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...]
A Book Review by Michael Austin*.
The Miracles of Jesus
Eric D. Huntsman**
Deseret Books, 2014
(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...]
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.
Recent events—the death of Jordan Fowles, the shooting of the Stay family in Texas—have prompted some internal BCC discussions about the character of God. Commenters occasionally accuse BCC of being an echo chamber, but our discussions of this topic have turned out to be full of lively debate and disagreement. We’ve decided to bring our discussion to the blog, with several posts on the subject over the next few days. Our collective goal is to stimulate further conversation, not to defend any particular theological position (although some of us might choose to argue vociferously in the comments).
Terryl and Fiona Givens’ The God Who Weeps offers a provocative vision of a God whose heart beats in sympathy with human hearts, presenting this, as its subtitle (How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life) proclaims, as a compelling answer to the difficulties of being human. I want to follow in the spirit of Adam Miller’s thoughtful critique of Weeps in the Spring 2014 issue of Dialogue (subscribe if you haven’t yet) by probing some of the implications of the vulnerable God that the Givenses find in Moses 7:28-29. This probing will be ad hoc rather than systematic, stirring up dust rather than settling questions. With Miller, my aim is not to denigrate the book (pas du tout!), but rather to honor its contribution by allowing it to provoke further thinking.
“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” Shakespeare wrote that in All’s Well That Ends Well. Is being trusting a virtue or evidence of lack of discernment? Are Mormons more gullible (as is often asserted or at least implied) than the average person? [Read more...]
In Church, and in Church-related discussions, I often hear people differentiate Church policies from doctrine. Policies, they say, can (and not infrequently do) change; doctrine, on the other hand, cannot. It has never changed and will never change.
These doctrine-vs.-policy discussions are rarely satisfying, in my experience. We argue over whether we’re talking about doctrine or policy, but rarely make it any further. And in part, I believe, the impediment is that we don’t really have a clear sense of what we’re talking about when we say “doctrine.” [Read more...]
Trinity Sunday, Year A
The Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, who as the Father and the Son, aided by the presence of the Holy Spirit, appeared to thy servant Joseph Smith, jr.: grant that we may be one with each other, and one with thee, as you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are one God forever and ever.
Sometimes as active members, we are caught up in being the best Mormon we can be, the most observant, ticking all the boxes, perceived well by other ward members. We can forget that the point is to become a better person by following Christ’s teachings, not just to become a better adherent to a set of religious requirements or a better person as defined by the community.
But shouldn’t this be the same thing?
No, of course not. [Read more...]
Two minutes can seem a very long time. I know because I was given the responsibility for keeping time during the two-minute standing silence that our UK ward observed every Remembrance Sunday. I was strict about it and timed exactly two minutes, but everyone, including my fellow bishopric members, began glancing around anxiously, the other counselor looking at me out of the corner of his eye. Perhaps in past years, people had been casual about the two minutes, just estimating it. Based on my experience of a two-minute silence, a two-minute long siren wail would seem an eternity. [Read more...]
The Collect: Heavenly Father, who gavest power to Thy Son, Jesus Christ, to rise in resurrected glory on this holy day: let our hearts be changed through faith in His name so that we of Thy latter-day Church may live as spiritually begotten sons and daughters of Christ, adopted through Baptism in His name, that we, as disciples of Jesus Christ, may live and serve Everyman as though he were Christ, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with Thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. [Read more...]
My wife, Kristine K. (disambiguation: not the same as Kristine) gave this sermon today in the Slate Canyon 13th Ward in Provo.
“[When] in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth . . . the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep . . . the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light; and there was light” (Gen 1:1-3).  In this opening scene of creation, I picture “the Spirit of the Gods . . . brooding upon the face of the waters” (Abr. 4:2), in a way, as a feeling out or trying to get a sense of what is out there. Then realizing that they need a clearer view of the materials they have to work with, the Gods utter, “Let there be light.” What is revealed in that primordial light is primordial chaos—a watery wasteland. I’m sure the Gods realized—maybe in that moment, maybe before—that their work would be difficult, that it would be a long and arduous process. In his book Reflections of a Scientist, Henry Eyring informs us that it takes an average of 250 years to deposit one foot of sediment, or roughly 112 million years to deposit all known sediments.  In fact, the Book of Abraham says that after the Gods “prepar[ed] the earth to bring forth grass” (4:11) or “prepared[ed] the waters to bring forth . . . the moving creatures (4:20),” they “watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed” (4:18).  [Read more...]
My wife, Kristine K. (disambiguation: not the same as Kristine), and I both delivered sermons today in the Slate Canyon 13th Ward in Provo. I spoke first, on the War in Heaven, and then she spoke on the Creation. I’m posting my sermon now, with Kristine’s to follow shortly, as I believe that it will also resonate with readers of BCC.
For the vital part that the war in heaven plays in LDS theology, much about it remains unclear. The phrase itself derives from Revelation chapter 12, which depicts “a great red dragon” whose “tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth” (vv. 3-4, NRSV). Then, we read, “war broke out in heaven.” This seems to have been instigated by Michael and his angels, as the text mentions their aggression first, going on to say that “the dragon and his angels fought back, but were defeated” (vv. 7-8, NRSV). The effect of this defeat is that Satan “was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him” (v. 9, NRSV).
