On Persecution

As Mormons we believe strongly in the principle of agency. Modern scripture tells us that the War in Heaven was fought over it. [1] And yet this belief sometimes leads us to believe that, as W. E. Henley famously put it, “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” [2] Aside from the doctrinal insistence that Jesus should be the captain of our souls, and acknowledging that Henley’s poem can be of use when we need to rouse ourselves against the troubles that surround us, the reality remains that much about our lives remains outside our control. [3] It may be true in the ultimate sense that we control our destinies, but in many ways we simply don’t have such control in the short, medium, and even the long term of our mortal lives. The unexpected has a way of occurring, no matter how righteous we may be. And in this respect, it sometimes seems as though Life—or its nefarious human agents—is out to get us.

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Kurosawa’s Guidebook to the Bureaucratic Church

Julie Smith over at Times and Seasons has done an excellent job of covering the decision to edit the word “fourth” out of Elder Bruce A. Carlson’s prayer opening the Priesthood session of General Conference. Public Affairs eventually responded to Smith’s request for an explanation by saying:

While the women’s meetings have long been an important part of general conference week, they are not usually referred to as a session of general conference. Edits are routinely made to general conference proceedings prior to publication of the official record. In this case a simple edit was made by the conference producer to reflect the usual numbering of the sessions.

What’s striking about this statement are the words “routinely” and “usual,” which have the effect of taking something many saw as significant and asserting that it was in fact banal all along—as if to say, to those of us who dared believe that something extraordinary had happened, “Everything is normal: nothing to see here.” That Carlson’s prayer apparently built on the momentum of President Uchtdorf’s words opening the General Women’s Meeting, only to have the effort stifled by the bureaucratic inertia of “routinely” and “usual,” indicates one of the challenges of bringing change to a large and complex organization. (At this point it’s worth noting that Carlson was taking his lead not from rabble-rousing feminists, but from a counselor in the First Presidency, someone we sustained last weekend as a prophet, seer, and revelator. Carlson, too, seems to have believed that the prophetic can occur at General Conference.)

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Choices, Choices

I’ve been reflecting a lot on E. Quentin Cook’s talk called “Choose Wisely.”  This was the opening talk of the Priesthood session, so I suppose that makes me not the target audience, and yet it’s clearly a talk with universal application. [1]  I won’t let that stop me.

E. Cook begins by talking about the problems when we rationalize our failures to act heroically.  He uses the example of Lucy not catching the ball in the Peanuts comic strips.

While always humorous, Lucy’s excuses were rationalizations; they were untrue reasons for her failure to catch the ball.

He then goes on to talk about the eternal ramifications when we rationalize our failure to prepare for our eternal goals. [Read more...]

Should Mormonism Have A Theology?

Does Mormonism have a theology? My gut response, as someone who reads 17th-century theological debate for fun, is to say “no.” We do not, as a people, engage in the sort of definitional arguments that characterize formal theology. Ask someone after sacrament meeting what kind of Christology Mormonism has and you’ll probably still make it to Sunday School on time (unless that someone is Blake Ostler). This isn’t to say that your typical Mormon is stupid for not knowing what Christology is, or for not being able to place Mormon belief within the historical arguments about it. The typical Catholic probably couldn’t do that either. The difference is that Catholicism has a long history of philosophical engagement with these questions, and Mormonism doesn’t. Our engagement tends to be more ad hoc, with an Orson Pratt here and a Sterling McMurrin there. At present, in addition to Ostler (and approaching theology in a quite different way), we have the triumvirate of Jim Faulconer, Adam Miller, and Joseph Spencer.

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The Christian Disciplines: Submission

I’ve been a little . . . ill disciplined in continuing this series (sorry, Melody), but the next one seems very appropriate. 

Of all the Spiritual Disciplines, none has been more abused than the Discipline of submission (Richard Foster).

The recent LDS General Conference has served another reminder that Mormons greatly value submission to God through his prophets, which submission is admitted to sometimes be difficult but always right. As the Lectures on Faith suggest, “a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.”

