Twenty-five years ago, Michael Hicks published one of the most enjoyable books about Mormon history I’ve ever read. Mormonism and Music still flies under the radar when people compile lists of their favorite Mormon history books, but his analysis of LDS music as influenced by nineteenth and twentieth century culture holds up as a must-read study of Mormon religiosity to this day. He also contributed the entry on Music to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Hicks is adding upon that solid foundation with a new book: The Mormon Tabernacle Choir: A Biography. And it’s just as fun, lucid, and intriguing as his earlier effort. [Read more…]
Mormon Lectionary Project: Fourth Sunday of Advent
The Collect: Heavenly Father, purify us through the Spirit, that thy Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; and if not a mansion, then a manger, for there is room for him with us.
All of us, as Paul said to the Romans, sometimes do the very things we hate. We measure with wicked scales and bags of dishonest weights, and the consequences are just as Micah predicted: we eat and are not satisfied. The thing about injustice is that it harms everybody involved—both oppressor and oppressed—and yet the power dynamics of this relationship serve to perpetuate it. Oppressors enjoy the profits of deception, while the oppressed often lack means to improve their situation, no matter their personal qualities.
Such situations call for advocates to serve as mediators. What makes a good advocate? While Jesus is the model advocate, I believe that the life of Esther Eggertsen Peterson usefully illuminates what Jesus did for us all—both oppressors and oppressed. [Read more…]
[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]
Despite recent (and ongoing) changes to the Mormon missionary program, the majority of those charged with traveling the world and evangelizing on behalf of the LDS Church are (and will likely remain for a good while yet) young white men from supportive Mormon families in the western United States. Being young, usually not very worldly-wise, usually not very experienced in dealing with foreign cultures or differing sensibilities, and usually carrying around with them expectations shaped by growing up in a family- and tradition-centered church, the Christmas holidays can be a rough time. Twenty-five years ago I was one of them, going through my second Christmas as a Mormon missionary in South Korea. My second Christmas in the country was better than my first. Why? Well, let me explain. [Read more…]
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…]
Today 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
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…]
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.
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?
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…]
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…]
“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.”
Do we agree with Maggie Gallagher that “Mormons are not Trinitarians”? (see, http://bycommonconsent.com/2012/03/12/mormonism-a-trinitarian-religion/) [Read more…]
It 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…]
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…]
*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,
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
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…]
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…]
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.”
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.
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. 
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.
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…]
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…]
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:
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.
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.
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…]
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…]
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…]
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.