Through a Social Network, Darkly

A friend of mine from college passed away this week, after a long struggle with cancer. Hers was a sad passing (she was way too young) and a happy one (she’s free from pain now). I have many fun memories of her, and though I hadn’t seen her in 8 years, we kept in touch somewhat over Facebook.

She’s one of my first acquaintances to pass away in The Facebook Era, and she embraced the technology. She shared her struggles with her 700 Facebook friends, and she posted pictures of herself as the treatments took her hair and the cancer took her vitality. Her Wall was full of her cheerfulness in the face of adversity. Her Wall has also been covered with prayers and well-wishes for months, giving us all insight into just how many lives this woman has touched.

I have witnessed closer friends suffer from similar diseases, but never from the same vantage point as Facebook offered.

Let me step back for a moment to say that this is not a pity post.

[Read more...]

Building the perfect resurrected body

“…but all things shall be restored to their proper and perfect frame.” (Alma 40:23)

Years ago I was talking with a friend after church about the resurrection. Not in any deep, meaningful way, of course. She just mentioned the scripture that says “even a hair of the head shall not be lost,” and she said that she hoped it only applied to the hair on top of one’s head and not to any other random hair that one might not want to have restored. She didn’t expound further and neither shall I; suffice it to say that I share her hope. But that’s not primarily what this post is about. [Read more...]

The [Missed] Opportunity

Continuing with our unofficial guest-palooza this week, BCC is pleased to have this guest post from frequent commenter Chris Gordon.

A few years back, Kristine related George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” to some of the linguistic traps we can fall into within the church. Along the same vein, I’d like to suggest that some of those very trappings can, if we’re not careful, cause us to miss an opportunity for better communion with the Spirit and greater shared experience in prayer and testimony.  Consider the following phrases, oft heard in prayer and testimony:

“We’re grateful for the opportunity to be here today; and we’re grateful for the opportunity to hear the speakers and for the opportunity to take the sacrament. Please bless those who didn’t have the opportunity to be here today.”

[Read more...]

What if They’d Had Facebook in Kirtland?

Church history would be so much easier to understand if we had a social media record to look back on…

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Riot van

This is a difficult post to write, not least because people are still trying to come to terms with the damage, and so I hope not to offend; but if I have I apologise beforehand and ask that if you disagree please do so with respect.

Britain is currently reeling from a series of riots that have hit many of the major cities.  My local town centre was vandalised and robbed but my family have not witnessed the worst of the damage [1].  Shops have been looted, historic buildings have been burned and innocent people have been attacked.

During my honeymoon violence flared in Paris.  Two young men had been shot by police and the youth of the Banlieue’s took to the streets in protest of police oppression.  The riots rippled through France but eventually order was restored.  London was again fairly quiet last night but riots recurred in various city centres around the country. [Read more...]

Hanging with my daughter in the Sacred Grove

Last Thursday I got back from a month-long-yet-whirlwind family vacation in which we visited many parts of the United States that we’d never visited before and from which I am still recuperating. (But since this week is cub scout day camp, the recovery promises to be slow.) Among our many destinations were some incidental-yet-convenient trips to church historical sites–because as long as you’re in the neighborhood, why not?

Well, if you’re my thirteen-year-old, the reason not is that church historical sites are boring and why would you want to visit someplace boring unless you were some kind of religious fanatic, which she is not. My oldest child has a lot of angst about being Mormon in the first place, and every time you remind her that she is one–by making her go to church on Sunday or read scriptures or have family prayer–you risk bringing on another existential crisis. Which wouldn’t be so bad if there weren’t so much whining and yelling involved. I mean, I’m all for whining and yelling when there’s a need…unless you’re someone else who’s whining and yelling at me. That’s just irritating. But such is the sweetness of Mormon life as performed by the J family. [Read more...]

