The Smugger-Murmur-H8er-Snigger-nacle and Me

People sometimes wonder why I bother. By which I mean bother writing blog posts or thinking about the church obsessively or trying to interact with people with whom I hold strong disagreements. In some cases, I’ve had to stop because folks were just driving me crazy (Hi, M*). So why bother? Does being involved in this community give me joy or not?
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The Atonement and Human Reconciliation

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...]

Nativities

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.

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Twas the Morning of Finals

Twas the morning of finals, when all through the dorms
Freshmen were dressing, disguising their forms.
Sarah’s head scarf was tied round her with care,
In hopes that the boys wouldn’t notice her there.

Students filled desks, not snuggled in  beds,
While visions of straight As danced in their heads.
And Sarah in head scarf, and I in my jeggings,
Had just cleansed our brains from the sight of men’s meggings. [Read more...]

OccuPie

Because let’s face it, 99% of Thanksgiving is dessert!

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Seeking Pastoral Care at BYU

Note: This is the second of a two-part post resulting from a lengthy conversation among the permabloggers at BCC regarding repentance, and should be considered a group effort more than my own personal post. Part 1 was posted previously and can be found here.

To this point, I’ve focused solely on the concept of “worthiness” as a social status and the perverse incentive to avoid repentance that may follow as a result. As noted in at least one of the comments on the previous post, the conflict of interest in repenting need not be limited to social circles. It is (sadly) easy to imagine a man or woman putting off repentance because of the fear–which may well be justified–that their significant other will pull the plug on the relationship. In this post, I’d like to focus on circumstances where the conflict of interest is most explicit: students and faculty at a Church-owned educational institution, such as Brigham Young University. [Read more...]

Repentance and Conflicts of Interest

Note: This is the first of a two-part post resulting from a lengthy conversation among the permabloggers at BCC regarding repentance. Part 2 will be posted later this week.

Several weeks ago during a casual conversation, my Elders Quorum president asked me a thoughtful question: “How much real atonement do we see in the Church?” By “real atonement” he meant true repentance and change–people beginning to sing the song of redeeming love, putting off the natural man, desiring no more to do evil, and desiring only to do good. That sort of thing.

After a few minutes of discussing it, we both seemed to conclude that the answer is somewhere between “I don’t know” and “Not very much.” Is this weird, given that we are (theoretically) in agreement that church is a hospital for sinners? Shouldn’t repentance–something we all need, constantly (seriously–we all need it constantly)–be something to celebrate as a frequent event? Shouldn’t we react a bit more like the Robinson family when we, or our fellow Saints Sinners “fail” in our pursuit of Christ-like living?
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Testimony

This guest submission is from Morris Thurston, a friend of BCC and the Mormon Studies community.

Last Sunday my wife, Dawn, and I were the Sacrament Meeting speakers in our ward, assigned to speak on “Testimony.” For inspiration, we were directed to the sermon given by Cecil O. Samuelson, Jr. in the April 2011 conference on the same subject.

This was a challenging topic for me. It isn’t that I don’t have a testimony; it’s just that my testimony is a bit different than those we typically hear during fast and testimony meeting. After reviewing Elder Samuelson’s excellent talk, and after much thought and prayer, I decided to try to be honest in discussing the underpinnings of my testimony. While the thoughts I expressed would not have been groundbreaking had they been expressed in the nearly-anything-goes sphere of the bloggernacle, they were unusual in the context of a sacrament meeting in a conservative Orange County, California ward.

It is likely there were some in the congregation who disagreed with aspects of my talk; if so, they were kind enough not to mention it. What gratified me were those members who talked to me afterward and seemed genuinely touched and thankful that I had been able to express what so seldom is expressed in Church. The members of my ward do not read the bloggernacle (I took a poll in my High Priests Quorum and not a single brother was familiar with By Common Consent, or any other blog). For some of them, apparently, these thoughts provided great comfort. If only a few were spiritually touched, I had accomplished my objective.

———————

UNDERPINNINGS OF MY TESTIMONY
Morris A. Thurston
Anaheim, California, Sixth Ward Sacrament Meeting, October 30, 2011 [Read more...]

Throwing Stones

"Faith" by David Linn

Nine years ago today, I waded down into warm blue tiled font while my wiggly baby watched from his dad’s arms, and my husband’s uncle recited the simple yet beautiful prayer and submersed me in the waters of baptism. I have little recollection of right before other than warmth, and I cannot for the life of me tell you what we did as a family afterwards- I assume food was involved. But what I do recall vividly is the feeling of rising up out of that water. It was fleeting, like a hummingbird on a flower, but it was a moment of singular perfection. The perfection lay not in me, but around me- bathing me, for the briefest moment, in what I can only call the light of heaven. I knew there would be no perfection for me in this moral veil of flesh- not ever- but I was given the barest glimpse of the potential.

In the nearly decade since then, the seasons have passed over my fields, sowing and harvesting, adding babies, death, loss and taking what I thought was going to be one life and instead giving me a whole new one. The husband is gone, children are growing, and I haven’t yet figured out what kind of blossoms that new life will bear, but it’s sprouting and finding out will be fun. My faith has matured, and I understand full-well how fragile and human our hands are as we endeavor to do good in the world, to show mercy and tenderness to our sisters and brothers. [Read more...]

Stop Saying That!!

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...]

Come, Join the Conversation

       In language intonation refers to the rise and fall of a speaker’s voice in the course  of a sentence or group of thoughts. In English, there are at least four identified tones. For instance, I can say “Nice to meet you,” and depending on the intonation of my voice it can come across as flirtatious, questioning, matter of fact, nonchalant or sarcastic.

Humans are used to their own speech patterns within the culture they live.  This is good because it helps us interpret the thoughts and ideas people are trying to convey. However it poses a problem cross-culturally. [Read more...]

Boyd K. Packer and Prophetic Despair

I’m just going to say it. Please don’t throw things.

I loved President Packer’s talk. [Read more...]

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.

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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.”

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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.
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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.

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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.
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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.

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