Sunday Resolutions and Peter’s Denial

This post is a mashup of a Gospel Doctrine lesson I taught last week and a response to Steve’s excellently sentimental post earlier this week. 

Mark 14:72  And the second time the cock crew. And Peter called to mind the word that Jesus said unto him, Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. And when he thought thereon, he wept.

“My heart goes out to Peter. So many of us are so much like him. We pledge our loyalty; we affirm our determination to be of good courage; we declare, sometimes even publicly, that come what may we will do the right thing, that we will stand for the right cause, that we will be true to ourselves and to others.

“Then the pressures begin to build. Sometimes these are social pressures. Sometimes they are personal appetites. Sometimes they are false ambitions. There is a weakening of the will. There is a softening of discipline. There is capitulation. And then there is remorse, followed by self-accusation and bitter tears of regret.”

Gordon B. Hinckley

That’s one of my favorite quotes from President Hinckley. The example of Peter in this instance really hits me, because I tend to be a victim of “Sunday resolutions,” those bold declarations that are so easy to make and so difficult to live up to.

[Read more…]

Coleman, Cafeterias, and Choirs

orig_Ornette_Coleman_01Ornette Coleman died today.

I don’t have any idea how resonant his death is in American culture. I don’t know what pictures the words “Ornette Coleman” conjures up in your mind, if any. But I hope to add a little to that picture.

In 1959, Coleman released The Shape of Jazz to Come.[fn1]  [Read more…]

The Women’s Pull

Some of our groups had only 4 girls, and the carts had metal on them and were very heavy.

Our stake just completed its first ever Pioneer Trek activity.  In our fast & testimony meeting this weekend, most of the speakers talked about their experiences as leaders or participants.  I would have thought these contrived experiences wouldn’t be as touching as they were, but some of their experiences were moving and instructive. [Read more…]

Writing and Revelation

My wife and I recently watched “The Words,” a movie with nested stories about writers. It featured a trope that occurs fairly regularly in movies about writing: the all-night burst of inspiration that produces Deeply Moving Prose, usually after the person doing the writing has gone through a prolonged period of emotional difficulty. The desired effect of this trope is to imbue the writing with a kind of mystical power—an effect that these movies usually augment by keeping said Deeply Moving Prose more or less sealed off from the viewers, Hitchcock-style, because it’s easier to imagine Deeply Moving Prose than it is to produce it (which may explain the irony that most movies about writing, including this one, are badly written). [Read more…]

The Church and the Wall Street Rule

wall streetEven though the federal income tax is my main professional interest, I don’t teach exclusively tax classes; every year, I also teach a Business Organizations class.[fn1]

In many business entities (especially publicly-traded corporations, on which I’ll focus here), management of the firm is separated from ownership. The shareholders are the equity owners of a corporation, but the board of directors manages it and makes the day-to-day decisions. And the goals of the board members may differ from the goals of the shareholders.  [Read more…]

Grace and Friendship

Some of life’s best examples of grace come through friendship, in little moments of surprise that remind us of the whole world that exists beyond ourselves. Sure, there are the graces that happen when strangers are unexpectedly kind, but what makes grace in friendship interesting is that we expect goodness from the other person. What is grace when kindness and generosity are the rule (even if moments of prickliness do intrude, as they will)? [Read more…]

A Short Response to President Wixom: My Return to Faith

I know I’m not the only one for whom President Wixom’s talk resonated strongly, but let me add my testimony to the chorus. [Read more…]

Poem for Good Friday

O Jesus, on the cross, alone,
you are the only God I know;
my pleading heart a barren stone
no heaven finds but here below.

I met you hanging on a tree
in woods obscure, half spent the day,
forsaken by your God, like me,
without a friend to share the way.

Companionship then let us keep—
though mortal fear each footstep bars—
as we descend through dark and deep,
together searching for the stars.

Periphery Privilege

I used to think I had it pretty tough as a missionary and then as a member of the church in Austria. It’s easy to feel isolated and maybe even a little under siege (see below!) with Mormons few and far between on the outskirts of the vineyard. [Read more…]

Sighs Too Deep for Words

Sometimes with full heart I fall on my face before God and weep my soul to the heavens. I rage and sob and struggle to pour forth my full measure. Plying the words that mingle with my tears I falter, trying plainness or eloquence or cursing—anything that might break through. On the edge of despair I am reduced to muttering the Name over and over in its many lesser names—“Oh God!” “Dear, gentle Jesus!”—and in the repetition the distinction between prayer and blasphemy begins to blur. I pray on, or I go to sleep. [Read more…]

Family History Road Trip

We caught up with the wagon train at the California Trial interpretive center.