Top Ten Gospel Mysteries Solved via Time Travel

(As determined by the BCC permas)

  1. Who changed the first baby’s first diaper–Adam or Eve?
  2. What did Jesus write in the sand that one time?
  3. Did McClellen steal the blankets?
  4. Crickets and Seagulls….fact or fiction?
  5. Was Eliza pushed, or did she jump?
  6. Was Balaam’s ass really the talkinest darn thing you ever saw?
  7. Um, dinosaurs?
  8. Is NDBF Gary’s name correct?
  9. How bald was Elisha, exactly?
  10. Robot crow?

[Read more...]

Our Week in the Media: Small Stuff and Big Stuff

Talk about overexposure: Newsweek and BusinessWeek in the same week! Prevailing wisdom in media circles is that once the newsweeklies have picked up a trend, it has reached it apex—so I guess the church’s slide back into obscurity starts now. (Don’t worry, Russell!)

What’s striking to me has been the reaction to the different stories. From what I’ve seen in my own social circles on Facebook and elsewhere, we’re supposed to be mad at Newsweek and thrilled about the BusinessWeek article.

But that’s exactly backwards.

The reasons for the ire against Newsweek seem to revolve around the cover and a few snippets of text within the article. Let me briefly debunk two of the phrases I’ve noticed Mormons getting hung up on:

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Do We Want Our Religion To Be Mainstream?

[Cross posted to In Medias Res]

This cover story in Newsweek is pretty much the only thing Mormons in my crowd have been talking about this morning. (They’ve also been talking about the other features in the package, as well as a wonderful sidebar article on Elizabeth Smart, but not as much as the main piece.) The main article, “Mormons Rock!”, written by Walter Kirn–who is a long-lapsed member of the faith himself–apparently started out as a piece on the new “The Book of Mormon” musical on Broadway, but grew from there. The editor primarily responsible for putting the package together and guiding it was Damon Linker, my old friend and frequent intellectual sparring-partner, not least when it comes to things Mormon. Here, thanks to the work of some fine other journalists, he’s developed something that might well be read as a basically innocuous puff-piece (running through some of the basics of the church’s history and current institutional culture, quoting several prominent members of the faith about how they deal with the misunderstanding and marginalization that comes along with being a minority faith), but which, to me anyway, presents a fairly challenging question, a question that might be legitimately asked to believers of any non-dominant religion: should you, as a adherent of a faith, actually want to have your “moment”? [Read more...]

The Simple, Sweet Things

In a recent sacrament meeting talk in our ward, someone quoted David O. McKay saying, “What you think about when you don’t have to think, shows what you really are.” Over the preceding week, I’d found myself not so much in my thoughts, but in what I’d chosen to do with my time, now that something that was taking all my time had abruptly ended.
[Read more...]

Redefining Inner Beauty

Brother J: So, how was your special Mother’s Day Relief Society?

Sister J: It was good.

Brother J: What did you talk about?

Sister J: Loving ourselves.

Brother J: Is that allowed now?

Sister J: Yes. But only for the sisters. [Read more...]

Couple Things

Last night, my wife and I crossed a devastating threshold–a veritable point of no return. Around 10:25pm, she said she was tired and wanted to go to bed, and I objected and suggested we watch the next episode of the TV show we’ve been watching lately. An argument ensued, and I did something that I’m ashamed of–because I promised myself I would never do this–but which nevertheless cannot be undone.

If you’re thinking, “He went to bed without resolving the argument,” then you’re correct–but what we’re talking about here is much, much worse. In fact, it’s so terrible that I hesitate to post this publicly, and understand if you don’t want to read further. [Read more...]

Faith and Inspiration

I have taught some unimaginably good writers—though I’ll probably have to revise that modifier (“unimaginably”) at the end of this essay. I have taught poets who had far greater gifts than I, essayists who invited me into new paradigms or experiences, and fiction writers who took me on unanticipated journeys.

This past semester, I taught a young man who I also knew as a missionary. He was in the MTC branch my husband and I served in two years ago. He went to Africa, and I wrote to him (and to several others) while he served.

