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...]

Brandon Davies, Twitter, & Whaaaa?

Seriously: for the past two days, brandon davies has been a trending topic on Twitter. That means, in the entire worldwide Twittersphere, with violent upheavals in the Middle East, a new iPad announced, and Charlie Sheen redefining “radical,” Brandon Davies is one of the top 10 topics on Twitter.[1]

This follows the ESPN story divulging Davies’ Honor Code violation: he had sex with his girlfriend. The chatter on Twitter is deafening and polarized, with SocialMention.com reporting that he’s getting tweeted about every 7 seconds. From what I can tell, half of the tweets are “Good for BYU,” and the other half are “Whaaaaa????”
[Read more...]

Ethics of Criticism in the Church

Brigham Young offered this instruction in the spring of 1844:

If a man preaches anything in error, pray to God that no man may remember it any more. No Elder will correct another in public before unbelievers unless he has the sinking principle. I call all the Elders together to witness that I always use charity, for it covers a multitude of sins. Let us obey the proclamation of Joseph Smith concerning the Elders going forth into the vineyard- to build up the Temple- get their endowments

The “sinking principle” was explained by Brigham as follows:

the speech and conduct of Elders, one towards another — one Elder will speak evil of another and when you undertake to trample on another you will sink yourself. [such] a man has [the] sinking principle [1]

[Read more...]

Could you qualify as a “Conscientious Objector”?

The following is a submission from Ron Madson, written on February 23, 2011, the fourth anniversary of his father’s passing as a tribute to his legacy.

My father was a WWII veteran that served in Patton’s infantry in the European theatre. It wasn’t until he was 91 years old before he told me the details of his war experiences—and I am not aware if he told anyone else. My father was the most Christ-like person I have ever known. In the fall of 2002 I sat with my father listening to the war rhetoric seeking to justify our nation’s invasion of Iraq. This man, who rarely showed emotion and spoke seldom, emotionally told me that he did not believe that there was any scripture or Christian principle that would allow us to attack another country as we did in Afghanistan and were about to do in Iraq. He was certain that in our anger, fear and pride we, like the Nephites of old, were abandoning our covenant with the Lord by being the aggressor. He was hopeful that as a people we would surely denounce these wars. Knowing his character I am certain that if he were magically young again, he would have applied for conscientious objector status as to our current wars— as he would have in Viet Nam. [Read more...]

What on Earth was I thinking?

Last night, while my wife and I were having family prayer, I felt an prompting deep within my soul. I recoiled in terror at the urging, because I knew that obedience would be a horrible mistake–one I’d regret for years to come. I felt the doom in my bones, all the way down to my very soul. And yet, I relented, and a wave of fear and sorrow washed over me as I uttered those fateful words:

“Dear Father, please help us to be humble.”
[Read more...]

Speaking of ghosts…

Let’s hear your ghost stories. Here’s mine: [Read more...]

Technology, Humanity, and Jeopardy

The inevitable future, as depicted by Matsby

All the hubbub around IBM’s new Jeopardy champ has stirred up talk in pop-futurist circles of the coming Singularity—the idea that one day humankind will create a machine that is intelligent enough to build an improved version of itself, which will then replicate and improve itself in the next generation, and so on until eventually humans are rendered obsolete.

Another vision of the Singularity is that human consciousness will somehow be “loaded” onto machines, freeing us from the bonds of biology and anatomy.

Both are fun theories to think about, and form the basis of lots and lots of bad sci-fi stories and a few good ones.

[Read more...]

Much obliged

I would like to say a few words on behalf of obligation. And guilt. Two great tastes that taste great together.

Last month a member of our ward passed away, suddenly and unexpectedly. She was a pillar of the community; her husband had been bishop when the ward was first formed, she had later served as the Relief Society president, and they were currently working as Primary teachers. Everyone knew her. Everyone loved her. The loss is still fresh, and the ward is still mourning.

On that first Sunday, when they asked for volunteers to bring the family meals, help with the funeral service and offer other support, the list of those who signed up filled two pages. It was a testament to how beloved this woman was and how much service she had given over the years to so many people. It was heart-warming, but at the same time, it made me think about other people in the ward–people I probably haven’t even met yet, and may never–who go largely unnoticed most of the time but whose needs are just as genuine. People don’t line up to bring those folks casseroles. They’re the type for whom the Compassionate Service Leader has to scour the ward list to find someone willing and able to lend a hand. [Read more...]

Ken Jennings vs. Watson: Mormon to save humanity? (cue allusions to White Horse Prophecy)

Last night, I gleefully skipped celebration of Valentine’s Day, in favor of sitting rapt in front of the television to watch Jeopardy! mega-winner (and longtime friend of BCC’s Police Beat Roundtable) Ken Jennings go up against IBM’s latest massively parallel Artificial Intelligence engine, Watson.

The Atlantic has dubbed their coverage of the matchup “Liveblogging the robot takeover or humanity’s finest hour,” and it is hard not to read this confrontation in such sweeping, maybe-apocalyptic terms. Especially when there’s a Mormon in the mix!
[Read more...]

