I’ve been thinking a lot lately about faith, specifically about what a trial of faith might consist of. I don’t know that I’ve ever really had a trial of faith. I’ve experienced no great tragedy (knock on wood) and, while I’m excellent at self-sabotage and self-pity, I’ve had no real obstacles to overcome. My father has always been kind to me, so I’ve never had any trouble imagining a loving Heavenly Father who wants the best for us. I’ve never really had cause or need to question my faith in any significant sense. I worry that this has made me lazy. [Read more...]
In one of the leadership training videos produced by the Church a woman talks about a particularly chaotic, frustrating day she had with her four year old. She told him she was at her wit’s end and didn’t know what do anymore. He suggested she sing “I am a Child of God,” which, of course, she then did. She said she was grateful for the opportunity to be reminded of who her child was.
There is a significant distinction between knowing (or understanding) and remembering in this little didactic story. It’s unlikely that this mother had stopped believing that her child was a child of God, and likewise it seems wrong to interpret her as becoming uncertain about her child’s eternal identity, whereas once she had been much more confident.* She said that she needed to be reminded of this. What she had known was never in doubt; it would be wrong to say that her knowledge about this thing was incomplete or had broken down. She had forgotten and needed to remember. [Read more...]
We’ve just experienced the Mormon preaching festival. That is, general conference! In addition to inspired teaching, it gives the outside world a chance to experience some of the variety of Mormon address. And besides, I’ve been toiling over chapter 7 of the book, rewriting, rethinking some, and redoing other. This represents mental suds rising to the top of my brain-glass.
Texts are always encased by interpretation. Generations come and go, and interpretation floods over texts, at least those that rise to surface (paradoxically), via unearthing by graduate students or rediscovery by the public, or just constant devotion, etc. Scripture is no exception, and everyone, not just Nephi, deploys a kind of rationalization with circumstance and inspiration to come up with a correlated understanding, whether that be official, communal, familial, or even “backlistial.” Among Mormons, Joseph Smith’s sermons are quite often seen as doctrinal in some sense, a sense I won’t attempt to make precise.
In his Sunday Afternoon Conference Talk, Elder D. Todd Christofferson focused on the Redemptive power of the Atonement in our lives. While it is historically accurate and theologically legitimate to discuss a redemptive power and an understanding of Atonement tied to a redemption of humanity from some great debt, I feel like it can interfere with our understanding of the Atonement’s purpose.
This is another installment in a series of posts based on the monthly themes from, “Come, Follow Me,” the new youth curriculum for the Church. Here are the previous posts for January, February, and March.
A mother gives birth to her child, a composer writes a new song, and a gardener’s planted seed sprouts, all to some degree of surprise. It’s not that these events were unexpected, but that the specific manner of their unfolding could not be entirely predicted. There was a moment of prestige—of revelation—natural to each. We live in an age of almost constant scientific, historical, and creative revelation, and therefore of surprise. How fitting, then, that this dispensation was inaugurated by a young man who turned out to be—and is still turning out to be—full of surprises as well.
9 No seas como el caballo o como el mulo, que no tienen entendimiento;
cuyos arreos incluyen brida y freno para sujetarlos,
porque si no, no se acercan a ti
10 Muchos son los dolores del impío,
pero al que confía en el SEÑOR, la misericordia lo
11 Alegraos en el SEÑOR y rogocijaos, justos;
dad voces de júbilo, todos los rectos de corazón.
Madrid, March 30, 2013 — john f.: A motley crew of Mormons walking The Way of St. James might seem strangers on the Camino indeed. This will not be the first time that Jordan and I have raised eyebrows as Mormons in a culturally non-Mormon setting. Nearly fifteen years ago we studied Yiddish together in Vilnius — many of our fellow students young and old, I recall, found it very amusing that a couple of Mormon brothers were among them. [Read more...]
O be wise, what can I say more?
A Mormon boy from an affluent neighborhood in Utah, barely 18 years old, will leave a few days after graduating from high school for the crushing poverty, suffering, and misery of Sierra Leone. This isn’t the plot of an off-color Broadway musical. It’s going to happen in a couple of months to a real person. He’s not going to experience mere culture shock; it will be an entirely different world, a different universe. Nothing in the boy’s lived experience up until this point is going to have prepared him for even the smallest percentage of what he is going to observe landing there. I hope and pray he survives!
There isn’t much difference between an 18 year old boy and a 19 year old boy — both are teenagers still, both usually as green as can be. On paper it’s a wash. [Read more...]
Notes, commentary, and questions for LDS Sunday School teachers using the ‘Doctrine & Covenants and Church History’ manual. Feel free to share your thoughts or ideas regarding the lesson in the comments.