The Feast of The Annunciation
The Collect: Father, we thank Thee for the ministration of angels as agents of Thy grace, revealing the incarnation of Thy Son Jesus Christ, as announced by an angel to Mary, Thy servant and chosen vessel both to bear Christ’s body and lifelong testimony of Him. May we heed that angelic message and exercise faith in Christ, becoming sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with Thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. [Read more...]
In a well publicized pre-emptive move, the church issued a statement last week that women seeking tickets to the April 5 Priesthood session would be relegated to the “free speech zone,” traditionally the purview of anti-Mormon protesters. Kate Kelly, founder of the group Ordain Women, was characteristically gracious in her reply. From the article:
“We are disappointed that we weren’t granted tickets,” says Kate Kelly, one of the founders of Ordain Women. “But it is a positive step that public affairs is responding to us, indicating that one day maybe the higher authorities will be able to hear our concerns.” [Read more...]
Take, for example, the following email I sent a ward member about the topic of an assigned talk: [Read more...]
Second Sunday in Lent
The Collect: Father, grant us through thy mercy a renewed desire to search the scriptures and a new appreciation of the spirit of prophecy, that our faith may be strengthened in this holy season! May our strengthened faith manifest itself in works that resonate with those who have gone astray, drawing them back into the fold, renewing their desire to seek the gifts of faith and repentance, that they might once again be sanctified by the Sacrament of Thy Son, Jesus Christ, who is one with Thee and the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen. [Read more...]
A little over six months have passed since the Church held its mission president training meeting that was double-billed as a worldwide leadership training meeting relating to missionary work to which all members were invited (either in person at the BYU Marriott Center or virtually, by way of the internet) and which was preceded by unprecedented fanfare. [Read more...]
Childhood allergies like hay fever are linked to an absence of contact with fecal matter in their early years.  In other words, their houses were too clean for them to develop immunity.  When antibodies have no real threats to fight off, they’ll pick the next best thing – dust, pet dander, and pollen.  I’m pretty sure it would make my mother proud that my hay fever is a byproduct of her obsessive cleanliness. Perhaps this phenomenon also explains why Mormons are prone to creating extra rules on top of our already high standards. Let me explain. [Read more...]
Are Mormon marriages more equal or less equal than other marriages? Do Mormon women feel that they are taken seriously and treated as equals by their husbands? Are they encouraged to follow their dreams? Do they find their work (whether at home or in the workplace) meaningful and rewarding? In the give and take of marriage, are men and women giving and taking fairly?
I recently finished reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. In the book, she talks about several things we can do to help women achieve their potential and to help men and women feel more equal and personally satisfied, within their personal lives and in the workplace. This list includes things like: [Read more...]
What does it mean to become more Christlike? I will confess that the quest to be Christlike has sometimes bothered me, not because I don’t think it is a worthy goal (at my house, we are currently memorizing Moroni 10:32–33), but because I am naturally plagued by mortal doubts as to its practical feasibility. I understand that becoming like Christ is the whole point of the gospel. But it is not an unproblematic proposition, when you think about it.
I was reminded recently that there is a folk belief amongst us Saints that I find particularly pernicious. It isn’t something that comes up all that frequently in Sunday School, but I’ve encountered it in more than one Mormon forum, usually whispered to emphasize the sacred and deep-doctrine status of said belief. I’m also hesitant to bring it up here, because it relies on temple language for its authority. But it occurred to me that people might want to use it to comfort or counsel people who are upset with the gender imbalance in the church. I’m convinced that it will only make things worse if used for this purpose.
The belief is this: Women are automatically saved to the celestial kingdom by divine decree. [Read more...]
Leshana Tova Tikoseiv Vesichoseim Le’Alter LeChaim Tovim U’Leshalom — “May you be inscribed and sealed for a Good Year and for a Good and Peaceful Life”
Recent posts here at BCC have considered the ideas of ordinances and covenants—the terms themselves and how the Latter-day Saint understanding of them has developed over time. In this post, I would like to consider these concepts in still another light. I believe that it is our particular regimen of covenants (which are made in ritual contexts we call ordinances) that imparts to the LDS way of life most if not all of its distinctive energy. [Read more...]
In a recent post, frequent commenter Ardis noted her experience with the standards of the church that have been pushing similar themes since the mid-1960s. This reminded me of a post I did elsewhere noting some of the “timeless standards” from the 1965 pamphlet.
There is a new trend in the church to elevate the For the Strength of Youth standards to something that should be applied to all members, not just the youth. I’ve experienced first hand and heard online from others that local wards have reviewed the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet and standards with the adults, explaining that it applies to them as well. In our Singapore stake, this was presented in a talk called “For the Strength of YOU.” What’s behind this trend? Here are some possible theories: [Read more...]
This post began as a response to J. Stapley’s recent post about Ordinances but quickly veered off in a tangent that would have constituted a threadjack of his post, so I’ve posted it as an independent contemplation.
J. was exploring possible origins of Mormon use of the word “ordinance” (or early influence as to the use and meaning of the word) in legal usage in his post and especially in the ensuing discussion in the comments (J. notes that he is beginning to think that “JS . . . was explicitly using legal language” when using the term “ordinance”). I think “covenant” also falls into this category of a term coopted from legal usage to express a religious teaching. [Read more...]