One does not need to look far, however, to see the evils to which religious submission can be bent. Foster is probably right: “Nothing can be put people into bondage like religion, and nothing in religion has done more to manipulate and destroy people than a deficient teaching on submission.” Let us be careful. [Read more...]

Are We Not All Beggars?

blind beggar“…look to the poor and needy and administer to their relief, that they shall not suffer.” Now note the imperative verb in that passage: “They SHALL not suffer.” That is language God uses when he means business.

On Saturday afternoon, Jeffrey R. Holland stood at the podium delivered a gut-wrenching punch to all Latter-day Saints on what it means to actually live as a Christian. Being a follower of the Savior means acknowledging very real commandments, not mere suggestions, on what it means to dedicate our lives to following the Son of Man. [Read more...]

October 2014 Conference Report in GIFs

It’s time to recap the latest General Conference through the medium of GIFs like I did six months ago.  First, a few quick observations about General Conference and social media:

  • I swear that the Pinterest memes with scrolly fonts and pictures of nature are up before the speaker even finishes the talk.  What is up with that?  Also, does it remind anyone else of Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy?
  • I started to struggle to tell the difference between the tweets about General Conference and the other random tweets I was getting throughout the weekend.  Perhaps it’s the medium, but here are a couple that showed up that gave me pause:
    • Lets all be compassionate to those folks who are now moving away from Climate Change Denial and those who are stuck. Life is for learning.” [1]
    • Facts have no agenda. They can’t be racist or sexist or bias in any way. They can’t be softened or changed to avoid offence. They just are.” [2]

On to the GIFs:

film animated GIF

Hearing conference talks in the speaker’s native tongues.

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Sunday PM Extra Innings Thread

I understand some of you spent last night watching some game where guys run around carrying a ball that isn’t even spherical, when you could have been watching an epic Giants-Nationals game that ran the longest in MLB post-season history: 18 innings for the Giants win. The game clocked in at 6 hours 23 minutes, shattering the previous playoffs record by over half an hour. And here we gather for hours 7 and 8 of the general sessions of General Conference weekend….

As a reminder, all comments on this thread will be moderated by me. Giants fans only, please.

Play ball!

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Sunday AM Good-Luck-Matching-Yesterday’s-Sessions Thread

DAY 2, people! Or maybe Day 3? By President Uchtdorf’s reckoning, we’re heading into the fifth session of this General Conference. Happy Sunday morning.

Steve left a comment on WVS’s lovely post a few days ago that rang true: “I wonder if Conference hasn’t lost some of its power because of the ease for watching.”

With that in mind, if you’re sitting on a comfy sectional, or reclined in an easy chair, or propped up with pillows behind you and waffles in front of you, join us in making this session a “lean-forward” one. Take some notes. Share your thoughts out loud with those around you. Tweet. Leave comments here (though take note: we’re modding with a heavy hand this weekend, as you might have noticed yesterday. More on that here.)

If you’re just tuning in, yesterday’s session notes are here, here and PH session is here. There were some remarkable talks—Holland, Oaks, Esplin, Uchtdorf, Wong, Packer, Cook, Eyring, and Monson seemed to be especially impactful on our readers and #ldsconf tweeters. Here’s hoping that spirit continues today.

On with the live coverage!

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Saturday Priesthood Pray for Broken Football Players Thread

It’s going to take a heckuva Priesthood session to top the sessions earlier today, folks. Get ready to be translated.

President Henry B Eyring conducting, music from the MTC Choir all the way up from beautiful Provo, Utah!

Opening Hymn: Rise Up, Oh Men of God

Opening Prayer, called the 4th Session of General Conference! (hooah!)

Oh goody! The men are going to sing a medley of children’s songs, too! [Read more...]

Saturday PM Football Schmootball Conference Thread

Choir is from Grantsville, Stansbury Park, and Tooele–Holly Bevin, conducting, Linda Margetts at the organ. President Uchtdorf conducting (the meeting, not the choir, I presume).

Opening Hymn: Arise, O God and Shine (props for not breathing between “streams” and “of.” And the descant on the last verse sounded great.) [Read more...]

