A Mormon Homily for Rosh Hashanah

Leshana Tova Tikoseiv Vesichoseim Le’Alter LeChaim Tovim U’Leshalom — “May you be inscribed and sealed for a Good Year and for a Good and Peaceful Life”


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East vs. West: Spiritual Smackdown

As an American living in Asia, I often experienced cultural disconnects.  A peer or friend would make a comment so obviously based on assumptions or values I didn’t share that I realized that my own values and assumptions must sound equally foreign to them.

Last year, a colleague in India made a statement that I found very unsettling.  He said:  “When we focus on results nothing changes.  When we focus on change we see results.”  Since this claim was made in a business setting in a results-driven culture, I was taken aback.  I had to ask him to repeat it several times, yet it still flew in the face of everything I believe as a business person.  I really was at a loss how to respond to someone who believed that.  Was he really saying you should get an A for effort and that results didn’t matter?  If so, that explained a lot about the results I was seeing from his group! [Read more…]

A Stranger, A Pilgrim: Liveblogging El Camino

[Update Day 1], [Update Day 2], [Update Day 3], [Update Day 4], [Update Day 5], [Update Day 6]

scallop shell symbol8 Yo te haré saber y te enseñaré el camino en que debes andar;
te aconsejaré con mis ojos puestos en ti.

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
rodeará.

11 Alegraos en el SEÑOR y rogocijaos, justos;
dad voces de júbilo, todos los rectos de corazón.

Salmos 32:8-11

Madrid, March 30, 2013john 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…]

Dear BBC

[Available on Youtube]

To: James Jones, Producer, The Mormon Candidate

Re: This World: The Mormon Candidate (BBC2)

Dear Mr Jones,

If we are to follow the educational philosophy of Charles Dickens’s  Thomas Gradgrind — “In this life, we want nothing but Facts, sir; nothing but Facts!” — then we would find little to complain about in John Sweeney’s BBC account of Mitt Romney’s Mormonism. Sweeney, the BBC’s go-to cult hunter, famous for his aggressive encounter with Scientology, provided a number facts about Mormonism that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints simply cannot deny.

They are, inter alia: Mormon prophet Joseph Smith married upwards of 30 women. The Egyptian of the extant fragments of the Book of Abraham is not directly related to Smith’s translation. Mormons once swore blood oaths in their temples. As a conservative religion, Mormonism can be a rather alienating place for those whose faith wanders from orthodoxy. The church maintains its own Vatican-like Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. &c.

Some of these facts, and others besides, are bound to make uncomfortable viewing for Mormons. Some are defensible, others are not. Many strike at the heart of Mormonism’s curse as a pre-modern religion that has come of age in a modern and post-modern age. The patina of history has rendered benign the strange beliefs and practices of some more ancient religions. Mormonism is not so lucky and this is why facts, polemically deployed, are not always as truthful as Gradgrind, and Sweeney, would have us believe. [Read more…]

Mormonism, a Trinitarian religion

My parents, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for almost 50 years, like to go to church on their many travels. Usually it’s the local Mormon congregation but not always. Every year they visit the Isles of Scilly, a tiny archipelago off the south-western tip of England, and attend services at the local Anglican church. Their commitment to Mormonism is strong but I think they enjoy an annual injection of native religion. They also take Holy Communion.

No doubt the latter admission would raise eyebrows among some Mormons although it’s difficult to exactly say why. Perhaps it is the Communion wine, although even if it were non-alcoholic, it would still encounter suspicion, I suspect. Certainly Mormons see a particular legitimacy to their own administration of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, but is that to deny the efficacy, even to a lesser degree, of this singularly Christian rite when performed by others? What are the intentions behind the rites and does one negate the other?

Modern Mormons see the sacrament as a renewal of covenants; other Christians tend to be less particular. The only theological agreement is that it somehow invokes the presence of Christ for those who partake. It seems to me that the Mormon who on occasion participates in a non-Mormon Eucharist is not betraying her own uniquely Mormon experience of similar things. I do accept, however, that a degree of discomfort might arise. [Read more…]

Review: Stephen H. Webb, “Jesus Christ, Eternal God”

Title: Jesus Christ, Eternal God: Heavenly Flesh and the Metaphysics of Matter
Author: Stephen H. Webb
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Genre: Theology
Year: 2012
Pages: 368
Binding: Hardcover
ISBN13: 978-0-19-982795-4
Price: $65.00

On a blustery April afternoon in 1844, Joseph Smith stood before a congregation of thousands and fought the wind, and we’re still fighting that wind today. It shuffles the scattered notes of the men who scribbled the funeral sermon Smith was preaching at the top of his lungs. In the midst of creaking tree branches, sentence fragments and shorthand, Willard Richards seemed to catch hold of something crucial Smith was claiming, hold enough to record 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 theological questions. 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).