Modestly played

So this past weekend I was visiting my sister, who is a Young Women leader in her ward, and she showed me this skit that they did for their New Beginnings. (I found it via a Google search. Apparently it is from Sugardoodle, but I couldn’t find a writing credit, unfortunately. Heck, I couldn’t find a title.) It is about the Value Heroes–Lady Faith, Diva Divine Nature, Individual Worth Woman (“My worth goes to INFINITY AND BEYOND!”), Queen Knowledge, Captain Choice and Accountability, Good Works the Great, Princess Integrity, and Virtue Girl–who safeguard the young women of Mutualopolis. Sadly, some dastardly villains capture the Value Heroes, leaving the poor young women of Mutualopolis at the mercy of the evil opposites of those values which have always protected them. But happily, the young women turn to the scriptures and realize that the Lord is their strength and if they live the Young Women values, they can be their own superheroes. And so the city of Mutualopolis is saved! (At least the young women are in pretty good shape. It’s an all-female play, you see. Like The Women, only without the adultery.) [Read more...]

Remembering the captivity of our fathers: A Rant

Today was High Council Sunday in our sacrament meeting. Our ward is going on trek come summer. If you know me, you know that I am not a fan of trek, but that I generally just ignore it.

The high councilor’s speaking companion said, “I know that those noble pioneers suffered what they went through in order to inspire the youth of today.” Martyrdom ain’t what it used to be, folks! [Read more...]

Born Again

In Sunday School recently we discussed the story of Nicodemus, whose encounter with Jesus is depicted in John 3. In this famous encounter, Jesus tells Nicodemus that being “born again” (or “born from above,” as most interpreters probably correctly argue) is a prerequisite for “see[ing] the kingdom of God.”[1] A member of my ward argued against a view he sees as prevalent in which being “born again” is seen in typically evangelicalistic terms as a one-time event at which time a person is first and finally saved. This class member worried that a) not every LDS has such a powerful spiritual experience, and b) even those who have such a powerful spiritual experience will often waver in their sense of having been born again.

I agreed with this gentleman, a view that has been strengthened by my study of early Mormon adoption theology. [Read more...]

Do you believe in miracles…

In Mormon circles, people typically express the views that faith precedes miracles and that the truly righteous do not need miracles to develop their faith.  I want to argue  that this view overlooks the importance that miracles do and should play in our decisions to follow Christ.   [Read more...]

Exercise and its discontent

I run. Intermittently, but I do run. I ran a marathon a few years ago and I’m training to run another one in June (Utah Valley Marathon, if you are interested). I’m not always certain that this is a good thing. [Read more...]

Murder, Mayhem, Sin, and Voyeurism

Like many Americans, I consider murder to be a form of entertainment, and I’m a bit ashamed by that.  I can’t really survive international flights without a good gripping murder mystery in my hand.  The more creative and depraved, the more I can count on it to keep me occupied, make the flight seem short, and stave off air sickness.  I spent the new years holiday watching a marathon of “Castle” on cable.  More murder.  Somehow it doesn’t seem like such a horrible sin and terrible tragedy when it is presented as a “whodunit” or when it’s presented by characters who quip chirpily as their flirtation weaves its way through crime scenes, witness interrogation, and visits to the medical examiners and their corpses.  [Read more...]

On Time for Priesthood Meeting

So I’m sitting in a two-hour stake priesthood meeting, looking around the chapel, and trying to calculate the opportunity cost of such a meeting. [Read more...]

On being lost

This last week I lost one of my kids. The five year-olds and I leave school together and walk through a square and down a pedestrian-only street about 500 yards to the bus stop. One of the boys had stopped for a moment to play in a snow pile and the other and I walked a little further along and stopped just around a corner to look in a shop window.

When I looked back, the first was gone. I wasn’t too worried as the area is fairly self-contained and not terribly busy, but then we started walking again and couldn’t see him at all. And then, way up by the bus stop, we saw a flash of his blue woolen hat, and we ran to catch up to him. He had just run out of a store and headed to the bus stop, obviously looking very hard, and I started shouting his name, but he was clearly panicked, literally running back and forth on the sidewalk trying to sort out what to do. People standing around him looked at me, this giant American shouting on the street, but then the light changed and he ran across the street toward another bus stop we sometimes use. His brother and I ran after him, shouting his name, but he just couldn’t hear us, probably sobbing himself and deafened by the adrenaline. He was running down the sidewalk in a frenzy, and I just ran and kept shouting his name. Just as he was deciding whether to cross the street again, a woman stopped next to him, knelt down, said something and pointed toward me. Finally he looked back and saw me and ran toward me. I gave the woman a wave and a thank you, and knelt down to hug my hysterical son. [Read more...]

Mormons and the Kindergarchy

A couple years ago I read this Weekly Standard piece by Joe Epstein. The subject is “kindergarchy”: rule by children. Mr. Epstein’s beef is that parents these days (“these days” starting about 30 or 40 years ago) pay too much attention to their kids, which is bad for both kids and parents, and worse for society in general. This isn’t a new idea, of course. Parents have supposedly been spoiling their kids rotten for, well, at least the last 30 or 40 years; the world keeps getting worse, and still we persist in making child-rearing the center of our adult universe. Go figure. [Read more...]

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