Saturday AM: UTAH STATE HEY AGGIES ALL THE WAY Thread

And lo, the Aggies did crush the Coogers, and it was gray and navy and delightsome and if you disagree with me then good luck trying to get your comments in on this thread!

We’re about an hour or so from the start of the session, so feel free to comment on your cereal, your clothing, your key words and candy rewards, or whatever else you’d like until the top of the hour when I’m going to turn on the filter a bit. As for me and my house, we will serve the pancakes.

And we’re underway! [Read more...]

Just War

I have two memories of war as a child. The first was during the Falkland’s Conflict in 1982. We were on holiday in France and my father would listen to BBC World Service Radio to hear reports about the battle to reclaim the Falkland Islands from Argentina.

The second was in 1991 when the First Gulf War against Iraq began. School stopped as we watched images of the air war on the TV.

In both memories, war was a very big deal. [Read more...]

General Conference in (My) Perspective

General Conference has its own culture but the present version of that culture is rather modern. It has been used as a medium to announce policy changes or revelations, for a long time, certainly. But addresses at conference were not particularly regarded as “revelation” in any formal sense in say, the nineteenth century. The April-October cycle seemed firmly in place for headquarters meetings by Nauvoo, but certainly June was almost as important historically prior to that. What is the most important conference ever? I think one could argue that June 1831 was important, and November 1831 too. October 1830 is up there. But of course these were tiny gatherings compared to today’s giant (media) audiences. April 1844 was certainly influential (though it was not a general conference for technical reasons). August 1844 was mightily important, and August 1852 ranks up there. And what about October 1978?
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General Conference: here’s the deal.

Conference weekends are big weekends for church bloggers. There’a lot of traffic, a lot of comments, a lot of tweets. We’re going to try something a little different this weekend, so we hope you’ll bear with us. Here’s the scoop. [Read more...]

The Sacrament of Friendship

It seems to me that one of the major challenges of the 21st century involves figuring out how to be present to other people. Technology has given us so many ways of connecting with others, but with these opportunities come some obstacles as well. Part of the value of social media is the way that it can help us keep connected regularly with distant friends, but these connections can often be fairly shallow. For that person who sat across the room from you in middle school math class, this might be okay, but with closer friendships it can feel like a hollowed-out version of something once solid. And in rare cases, social media can foster real friendships with people we’ve never met in real life. Conversely, social media and other forms of technological connection can distance us from the people with whom we are (or ought to be) present all the time, especially our families. Given Joseph Smith’s teachings about friendship as “the grand fundamental principle of Mormonism” and about the eternal potential of family relationships, I believe that figuring out how to be present to other people is a pretty powerful theological imperative. In a recent post I thought about these questions in terms of heaven; for this post, I turn to the here and now. [Read more...]

Book Review: The Miracles of Jesus, by Eric D. Huntsman

A Book Review by Michael Austin*.

Miracles of Jesus, complete, 5-27-14.pdfThe Miracles of Jesus
Eric D. Huntsman**
Deseret Books, 2014
$25.99
Hardcover
164 pages
ISBN: 9781609079161
(Click on each spread to enlarge.)

OK, I’m just going to admit it: I was a little bit skeptical when I first got Eric D. Huntsman’s newest book, The Miracles of Jesus, and saw that it was a glossy, gorgeously illustrated book fit as much for framing as for reading. High production values in books make me nervous, as I always wonder what they are hiding. And then there is the fact that it is published by Deseret Book — the official publishing arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Official publishing arms make me even more nervous, as I usually have a pretty good idea what they are hiding. All I needed was a third strike to set it aside and move on to the next book in my pile. [Read more...]