Though my letters to the other missionaries were primarily faith-building, my letters to him were often pure fiction. He knew that every fictional claim I made required him to match or beat it—and it made p-day extra fun for him. (That was my intent, of course). We had an ongoing story about his chimpanzee companion, Mr. Stompsalot, and I reported on the missionary project which was abandoned in 1973. [Read more...]

The One and Only Myth

In the early 1840s Joseph Smith proposed to Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner. Elizabeth recorded “Joseph said I was his before I came here and he said all the Devils in hell should never get me from him.”  Joseph further told her, “I was created for him
before the foundation of the Earth was laid.”
(Todd Compton. In Sacred Loneliness pg 212 italics added) This may have been the
early beginnings of a pre-existence forming in Joseph Smith cosmology. His words were similar to some of his other wives. For instance in 1841 Joseph made it known to Zina Diantha Jacobs (Huntington Young) that the Lord, “had made it known to him that Zina was to be his wife.” (Ibid. pg 80 italics added)

Perhaps these and other 19th century marriages helped plant the idea in the Mormon psyche that people met and fell
in love in heaven, promising to marry once on earth, foreordained if you will.

[Read more...]

O that I were an angel!

OR IS IT ANGELUS??

OR IS IT ANGELUS??

Indeed.

I was thinking today about Alma’s little wish:

O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!
Alma 29:1

We all know that Alma self-smacked himself down soon after writing this, but let’s say, for argument’s sake, that he (or, you) got this wish. Then what? [Read more...]

Unfairness

We arrived late to church on Sunday. So instead of entering the chapel, the three of us remained in the foyer during Sacrament meeting. As my wife prepared her Relief Society lesson on the couch, I sat with my 4-year-old daughter, Annika, on a table against the wall. To our left, enclosed behind a protective glass case, hung a large wooden plaque with pictures of almost all the past Relief Society presidents in chronological order of service: Emma Smith thru Mary Ellen Smoot.

Annika: “Dad?”
Me: “Yes.”
Annika: “What is this?”
Me: “It’s all the past Presidents of the Relief Society. That’s the class that Mom goes to while you’re in Primary.”
Annika: “How come there are only girls in the pictures?”
Me: “Because only girls can be President of the Relief Society.”
Annika (after a short pause): “I don’t think it’s fair to the boys that they can’t be in the pictures!”
Me: “Indeed.”

Follow the Prophet

I donned the mantle of Primary chorister yesterday. This was a first for me (and presumably a last). Our regular chorister asked me to sub for him the night before. Never in a million years did I imagine I’d find myself leading groups of children in song, so the invitation gave me serious pause. But I relished the embarrassing travesty I imagined might result if I participated, so I quickly said yes.
[Read more...]

False dichotomies and Easter: a quick post, sorta

Quick, use up one of your twenty pageviews and read this article by David Brooks. Then go read this response by Andrew Sullivan.

We all back? Good. Brooks is right that most of the folks in Africa (and elsewhere) who join religious movements join because of the creeds promoted, not in spite of them. Sullivan, on the other hand, is correct that we apply our human reason to any particular set of creeds, using that act to determine if they are appropriate for our belief (There is a reason folks go church shopping). So, while I believe that they are both right, I also believe that they are both wrong. They are setting up a false choice between rational and miraculous belief. As a Mormon, I get to believe in both types. We believe that God tells us the truth via our hearts and our minds. So, while both Brooks and Sullivan appear to believe that casual dismissal of Mormonism is de rigueur, Mormonism actually resolves the false dilemma their two approaches create.

Why on Easter? Because we, as Mormons, actually believe that Christ did something rationally impossible. He rose from the dead on the third day, ascended to His Father, and created the means for our return. That doesn’t make us unique (plenty of Christians believe the same), but it does mean that our faith derives from some miraculous moment (in our own experience and in historical experience). At the same time, we derive further meaning from that moment (and many like it) to determine how to live on earth. The derivation of law from experience is the very heart of rationalism. There is no contradiction, really, between the two, or rather, they exist in apparent contradiction, but aren’t, really. We have a Moebius strip of a religion, folks. That’s what gives it power and that is what allows it to appeal to the rational, the irrational, the conservative, the liberal, the fundamentalist, and the revisionist. Christ’s message is to all people; He died & He is Risen.

