is inviting. This is not some cheap-o Mormon novel.

British author Carys Bray — once a devout Mormon who “replaced religion with writing” — tells the story of the Bradleys, a Mormon family in the north of England. Dad is the local Mormon bishop, mum is starting to have questions about her faith. Disaster strikes with the death of their youngest child, Issy. The story follows each member of the family and how they deal with their grief.

A Song for Issy Bradley is Carys Bray’s first novel, written as a part of her PhD. In some ways this is obvious, as the writing takes a while to warm up. The characters, however, are well-drawn in the short time before the death of Issy, which is important and allows the reader to be able to empathise with them as the aftermath of the family tragedy unfolds.

For me, there were two main components of the novel: the handling of grief and the presentation of the family’s Mormon-ness. [Read more…]

Commemorating the Faithful Departed

We will all die–detail from the Imperial Crypt.

Death is, in a sense, always just around the corner in Vienna. Those who value the city for its high standard of living will know that this is not because of an unusually high mortality rate but due to a centuries-old tradition of “a schene Leich” or opulent funerals and ostentatious gravesites that developed in response to the indignities of Emperor Joseph II’s austerity measures—reusable coffins and mass graves on the outskirts of town.

[Read more…]

Reformation Day

On 31 October 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg. The act itself was not terribly momentous, because this was a usual way of announcing an academic disputation. More conspicuous was the subject: the formal title of the theses was “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” signaling a challenge to Church doctrine and power. Print technology then facilitated the rapid spread of Luther’s words throughout Europe; within two months they were widely available on the Continent. From this apparently simple beginning ushered forth a world-changing series of events. [Read more…]

Yes! Women Count!

Happy news: the people responsible for the llama credits have been sacked, and the General Women’s meeting will henceforth be called “General Women’s Session of general conference.” It’s a gesture that matters, despite its bureaucratic nature and relatively small impact. I hope it will be received graciously, with a recognition that “out of small things proceedeth that which is great.”

From the Mailbag: Mission Presidents and Taxes

Okay, not actually a mailbag. But a couple months ago, somebody asked a question on my tax blog:

LDS mission presidents’ compensation/tax advice? Sam, are you aware of the tax advice in the mission presidents handbook – that living expenses for self & family (housing, food, transport, medical, etc.) are paid by the Church, but are not to be reported as income?

Honestly, I wasn’t aware of it but some quick Googling indicates that, yes, the church disclaims any employer-employee relationship with mission presidents and advises them that they’re not taxable on reimbursements from the church.

Could that possibly be right?  [Read more…]

Tanner Lecture TOMORROW in SLC

If you’re in the SLC area, don’t miss David Campbell tomorrow night at the SLC Library. David is an engaging, fun speaker (besides being wicked smaht!) Details below: [Read more…]

“You see the old way wasn’t working so it’s on us to do what we gotta do to survive”

2000px-BYU_Medallion_Logo.svgPretty much immediately after changes in BYU’s Religious Education curriculum were leaked yesterday a lot of people busted out their sackcloth and ashes. I confess that in looking over the four core classes I was less than enthused. I think Julie Smith made some great points about the way we study our scriptures, too. But before we sound the requiem bell let’s take a second, breathe, and think about a few things.  [Read more…]

On Being a Liberal Mormon: Two Defenses and an Attack

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

One week before election day here in the United States, let’s consider, both politically and philosophically, a couple of recent, superb, highly thoughtful books which ask Mormons to embrace–in one case explicitly (Richard Davis’s The Liberal Soul), in the other case only implicitly and probably unintentionally (Terryl and Fiona Givens’s The Crucible of Doubt)–a highly contested label: “liberalism.” And while we’re at it, let’s also consider one relatively prominent voice of opposition to that embrace, and see if it makes its case. (Preview: I don’t think it does.) [Read more…]

Helmuth Hübener on the Day of His Execution

Announcement of Helmuth Hübener's Execution, October 27, 1942 (source: http://tinyurl.com/pxu3u3v)*

Announcement of Helmuth Hübener’s Execution, October 27, 1942 (source: http://tinyurl.com/pxu3u3v)*

Helmuth Hübener, a 16-year-old Mormon youth living in Hitler’s Germany, exhibited unprecedented moral courage in opposing the propaganda machine of the Nazi regime in the summer of 1941. For his trouble he was arrested on February 5, 1942 (less than a month after turning 17), brutally interrogated and later tortured in Gestapo prisons in Hamburg and Berlin, and then finally beheaded by guillotine in the Gestapo’s Berlin Plötzensee prison on October 27, 1942 as the youngest person (at age 17) to be sentenced by Hitler’s special “People’s Court” and executed for conspiracy to commit treason against the Nazi regime. [Read more…]

The Festival of Lights

slide_376716_4433620_compressedDiwali is a festival of renewal and celebration observed by Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs around the world and by just about everyone living in India today. The festival follows the lunar calendar, so its dates vary from year to year, but generally fall in mid-autumn (late October/early November). This year, Diwali begins on the night of October 23 and continues for the next five days. During this time, families come together, the house is given a thorough cleaning, new clothes are bought or made, and neighbors exchange treats or other gifts with one another. But most of all, there are lights.