Webb seeks answers to these and other questions in his amazing new book, Jesus Christ, Eternal God. I’m impressed, exhausted, and definitely taxed.  [Read more…]

Latent Racism, Orientalism and “Magic Underwear” in American Society and Mitt Romney’s Presidential Campaign

African Muslim Men in Religious Attire, source http://www.thingsoftheday.com/?p=3285

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.)
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Finally Weighing in on the Jeffress-Romney Thing….

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

(I’ve no deep interest in the whole current morass of Republican party politics and anti-Mormonism, partly because I’ve gone through the whole thing before, and partly because many others have weighed in with thoughts much better than my own. Still, last Friday I sent this editorial off to my local newspaper, responding to a piece by Robert “Mormonism is a cult” Jeffress which had appeared that morning, and today they actually ran it, though I had to cut down my essay to under 600 words, which was simply criminal. Anyway, here’s the original, longer version of the piece. Read and enjoy.) [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…]

Review: N.T. Wright, “Scripture and the Authority of God”

Title: Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today
Author: N. T. Wright
Publisher: HarperOne
Genre: Bible
Year: 2011
Pages: 224
Binding: Hardcover
ISBN13: 9780062011954
Price: $25.99

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…]

On being cultish

This weekend’s flap between a pastor and a political candidate has resurrected the zombie-like discussion of Mormonism and cults. Much could be said about the propriety of the label in today’s religious landscape. It seems to me that objections are more often raised regarding what the word connotes (mind control, creepy hooded figures burning candles in dark corridors?), than regarding what it is supposed to denote (an unorthodox religious group?). Historical usage of the term in regards to Mormonism aside,1 I’m inclined to agree with Martin E. Marty (a distinguished religious historian, author, and professor) who said that the label serves “few clarifying purposes” aside from excluding another group from respectable society. You are weird, we are normal. Because we said so, and a lot of people agree.

Those most likely to use the “cult” word are probably least likely to be convinced by a scholar like Marty, though. Rather than trying to change their minds it might be well to look inside ourselves. In reaction to the pastor’s use of “cult,” I’ve seen a few people point to a list of “cult characteristics” backed by some impressive credentials. Here’s one example: [Read more…]

BCC goes to Washington

You should all want to know what kind of moisturizer I use, because a couple of weeks ago, I was invited to participate in the White House Roundtable with “Young” Mormons. You can read about it here. Paul Monteiro, who invited us and chaired the meeting, along with Kalpen Modi (yes, you’ve seen him somewhere before), will be guest-blogging here in the next little while about his work with religious communities. You can also read Chelsea Shields Strayer’s more detailed account at Exponent II. Also, if you’re curious about the background of this meeting and the other work the organizers do , you can subscribe to the Office of Public Engagement’s listserv–write to them at public@who.eop.gov with “LDS” in the subject line. [Read more…]

Minnekirken

My daughter Emily ceased involvement with the LDS Church a long time ago, and hasn’t been involved with a church since. But over the last two months, that has changed. She and her boyfriend Gabe have started to attend Minnekirken, which is the Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church in Chicago. From the church’s website: [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.

The Seeker: Hell Hath No Fury

Rob Bell, a prominent evangelical pastor in Michigan, suggests that heaven may be universal, and that everyone has a place in heaven, whatever that may turn out to be, regardless of his deeds. [Read more…]

Join BCC this weekend at Restoration Studies

A number of BCC permas will be presenters this weekend at the annual Restoration Studies / Sunstone Midwest Symposium. The symposium kicks off Friday night with an address on the conference theme: “‘A Woman’s Place…’ Ideas, Impacts, and Experiences of Restoration Women” given by Gail Mengel.  (Now retired, Gail was one of two women who became the first female apostles in the RLDS Church, now known as the Community of Christ.)

Russel Arben Fox chairs a star-studded panel that includes our own Kristine Haglund and Tracy McKay, along with Christian Harrison and Chris Henrichsen, in a session entitled “Homemaking Radicalism and Homemaking Realities.”  Kristine will also be joining Stacy Mengel Keenan, JWHA Executive Director Sherry Mesle-Morrain, and Sunstone Executive Director Mary Ellen Robertson, to explore the topic of “Getting Educated: How Attending a Church University (or not) Shapes Restoration Women’s Experiences.”