Amen.

Thoughts From Last Night

I guess I could say that I’d prefer someone else baptize her, but that wouldn’t be true. I want to baptize her, and she wants me to baptize her, too. She’s been part of our family pretty much since she came to visit. No one else really knows her, except some of the old women. Still, all we have done is give her a ride to church every week and talk a little bit. Why did she agree to be baptized? I didn’t think she’d taken me seriously when I told her that I wanted to baptize her as soon as she believes that I won’t let her drown. No, there’s no one else that should do this if I don’t. Maybe Bishop. No, me. I just don’t think that baptizing visitors who are leaving soon is a very good idea. In fact, I think it’s almost uniformly a bad idea. I think it’s an even worse idea when that visitor is 82 years old. And when her knees don’t bend. [Read more...]

Tuesday Afternoon Poetry

Harbor Hills Ward: Newport Beach

You emerge from your car, laughing.
“I forgot to tie my dress,” you say,
turning your back to me, and I do it for you.
And I think I understand how Cinderella felt
once, that early afternoon,
when the ball was still imaginary:

Standing there,
in her wrinkled black polyester,
grasping Drusilla’s sash,
her callused fingertips
not fathoming the silk,
it’s that fine, bluer than
Gatsby’s shirts, softer,
wealth slipping through her fingers,
fluttering, catching on a hangnail–
Cinderella hopes she doesn’t smell of onions
as she ties a lopsided bow
on her sister.

[Read more...]

Things About Which Two Reasonable People Can Disagree

A week or so ago, as the US Federal Government was on the brink of a shutdown, William Howell, a public policy professor at the University of Chicago, discussed how the factions in the US government had become so polarized in an editorial for CNN. He noted the following:

The polarization of the two major parties has consequences for a great deal more than just the contents of legislation. It fosters a broader political environment in which compromise invites ridicule, in which pragmatists are presumed to lack conviction, and in which each political faction is convinced not merely that it is right, but that those who disagree with it are stupid, evil or both.

In my line of work, I am often in the position of having to disagree with what someone is saying. The fact is, I’m paid to disagree with people (who are also being paid to disagree with me). There are at least three kinds of disagreements that I am frequently involved in. [Read more...]

“It’s up to you”

My son Scott was baptized on Saturday. A year ago I did not expect this to happen. Scott has autism, and although he has many good skills–mowing the lawn, making French toast, playing Joe Danger–his ability to understand abstract concepts and motivations is limited. At eight years old he still does not ask “Why?” questions, and he can’t answer them, either. He communicates mostly in rote phrases, which don’t necessarily indicate anything substantive about what he is trying to express. They are just the phrases he knows. You can usually tell by his tone of voice whether or not he means them literally or whether he is frustrated (about what is not always clear) or just feels like making conversation, and these are the words that are easiest for him to access. When he was seven, I thought that unless he made a huge developmental leap, there was no way we were going to have him baptized the next year. What would be the point? Even if he understood what he was doing, how would we know that? He wouldn’t be able to tell us. [Read more...]

For R* in Miserable Days

As a close friend has suffered a particularly difficult miscarriage recently, I want to pause from the usual vocations of life to express solidarity to and love for the many women who have similarly suffered. [Read more...]

Genealogy, I am not doing it

Because it’s St. Patrick’s Day, I decided to look up my ancestors on the new Family Search and see if I had any Irish in me. Apparently, my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather was Irish. I mean, it appears to be reasonably well-documented that he was born there. So there it is, proof that I am, what, one one-hundred-twenty-eighth Irish? I still don’t feel very connected to Ireland. But at least now I know. [Read more...]