This covers much the same material as the last lesson, historically and thematically. The emphasis continues to be on Oliver Cowdery’s experiences translating the Book of Mormon and, specifically, his attempts to recognize the spirit of revelation in his own life. While the emphasis of last week’s lesson was more on preparing yourself to receive revelation, this week’s lesson has more to do with recognizing what on earth is going on when it happens.
First of all, go to the new Revelations in Context resource at lds.org and read the article by Jeffrey Cannon on Oliver Cowdery’s Gift. While you are hopping around, go to Robin Jensen’s post on last week’s lesson and read that as well. Now return to this post and feel bad; I’m neither as knowledgeable, nor as good a writer as those guys. Oh well.
If there is one message to take from all of the sections being covered this week (and last week) it is this: revelation is not easy work. [Read more...]
On my right calf, I have a long, jagged scar, about 6 inches long. I got it the hard way, when I was about 12 years old. I’d been watching the Olympics (USA! USA!) and had become fascinated with the way the hurdlers could sprint so fast around the track and effortlessly rise over the hurdles without even breaking stride. I temporarily put my career plan to become a left-handed reliever in major league baseball on hold in favor of becoming a world-class hurdler. The nearest hurdle I could find was the fence which divided our pasture from our neighbor’s. It was just the right height, and it had a single strand of barbed wire running across the top of it. I would stand back, take a running jump, and try to replicate the hurdlers’ form as they went over obstacles. I did this for hours at a time for several weeks, and got pretty good, for a sixth grader. But as you might have guessed, there came a day when I only almost cleared the hurdle. I remember my right leg hanging up in the wire, then I hit the ground, head-first, hard. I lost consciousness for a few moments, and when my head cleared, I recall having two thoughts: a)that hurts, and b)where is all this blood coming from?
A quick thought for this Monday morning.
I have been wondering whether it is possible to divorce Jesus’ ministry from the supernatural claims that surround it. I have little problem in doing this for Guatama Buddha, for example, whose philosophy has value for me quite apart from the fantastical stories of his life. So, while mowing the lawn the other day (on the spiritual possibilities of mundane things, see here), I thought about the resurrection of Christ and whether my Christian faith needs it to be literal event. Certainly there are Christians who are moved by the metaphorical rather than literal truth of such things. However, I have come to realise that my faith requires there to have been an empty tomb and a fleshy theophany.
Death frightens me a great deal. I suppose I am not alone. It is our curse as thinking apes that we know we are going to die and it is this knowledge, I believe, that is at the heart of our evil. Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die. Establish a fame that endures. Accumulate and accumulate in the vain hope that we can escape our inevitable doom. Find every comfort, beat every foe, look after number one.
Reading George Handley’s account of Lowell Bennion makes clear that true goodness is found in wearing out your life in the service of others, but for the selfish among us that is so very hard to do when you believe that this life is the only life. Kant sensed this and so postulated the summum bonum. Rather than a crux, I see it is a liberation. I can sacrifice — forget myself — because this is not the end. This is Jesus’ gift to the world through his physical resurrection. Take no thought for tomorrow, for tomorrow is secure. Instead, serve God today.
The thing is, do we really believe it?
Title: The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories From an American Faith
Author: Joanna Brooks
Publisher: Self published (but not for long…)
Rumor has it Joanna Brooks’s self-published memoir, The Book of Mormon Girl has been picked up by Free Press/Simon & Schuster for national publication this August with an expanded chapter-and-a-half. We’ve seen a lot of chatter about her book online recently, so I thought I’d venture a review. I hope you’ll excuse my decision to kick things off with an observation based on personal experience. (The Book of Mormon Girl is, after all, a personal memoir!) My own undergraduate years were spent writing and editing articles for a variety of small Utah newspapers. I remember how daunting it felt to be assigned an article on a subject I knew next-to-nothing about, like computer animation, mechanical engineering, or say, feminism. Oh, how comforting to a journalist is that friendly, articulate insider willing to endure the inane questions of—and likely later misrepresentation by—the stammering cub reporter! [Read more...]
Over the four years I’ve been blogging at BCC I have written dozens of unfinished (and therefore unpublished) posts about gender issues in Mormonism. I’ve found it very frustrating that I can’t finish them. Yeah, there’s a lot I don’t finish, but blog posts that I can’t finish are especially depressing. Because let’s face it, how “finished” does a blog post need to be, really? Well, at some point I figured out the problem: I can’t finish because there’s simply too much to say. And on a subject like gender or gender inequity, which so many people have such strong feelings about, leaving something out means providing a big elephant in the room for your readers to start a threadjack with in the comments section. (I find that last independent clause extremely problematic, but this is only a blog post, after all; I’ll fix that sentence when someone pays me to do it.)