We caught up with the wagon train at the California Trail interpretive center.

I live in Vienna while the rest of my side of the family remains scattered across the western United States. Thanks to a confluence of favorable factors, we are able to make an annual visit to the old homestead each year for several weeks, which has led to a tradition of a trip within a trip–we fly home, spend about a week moving from couch to couch paying our respects, then take a week to be tourists and travel somewhere I never got around to visiting while growing up , and wrap things up by cooling our heels at the parental roost for a few days.

[Read more…]

The Most Controversial Bloggernacle Post in the 6,000-Year History of the World. This Week, at Least.

Historicity.

Role Models

Charlie_Parker,_Tommy_Potter,_Miles_Davis,_Max_Roach_(Gottlieb_06941)In my mission farewell talk,[fn1] I spent a little time talking about one of my teenage heroes. Charlie “Bird” Parker was an alto saxophone player who revolutionized jazz. With Dizzy Gillespie, he broke with swing and invented bebop, a faster, more cerebral, more harmonically complex style of music.

I admired the Bird’s virtuosity on the saxophone. I admired his improvisational genius. And I admired his work ethic: he may have had a natural genius, but, as a teenager, he also practiced 11-15 hours a day. And it was this work ethic, as much as anything, that appealed to me, and it was this work ethic that made me think of him as a prepared to leave on my mission.[fn2] [Read more…]

Sunday Morning Poem: Richard Crashaw, “On the Wounds of Our Crucified Lord”

Bringing a little baroque sensibility to our series, I present this poem by Richard Crashaw (1613-1649):

O these wakeful wounds of thine!
Are they mouths? or are they eyes?
Be they mouths, or be they eyne,
Each bleeding part some one supplies.
Lo! a mouth, whose full-bloomed lips
At too dear a rate are roses.
Lo! a bloodshot eye! that weeps
And many a cruel tear discloses.
O thou that on this foot hast laid
Many a kiss and many a tear,
Now thou shalt have all repaid,
Whatsoe’er thy charges were.
This foot hath got a mouth and lips
To pay the sweet sum of thy kisses;
To pay thy tears, an eye that weeps
Instead of tears such gems as this is.
The difference only this appears
(Nor can the change offend),
The debt is paid in ruby-tears
Which thou in pearls didst lend.

Sunday Morning Poem: “Eucharist”

A broken boy
broke the bread
and then
with breaking voice
broke the prayer.

His broken prayer
found broken me,
Jesus there
much more than
when he got it right.

Fascinating Priesthood

A book sits on our shelf in our home: Helen Andelin’s infamous tome on marital manipulation, Fascinating Womanhood.  The book details for women how to get a man (if they don’t have one) and how to control the one that they do have.  It includes helpful tips such as dressing and acting in a childish manner, nonsensically flattering your husband’s superiority [intellect, strength, driving skills, etc.], and deliberately playing dumb, even sabotaging household items for your husband to fix, so that your husband can feel proud of his manliness.  It also condones marital rape and domestic violence. [Read more…]

On Disappointment and Happiness

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…]

Cultivating the Garden of Friendship

In a recent post I expressed my belief that the world is an entropic chaos tending toward death, and that in rebelling against this we can make beauty, which the all-devouring nature of the void requires that we make again and again. I mentioned this idea in conversation with a new friend the other day, and she suggested that it would be better to think about how to cultivate beauty, to find ways of sustaining it over time. This seemed to me a good and wise correction, and although seeds of the idea do appear in my post, especially in the idea that human connection is the highest form of beauty, I wish to develop them further here. Zion, after all, is at once a place and a form of human community where the people are, as the scripture reminds us, of one heart and one mind, dwelling in righteousness, and having no poor among them. [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…]

Sunday Morning Poem: “Credo”

I’ve been at work on this one for a while, and I’ll probably keep tinkering, but here it is anyway. [Read more…]

Sunday Morning Poem: “The Flower,” by George Herbert

This poem, along with “The Agonie,” played a central part in my conversion to Herbert some ten years ago. I can still feel the pleasure of spiritual surprise I experienced upon first encountering the line “Thy word is all, if we could spell.”

[Read more…]

Revisiting the Idea of Stronger Marriages

We’re grumpy, but attractive.

In September, I blogged about The Myth of Traditional Marriage, reviewing studies from Stephenie Coontz’ book Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage.  As a follow up, I wanted to explore how we as Mormons can build stronger marriages.