In religious traditions and cultures across the world, the triumph of good over evil, of order over chaos, and of love over fear are all represented by the universal symbolism of light, and Diwali is known as the festival of lights, celebrating all of these themes. People hang lights in their homes and across streets, they light lanterns, kindle fires; and in the evenings, fireworks light up courtyards, patios, rooftops, and the night sky as people celebrate their lives together. [Read more…]

Book review: ‘The Lost Book of Mormon’

9780385535694The premise of Avi Steinberg’s The Lost Book of Mormon is of undeniable interest to many: a quirky, somewhat narcissistic author composes a travelogue as he voyages through the lands of the Book of Mormon: Jerusalem, central America, upstate NY and Missouri. It has the potential of a Sedaris-esque memoir coupled with a somewhat whimsical view of Mormonism — in other words, Mormon-nip. Unfortunately, Steinberg’s tale does not quite live up to its potential, and while some readers may find the book entertaining, it is ultimately a frustrating journey, and perhaps offensive to some. [Read more…]

Institutional Change: Pulling the Rug from Under the Most Committed

[Edited to add link to Gospel Topic essay on the end of plural marriage]

In a recent article, Cardinal Schönborn and Archbishop of Vienna analyzed the response to the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization” [1]: “At the moment there is a massive wave of attack on the Pope from various circles.” It turns out that these circles also include traditionalists:

There is growing concern from conservative groups who are concerned that Francis and his approach to concrete problems and his compassionate image could soften the official doctrinal positions. […] Maintaining dual loyalty both to the existing teachings of the Church and to the many problems of the people is a balancing act. […] The areas of tension that manifest themselves here are now open to further discussion. [My own translation of remarks made in the article linked above by Jan-Heiner Tück, head of the Department of Dogmatic Theology at the University of Vienna]

[Read more…]

“Life withers when there are things we cannot share”

Virginia Woolf2

I don’t have a testimony.1

This doesn’t mean I don’t seek to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, or that I don’t believe Joseph Smith is a prophet or that the Book of Mormon is scripture or that the Church is the vehicle through which we can be sealed in lasting relationships, etc. But nevertheless, I don’t have a testimony. It might seem like I’m playing little word games here, but the idea of “having a testimony” doesn’t seem adequate to what I actually experience as a devoted student of Mormonism. Having suggests solidity, perhaps a sense of completeness, or a claim that I possess something. Over time, instead, my religious experiences have left me feeling incomplete in some ways (and not just in the “I’m not perfect yet” sense), and feeling possessed by faith more than being a possessor of it.

So I don’t have a testimony because I don’t feel like a testimony is something I can personally and actually have.

Especially not all to myself. [Read more…]

Activity Day Girls Craft Idea: Binary Code Necklace

1966212_10153976095495274_3982796096946077944_oHere’s a computer science lesson and craft activity that speaks to my geeky heart.  I do it with groups of all ages, and it would be perfect for Activity Day girls. It could also work for Cub Scouts, perhaps with a hemp cord for a masculine look. It was inspired by the Code.org-sponsored “Hour of Code” event last year. The lesson plan by Thinkersmith is excellent,  and covers everything you need to know. It is comprehensive enough for someone without any computer science background to run the activity successfully. I’ll summarize a few points here, but you should go read it. The necklace craft was my own addition. My daughter is modeling her necklace in the photo at left.

[Read more…]

O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion

So while I watch college football (go Irish!) I’m looking over tomorrow’s GD reading, which begins in Isaiah 40. Scholars widely consider the setting of chapter 40 to be in the Divine Council. In part this is because God commands not just Isaiah in the singular, but a group of persons in the plural to comfort His people. (Even without knowing Hebrew you can figure this out from the y- forms in “comfort ye” and “your God,” since y- form second person pronouns in the Jacobean English of the KJV are always plural.) So the Lord directs the Divine Council as a whole, of which the prophet Isaiah is an invited member, to comfort His people. [Read more…]

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