The only thing more frustrating than not being able to finish a blog post is publishing a blog post and watching everyone else have a conversation about something you didn’t bother to address in the original post because you didn’t want to bite off more than you could chew. #firstworldproblems
But heck, I’ve got nothing better to do, and if you’re here reading this, you probably have nothing better to do either. So let’s do this thing. I’m going to start publishing these unfinished posts about gender issues in Mormonism, and I’ve decided the best place to start is my least favorite threadjack-meat of all time: the Men-Priesthood:: Women: Motherhood analogy. I kid myself that by getting it out of the way first thing, I’ll never have to discuss it again. [Read more...]
Title: Jesus Christ, Eternal God: Heavenly Flesh and the Metaphysics of Matter
Author: Stephen H. Webb
Publisher: Oxford University Press
On a blustery April afternoon in 1844, Joseph Smith stood before a congregation of thousands and fought the wind. (Or did he simply channel it?) We’re still fighting that wind today. It shuffles the scattered notes of the men who scribbled the funeral sermon Smith preached at the top of his lungs. In the midst of creaking tree branches, sentence fragments and misspellings, Willard Richards seemed to catch hold of something crucial Smith was claiming, caught hold enough to put the gist of it in Smith’s journal:
“If men do not comprehend the character of God they do not comprehend themselves.“1
Smith had his finger on the pulse of the deepest questions of theology. At least since Genesis (“let us create man in our own image”) humans have wrestled with two fundamental questions well-phrased by Catholic theologian Stephen Webb:
“First, what features of human nature—mind, body, soul, gender—best reflect God’s nature? Second, what features of God best provide the source of the image in which we are created?” (177, see also 148, 192, 274).
Latent Racism, Orientalism and “Magic Underwear” in American Society and Mitt Romney’s Presidential Campaign
As I made my way through the crowded local Costco recently, I stepped back a moment and appreciated the diversity surrounding me. Although approximately 92% of the population in the UK is white, about 45% of the remaining 8% of the UK population that are ethnic minorities live in London. And we’ve enjoyed having a high concentration of this 45% in and around the area of London where I currently reside. We have become accustomed to seeing people in their religiously significant daily dress in all circumstances, from the morning school run, to regular visits to the supermarket, to going to movies in the cinema and just about everywhere else. (In fact, it is not unusual for us to see such dress in our LDS ward on Sunday as investigators from all of these ethnic and religious backgrounds politely keep their commitment to the missionaries working in the area to visit us and see what the Church is all about.)
This guest post comes to us from PCB, an attorney, legal academic, and brother of BCC’s own Sam MB.
The usual discussion on the Atonement relates to the miraculous way that Christ’s sacrifice makes us, imperfect sinners, able to overcome our weaknesses to live with our perfect Father again in celestial glory. I believe in that vision of the Atonement. A recent experience, though, has led me to see the Atonement as more than that. I also believe that the Atonement can help us overcome the sins of others and not simply forgive, but become reconciled with them. The At-One-Ment of the Savior’s sacrifice can build bridges between our broken hearts and the ones who have done the breaking in ways that can allow us to heal. [Read more...]
A Christmas memory: At some point in my teenage years my mother purchased a new nativity set, a Fontanini. I didn’t eagerly await the unwrapping of the nativity scene in the same way I did the Dickens Village; it was a tradition each year for my parents to purchase one new piece for the village. Possibly my favorite Christmas memories consisted of watching the village grow year after year. When I finally left home the Village had become quite substantial. But the preparations for the traditions into which we spoke and enacted every Christmas were not complete until the Nativity had been unwrapped and carefully and lovingly arranged on the table. The placement of the Nativity allowed the celebration to officially commence.
[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]
That Mormonism was at one time a radical movement which challenged dominant American liberal norms–most famously regarding marriage and sexuality, but also (and I think more importantly) regarding economics and government–is pretty well understood by most who have even a passing familiarity with Mormon history. (If that’s not you, see here and here.) That Mormonism today–at least American Mormonism, at least if the dominant voting patterns and preferred modes of discourse amongst the majority of American Mormon wards are taken as evidence–is no longer much committed to radical communitarianism and egalitarianism, to radical re-organizations of social life, to radical distinctions in how one talks about sovereignty and loyalty, is also pretty well understood. (Again, if you’re lost, begin here and here.) America is a different place than it was in the late 19th-century, to be sure, when the U.S. government invested considerable effort to imprison church members and break apart church operations…but then, we are also a significantly different church than we were then, far more at peace with, and far more aligned to, dominant American ways of socializing, making money, electing our leaders and living our lives. Sure, we could point to all sorts of contrasting evidence–but we’re much more sexually traditional than most Americans! we challenge all sorts of trends regarding divorce and family! we’re considered weird by people in Hollywood!–but all that is, I would assert, fairly circumstantial: fundamentally, for better or worse (or both), the “Mormon moment” has come, in all its multicolored variety, and its conclusion is: even allowing for our mostly traditional mores and mostly conservative politics, here in America we are, I think, undeniably a pretty modern mix of mostly independent individuals, just like nearly everybody else (or, more honestly, just like nearly every other mostly white, mostly suburban church in America). [Read more...]