A Shinto Prayer

With all the respect from the depth of our hearts we ask that the gods hear us, such as the spirit that hears our intent together with the spirits of the Sky and the Land. Take the evil, disasters and sins and purify all.

Kimigayo wa
Chiyo ni yachiyo ni
Sazare-ishi no
Iwao to narite
Koke no musu made.

Going Back, III: Gossip

Yet another installment in my series about returning to Argentina, 2 years after my mission. Previous installments here and here. Yes, I’ve changed the names for privacy reasons.

Behold my bi-monthly, post-mission ritual: I’d be strolling across the BYU campus, minding my own business, when suddenly I’d bump into a returned missionary from my mission who’d returned home after I did. I myself had only been back for 6 months, but this was long enough for me to view each RM as a potential gold mine of information and updates about my old areas. So I’d make the predictable inquiries … about my baptisms, my investigators, my favorite ward members, my mission companions. Interesting tidbits of information were few and far between, but the potential was always there, so I never stopped asking. Occasionally I’d get some morsel of gossip, but nothing to write home about. Until one fine afternoon – as I interrogated a recently returned elder about each of my junior companions – I participated in the following bombshell exchange:

RM: “Dude, did you hear about what happened to Elder Sorenson?”
Me: “No, I didn’t. What happened to him? He was my comp, you know.”
RM: “Yeah, he got sent home a few months ago. Something to do with homosexuality.” [Read more...]

Ash Wednesday

Miserere mei, Deus

I’m pretty sure I had never seen anyone with ashes on his forehead until I was in college–the imposition of ashes at the start of Lent just wasn’t part of the liturgical life of the Baptist/Methodist/Campbellite town I grew up in.  I was initially puzzled, and then vaguely repulsed by this physical, public acknowledgment of sin and penitence and the messiness of mortality.

Culturally, Mormons aren’t really big on public acknowledgment of sin–we’re optimistic that sin can be contained at home or, at worst, in the bishop’s office.  We speak cheerily of the 4 (or 5, or 7, depending on the teacher’s creativity) R’s of Repentance, a discreet process akin to running the dishwasher.  [Read more...]

Memory’s Pen

Mat Parke is an emeritus blogger with BCC and all-around great guy. We’re glad he dropped in for a guest post.

You cannot step twice into the same river, for other waters are ever flowing on to you. — Heraclitus

Childhood represents an increasingly small piece of our lives but occupies the largest space in memory. A banker’s lamp perched on my father’s desk. Moonlight shining through willow trees. The sun warm on my body as a record plays. My sister sitting in a red-leather upholstered chair looking at pictures in a book.

These things remembered are real. The willow trees are gone and the house long sold, but other artifacts remain. The desk and the lamp, no longer paired, can be found in my parent’s new house. The red-leather chair and possibly the book gather dust in the basement. But even if preserved, almost nothing that saw everyday use some thirty years ago is still part of the daily fray. Instead they sit in the recesses of cupboards and closets where I and my siblings stumble across them when making visits to the unfamiliar house my parents now live in. In their new setting these items act as totems of a family that has also changed into something our childhood eyes would not recognize. [Read more...]

The Hand(s) of God

I have recently had the pleasure of participating again in priesthood blessings, an LDS ritual based on New Testament precedent in which believers place olive oil and then their hands on a person’s head before pronouncing a prayerful blessing on the recipient. As I indicated a few years ago, these blessings are a sacred part of my attachment to the LDS Church. These recent experiences, blessings of support in the midst of complex and challenging life circumstances, returned to my mind an episode[1] some years ago in my practice as an ICU physician. [Read more...]

Are Mormon naming conventions useful?

As a graduate student, I could not figure out how to address my professors. Poised somewhere between the formal address used in college and the first-name basis of the working world, I resorted to simply not using their names. But it wasn’t until I became confident enough to use first names that I felt productive and began to take myself seriously. [Read more...]

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