Chiune Sugihara (杉原 千畝) and the Triumph of Christian Conscience Over Worldly “Obedience”

As spiritual preparation for the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (collectively, the “Days of Awe”), the Selichot — prayers and liturgical songs of repentance — are recited and sung on four days before Rosh Hashanah, which is the Jewish New Year or Day of Judgment/Day of Remembrance [1] that began today at sundown and extends until Friday evening at sundown. This year, the first Selichot (according to Ashkenazik tradition) was on Sunday, September 21 in penitent anticipation of Rosh Hashanah. In fact, Rosh Hashanah falls within the period of repentance known as the “Season of Teshuva” or “Days of Favor” lasting 40 days from the first day of the month Elul until Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. During Rosh Hashanah, we hope that our names might be written in the Book of Life; whether written in that book or elsewhere, the Judgment entered on Rosh Hashanah is sealed (though most believe not permanently!) on Yom Kippur. In anticipation of this, the “Sheima Kolenu” is often sung at first Selichot: [Read more...]

On the Humanity of Saints

If you know a story about Mary Fielding Smith, odds are it’s one of these four: she blessed an ox that was about to die on the pioneer trail; when, on another occasion, a search party had been unable to find her lost cattle, she prayed and was told the cattle’s exact location; when Captain Cornelius Lott gave her a hard time about attempting the trek as a widow, she swore she’d beat him to the Valley, which she did; or, later, she insisted on paying her tithing because she would not be deprived of the blessings.

While these stories have the benefit of being more or less true—on Lavina Fielding Anderson’s search of primary sources, they seem to agree that Mary asked her brother and another elder to bless the ox—the fact that they represent the sum of what we as a people generally know about her ought to give us pause. [1] To say that she was more complicated is obvious, and complicating details aren’t hard to find: letters between her and Hyrum indicating some disagreement over her tactics as a step-parent, as well as other evidence suggesting that her marriages to Hyrum and, later, to Heber C. Kimball as a plural wife left her feeling lonely and not altogether satisfied. [2] I share these details not to point out with gleeful cynicism that Mary Fielding Smith wasn’t all she’s been made out to be, but rather to reflect on what it means for us as Latter-day Saints to honor our forebears.

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Responsibilities of Zone Leaders, Ranked

Steve and I would like to formally apologize for our previous list. In retrospect, we should have been more sensitive to the possibi- OH FORGET IT I can’t even keep a straight face long enough to type this. On with the rankings!

Like a Boss
As before, these rankings are authoritative. Don’t kick against the pricks.[1]
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“…there’s a ton of stuff that should be covered in the MTC.”

In Sam’s post about tax liabilities stemming from membership in an organized religion in Germany, someone mentioned that missionaries destined for that land should be prepped on the topic. Sam’s reply was that “…there’s a ton of stuff that should be covered in the MTC.”

Back in my day[1], the MTC stay was 8-9 weeks for those requiring language training, and 3-4 weeks otherwise. Perhaps it’s longer/shorter/different now, but the point is missionaries don’t spend very much time in the MTC before being sent packing. A month or two, like! That’s not very long! And missionaries are really ignorant youthful! [Read more...]

Skateboarding for Jesus

Mission 18

There is a strange thing in the land; a wild man hath come among us.

It was a warm and muggy summer afternoon. My trainer and I had a single appointment that day with a family we had met the week before while tracting. Their interest was lukewarm at best, but in this corner of the Lord’s vineyard you take what you can get. [Read more...]

Brigham Young

Melinda-Blog-Image-Brigham-YoungA word today in praise of Brother Brigham (d. August 29, 1877). Brigham Young was a man of his times, and those times were, by all measures, rough. With an iron will he and the Saints endured the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith, finished the Nauvoo temple sufficiently that ordinance work could go forward there, and then worked day and night so that the Saints could be endowed and sealed there before their departure into the wilderness. In the semi-desert of the Great Basin, Brigham Young and his followers planted their crops and commanded them to grow with irrigation water channeled from the rivers and lakes, then raised up more temples, and sought for Zion.

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Blessed are the Divorced

Many of us have recently participated in the “Eternal Marriage” lesson from the Joseph Fielding Smith manual. The lesson’s final section carries the heading “As a husband and wife faithfully observe all the ordinances and principles of the gospel, their joy in marriage grows sweeter.” The paragraphs in the section, however, lean toward defining this joy negatively, in terms of avoiding divorce. This tendency can have the effect of making our divorced sisters and brothers seem “less than” those whose marriages are currently working.