Rod Serling was one of my heroes growing up. Still is. His genius is what bromances are made of. Best known for his psychodrama series, The Twilight Zone, Serling pioneered the television drama into what it is today.*
Season 1, episode 28 of the The Twilight Zone is entitled, “A Nice Place To Visit” after the saying, “It’s a nice place to visit, but I would not want to live here.” The episode begins with law enforcement officers shooting a career thief in an alleyway. In the afterlife the thief is informed that he is dead and is given a guardian angel–who happens to be a middle-aged handsome gentleman. The guardian angel then escorts the thief to a mansion, where he is served a delicious dinner, given a hot shower, and told that the mansion is his. [Read more...]
Take your practiced powers and stretch them out until they span the chasm between two contradictions…For the god wants to know himself in you.
–Rainer Maria Rilke
When we say that God loves all of his children I don’t think we entirely unpack what this could mean. I recently overheard someone in my ward opine that when we say that God must love all of his children, this means that he loves them individually, not en masse. It’s easy to agree with this, but consider what this potentially means. I think of my own children. In a sense I love all of them equally. I cannot consider each of them in turn and affirm that I love him or her less than the others. Nevertheless, my relationship with each of them is unique, based on real experiences and real relational exchanges. What I specifically love in one of my sons I do not love equally in one of my daughters, and vice versa. Similarly, my children do not love me for the same reasons. One loves me for this, another for that. Dissonances and disharmonies in our relationships also arise in the same manner. Being the biological paternal organism called “Dad” is not sufficient for enduring, transformative love, nor for abiding loathing and spite. Authentic love is based on temporal, responsive interchanges, the real stuff of relationships–conversations, time spent together, developing trust and affection, etc. More generally, we are called (in some way) by those whom we encounter and we respond (in some way). We also call to those we encounter and they respond. It’s a nice thought that we could love (or hate) all of humanity abstractly, as one total mass of faceless human beings. But I don’t think this is love. If we love at all, we love the people we see. [Read more...]
Talk delivered in my ward recently.
In considering the meanings of baptism, I want to reflect on several interrelated elements, including baptism as washing clean, baptism as death and resurrection, and baptism as adoption.
First, though, some history. [Read more...]
This guest post comes from frequent BCC reader Erich (comments under “Observer fka Eric S.”).
We took up Ephesians 1 and “predestination” last Sunday in Gospel Doctrine. After performing the requisite semantic dance with various terms, we got to discussing the concept of being “chosen” and “foreordained” for this or that. What struck me most was the way LDS culture perceives these concepts. The lesson dialogue focuses on prophets, leaders, and esteemed historical figures in the gospel and restoration period (e.g., Jeremiah, Abraham, Paul, Joseph Smith, etc.). It is reiterated that these individuals were foreordained and then chose their stations. Invariably, the discussion resorts to how grateful so-and-so is to be born in America, post-restoration, into a Mormon family, and on and on . . . . This seems to be the consensus of thinking around the topic.
Then, whether by express statement, omission, or by implication, the idea is presented that those who are not so privileged to live in Post-Restoration Mormon America were not valiant in a pre-mortal existence. Again, this is the consensus of thinking around the topic. [Read more...]
Consider the following statement and whether you, and other Mormons, believe it.
Give your answers below. If you have more than one, we understand.
Bonus Poll: I was told that I got the first poll slightly wrong. Here is another, related, possibly corrected poll. [Read more...]
“Predestination” seems to be fundamentally an argument about power in the relationship between humans and God. To what degree is God directly involved in our everyday stuff? To oversimplify: a strict view of predestination might hold that God wills every single thing that occurs, from the flapping of the butterfly wing to the hurricane it [didn't] cause because God caused it. A loose view barely allows room for God to intervene in the world at all. God set things in motion, deist-like, and either can’t or won’t infringe on us lest he damages agency. Either of these positions (and the vast array of possibilities lying along the spectrum) entails a few unpleasant things.