The world is changing, and if we want to strengthen marriages, we need to deal with the reality that exists.  A few things have drastically changed in the last fifty years.   [Read more…]

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…]

The Sociable Heaven

A poem by Sara Teasdale has gotten me thinking about heaven lately.

How can our minds and bodies be
Grateful enough that we have spent
Here in this generous room, we three,
This evening of content?
Each one of us has walked through storm
And fled the wolves along the road;
But here the hearth is wide and warm,
And for this shelter and this light
Accept, O Lord, our thanks to-night. [1]

[Read more…]

Sloughs: of Despond or otherwise

This is a relatively good path in the swamp

This is a relatively good path in the swamp

A slough is a bog or mire, a great, sucking, sticky, consuming pool of mud, muck, or worse. As such, it is a handy metaphor. It can stand in for addiction, sin, bad habits, anything that we feel sucks us in and that we find hard to move beyond. Every step in a slough is a drudgery. Every motion requires far too much energy. It’s all just such a drag, man. A drag.
[Read more…]

Sunday Morning Poem: “There is a gold light in certain old paintings,” by Donald Justice

This late work appears as the final poem in Donald Justice’s Collected Poems (Knopf, 2006). It has been a favorite ever since I learned of it a few years ago. The third stanza strikes me as an especially clear expression of religious hope as tempered by thoroughgoing realism about the difficulty of life, represented by the almost Beckettian song at the end of the second stanza.

1 There is a gold light in certain old paintings That represents a diffusion of sunlight. It is like happiness, when we are happy. It comes from everywhere and from nowhere at once, this light, And the poor soldiers sprawled at the foot of the cross Share in its charity equally with the cross.

2 Orpheus hesitated beside the black river. With so much to look forward to he looked back. We think he sang then, but the song is lost. At least he had seen once more the beloved back. I say the song went this way: O prolong the suffering if that is all there is to prolong.

3 The world is very dusty, uncle. Let us work. One day the sickness shall pass from the earth for good. The orchard will bloom; someone will play the guitar. Our work will be seen as strong and clean and good. And all that we suffered through having existed Shall be forgotten as though it had never existed.

Note: regular BCC commenter melodynew contributes to a Poetry Sunday series over at The Exponent. Read her entry for today here. The more poetry, the better!

Do Mormons do theology?

mcginn coverDepending on who you ask you’ll get a different answer. I offer a qualified “yes,” which may be against the grain depending on who you ask and how the discussion goes. BYU professor James E. Faulconer has called Mormonism “atheological,” stressing that Mormons emphasize history, practice, and lived experience above rational, propositional content.1 In the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Louis C. Midgley characteristically skewers theology along similar lines, saying that in spite of a few caveats, theology is “not entirely at home in the LDS community.”2 Philosopher Adam Miller has paradoxically or puzzlingly depicted theology as excess, likening his own work to the construction of a Rube Goldberg machine (it depends on how you read Miller whether this is a good or bad thing).3 Blake Ostler’s three volume series is heavily theological, but he uses a different “T” word in the title: Exploring Mormon Thought.4

Soon, Terryl Givens will publish his ambitious overview of “the foundations of Mormon thought.”5 [Read more…]

Mormon Jargon 2

Now in a slightly less abridged form!

One of my most popular posts ever was a Mormon version of Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary, a satirical version of definitions of words according to Mormon culture. [1]  I thought it was time to expand that first effort.  I’ve included original definitions, a few reader suggestions, and added to the list with some more of my own.  With this preamble, I bring you Mormon Jargon the Sequel:  2 Mormon 2 Jargon.

[Read more…]

Are Mormons Too Trusting?

I send you as sheep among wolves. Or in this case a lone wolf among sheep.

“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…]

The Anosognosic’s Dilemma, Blogging, and the Body of Christ

One need not spend much time on the internet before coming face-to-face with what looks like raw, unfiltered stupidity. We’ve all seen memes mocking such ignorance. “How could you not see that?” we say, indignantly congratulating ourselves on our own superiority. As an advocate of the Oxford comma, here’s one of my favorites:

Oxford comma

Still, as pleasurable as dumping on such instances of idiocy may be, most of us do recognize that this sort of thing isn’t very Christlike (as some huffy commenter, devoid of any irony, will inevitably point out). Such recognitions notwithstanding, we feel guilty for a few minutes and then jump back into another Facebook battle with one of the utter morons who seem to populate the place. [fn1] [Read more…]

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