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Church Finances, 1947-Style

In April 1959, the Church published its last financial report. The last here is important, though, because, for almost half a century leading up to that report, the Church presented a relatively detailed financial report in each April General Conference.

Until a couple months ago, though, I’d never seen the financial reports that the Church issued. In the course of his reading and research, J. Stapley came across the Church’s 1947 financial report, and offered to let me blog it. I jumped at the chance, and the disclosure turns out, in many ways, to be as fascinating as I’d hoped.  [Read more...]

My Hopes & Fears for the Next General Conference

We still have several weeks until the October General Conference, and given what’s happened in the meantime, many Mormons like me are concerned it could be gloat-mageddon.  If I were putting together a General Conference, here are the things I would include and what I would cut.  Of course this is already unrealistic because there are over a dozen speakers, each of whom has his or her own areas of focus and points of view.  But this is my list; YMMV.  I’ll start with the Fears and end with the Hopes. [Read more...]

Challenges of Vocation in Mormonism

It’s a commonplace to note that in the Church nobody chooses her calling. Rather, God, through the mediation of priesthood leaders, calls us to serve, typically only for a limited time, in any of a wide variety of capacities. There is much to be said for this approach: sometimes, by doing things we never would have chosen for ourselves, we, like Moses, learn things “we never had supposed.” Having this potential for divine surprises built into the system is a good thing.

Still, this approach comes at a price: we lose the concept of vocation—the idea that God calls us individually to walk a particular path of divine service. (Angela C recently wrote an excellent post about this.) To be sure, patriarchal blessings can provide something like an individual call, but in most cases there are not formal institutional venues for performing the things that we in the depths of our souls feel that God has called us to do. If a person in another denomination feels called to the ministry, in many cases there are formal processes of discernment and training to guide that person in working out whether this is really what God wants him or her to do. In Mormonism a person who feels so called must either wait for a formal calling or figure out some less formal way of acting as a minister. This latter option can mean “doing much good of [one's] own accord,” but it can also lead to tensions with the institutional Church. [Read more...]

Transfiguration

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Umm Qais, Jordan, looking out over the Galilee, the Golan Heights, and Mt Tabor. A military bunker can be seen in the foreground.

I have not been to the Mount of Transfiguration, but I have seen it. The view from the ruins of the ancient church at Umm Qais in Jordan (ancient Gedara) is of Tabor some twenty miles away in Israel. At Umm Qais, the connection with the miracle of the Gedarane swine is most prominent, but as I visited I found that my attention kept turning to Tabor and that strange event we call the Transfiguration. [Read more...]

My patron saint: St. James

I suppose my patron saint should be St. Ronan, an Irish Saint whose journey to Brittany and subsequent miracles make him a figure of minor celebrity in Celtic Christianity. With a middle name of James, I can also turn to James the Just, brother of Jesus, or James the Great, son of Zebedee (he of the Camino de Santiago), or the “other James” (son of Alphaeus). Regular readers of the blog will know of our experience on the road to Santiago, and so James the Great it shall be. [Read more...]

William Wilberforce

MLP

MLP

Mormon Lectionary Project

The Feast of William Wilberforce, 1833

Leviticus 26:12-13 (KJV), Psalm 146:5-10 (NRSV), Jeremiah 22:13 (KJV), Micah 3:5-12 (KJV), Matthew 25:31-40 (KJV), Galatians 3:23-29 (KJV), James 5:4, 1 Nephi 17:24-26, Mosiah 29:40, Doctrine & Covenants 101:79

The Collect: O Father, Thou who hast raised up Moses to lead Thy Children out of bondage, let us take inspiration from Thy servant, William Wilberforce, a latter-day Moses, to devote our lives in Thy Church to Thy righteousness in accordance with the universal moral law, becoming instruments in Thy hands to advocate the cause of those who are in bondage and learning that we must never become an obstacle to others’ inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; for the sake of Him who gave His life for us, Thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with Thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. [Read more...]

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