Strict: I can rest with certainty if I’m chosen. But being chosen means others won’t be, which seems rather arbitrary and cruel.
Have you ever met a strict Calvinist who doesn’t feel they are elect? I haven’t
Loose: I have a degree of autonomy, I’m free to respond to God’s invitation. But what exactly do I have to do in order to measure up?
Have you ever met an exhausted Mormon? I have.
These aren’t the only points to be made, but this isn’t the place for a full discussion of Calvinism and Mormonism. Instead, I want to show how a recent book distinguishes the latter from the former. [Read more...]
I am a recent convert to “Mormonism” myself. Not too many years ago you could find me vigorously arguing on Mormon-themed blogs about the importance of avoiding the word “Mormon” as a nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At the time, it felt like a concession to detractors of our faith to self-identify by the nickname they derisively gave to us in the nineteenth century. Ironically, however, it was precisely our nineteenth-century ancestors in the faith who had made peace with the descriptor and good-naturedly co-opted it to describe themselves, leaving us with the lasting nickname. [Read more...]
In the last few days, in response to the dustup over Mormonism’s “cult” status, lots of Mormons have been insisting that of course we are Christian, that it’s unkind of Evangelical Christians to say that we’re not. The argument that we are Christians generally includes reference to 1) the name of our church (“Jesus Christ” is even in a big font!), 2) a citation of 2 Nephi 25:26 (“And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins”) 3) personal belief in Christ as Savior, and 4) our efforts to follow Jesus, to “be like Him.” [Read more...]
Title: Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today
Author: N. T. Wright
N.T. Wright has been called “the C.S. Lewis for our time.” Like Lewis, Wright is Anglican. Like Lewis, Wright’s overriding purpose is to demonstrate Christianity’s relevance for our times (Lewis with modernism, Wright with postmodernism). Lewis wrote Surprised by Joy, Wright wrote Surprised by Hope. Like Lewis, Wright’s style is cleverly engaging. This particular similarity is evident from the first line of Wright’s latest publication:
“Writing a book about the Bible is like building a sandcastle in front of the Matterhorn. The best you can hope to do is to catch the eye of those who are looking down instead of up, or those who are so familiar with the skyline that they have stopped noticing its peculiar beauty” (ix).
Odds are, if you’ve enjoyed Lewis’s theological or devotional writings, you’ll enjoy Wright’s. Some differences between the two deserve attention. Unlike Lewis, who was content to remain a lay Anglican, Wright once served as Bishop of Durham, and sat in the UK’s House of Lords. Unlike Lewis, who was an armchair theologian and literary critic whose fiction largely outranks his non-fiction, Wright is a distinguished Bible scholar who takes higher criticism much more seriously than Lewis could have. Lewis still serves as a safe source for many Mormons who are pleased to find similar theological ground in the works of a non-LDS author. Wright can easily serve a similar purpose for Mormons in regards to contemporary biblical scholarship.1 He has a knack for making complex academic discussions comprehensible to regular folk like me. It is with this in mind that I recommend his latest book, Scripture and the Authority of God.2 It’s a lot thicker than its 224 pages appear at first glance as evinced by this over-long, chapter-by-chapter review, but at least the prose is almost always accessible and the analogies creative! [Read more...]
About a month ago a publicist wrote in to the BCC Admin address trying to get me a copy of a new book, Love Times Three: Our True Story of a Polygamous Marriage, by Joe, Alina, Vicki and Valerie Darger, with Brooke Adams (New York: HarperOne, 2011). I have to admit, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about it at first. I had never heard of the Dargers or their book, and I assumed it was sort of a self-published thing that would be poorly written. But what the heck, I thought, I’ll take a flyer on it. I wrote back and told the woman she could send me a copy. [Read more...]
Let My People Pray: It’s time to consider having women give opening/closing prayers in General Conference
To my knowledge, no woman has ever given an opening or closing prayer in a general session of General Conference. It is time to reconsider this practice of not calling women to share in the giving of these prayers.
The church has been engaged in a sustained effort to identify and end inequalities between men and women that are without doctrinal justification, such as women not being allowed to give opening prayers in Sacrament Meetings and women’s voices not being adequately included in Ward Councils. In particular, the new Handbook and accompanying Worldwide Leadership Training Broadcast explicitly emphasize this theme. In doing so, the church is showing its awareness that seemingly little things, like restrictions on who gives the opening/closing prayers in Sacrament Meeting, can send a big message that “you aren’t important,” or, when working as they should (as under the new handbook), a message that “we really do value everyone’s voices.” These messages radiate from the little things to all aspects of how we treat one another.