My own presentation will look at the histories of two small American denominations that initially embraced problematic doctrines that they eventually jettisoned before they each ultimately became “just another Protestant church”.  The Worldwide Church of God (now Grace Communion International) believed in Anglo-Israelitism (the view that the Anglo-Saxons were the lost tribes of Israel), and the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church (now Christ Community Church) famously believed that the world is flat.  How has becoming just another Protestant church worked out in these two examples and what lessons might these experiences hold for the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now Community of Christ)?

[Read more…]

David Holland’s Sacred Borders

Review of David F. Holland, Sacred Borders: Continuing Revelation and Canonical Restraint in Early America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. 275pp. + index

Sacred Borders represents a rigorous and compelling consideration of traditions about the state of the biblical canon in American religion. For bookish Latter-day Saints, this volume will provide much-needed context for early Mormon beliefs about their open canon as well as a subtle and sympathetic view of both sides of the debate over the closed canon. While the style is highly accessible, given the complexity of the subject matter a reader may benefit from having digested a book like Brooks Holifield’s Theology in America (Yale 2005) or perhaps the survey by Jon Butler, Grant Wacker, and Randall Balmer, Religion in American Life (Oxford 2003). Many of Holland’s arguments will make more sense when the reader recognizes some of the actors, concepts, and traditions involved. Even so, I believe that Sacred Borders will be useful even to non-specialist audiences. I apologize that this review is as long as it is: the length of the review reflects the extensive insights of the book as well as the scope of the topic it treats. For expository clarity, I have divided the review into three sections. [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.

Parochialism and Church callings

Scott’s excellent post on comparative advantage and using opportunity cost in considering ward callings provided some impetus for me to articulate one of the concerns I currently have with how we approach callings.  Scott noted that ‘supply generally exceeds demand’.  Though there are some areas of the Church where this might not be accurate (i.e. my Ward) I am sure that this is generally true in a wide variety of areas.  Moreover, if this accurate it suggests an excellent question: What do we do when the Ward is saturated? [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 discrete process akin to running the dishwasher.  [Read more…]

UVU to host yet another really cool conference

Just when you thought last year’s Mormon Studies conference at UVU could not be improved upon…

Check this out.

Movie(s) Review: Veggie Tales! Veggie Tales!

They’re a little “loud” for my taste (I prefer a more Mr. Rogersesque vibe in my children’s media), but I have to admit, they’re pretty entertaining and they do a good job of teaching scripture stories.

I haven’t found any material or lessons I find objectionable, and many have surprised me with how much I appreciate the lessons taught. For example, An Easter Carol confronts the evils of consumerism and commercialization of sacred holidays, without going so far into zealotry the other direction that it makes me uncomfortable. Madame Blueberry is a full frontal assault on the idea that material things make us happy, even not-so-subtly sending up Wal-Mart. And Sweetpea Beauty is a perhaps cliche, but still much needed, reminder for girls that beauty on the inside is what matters. [Read more…]

A Mormon Sermon for Reformation Sunday

Delivered in church on October 31, 2010*

By 1528 at the latest Martin Luther had written the hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”, number 68 in our hymn book, as a homily on Psalm 46. The words to this hymn always turn my thoughts to Luther’s experience in taking refuge in the mighty Wartburg fortress at Eisenach in the German principality of Thuringia in 1521. We can imagine Luther reflecting on his isolation while sequestered in that fortress, in disguise as a knight for his own protection, as he later penned the words. [Read more…]

Meet The Polygamists Next Door

MikeInWeHo is an old friend of BCC, and currently serves as our Special Media Correspondent, providing commentary on TV shows we can’t watch because we’re too cheap to pay for cable. His past work can be seen here, here, here, and here.

Sunday night brought the premier of the new series Sister Wives on The Learning Channel. The affable Kody Brown and his three wives have opened their home to the world, and we get a new take on contemporary polygamy. This is billed as a reality series, but are these people for real or is this TV with an agenda? [Read more…]

Mormons, Muslims get along by creating books, not destroying them

I have been added as the Mormon blogger to the roster at The Seeker, which is the religion blog of The Chicago Tribune, edited by its terrific religion editor, Manya Brachear. They have quite an impressive list of contributors, including Martin Marty, the foremost authority on American religious history. I was a little bit intimidated by that, but hey, I’m just a fool rushing in where angels fear to tread. Below is my first offering at that venue. When I blog there, I plan to cross-post here. Obviously, these are written with a non-LDS audience in mind. They are also edited prior to being posted (the title for instance, was not mine, but I do like it). Enjoy! [Read more…]

An Appeal to Mitt Romney for Republican Leadership on the Mosque Issue

Does the Park51 Islamic Community Center in Lower Manhattan (also known by the misnomer “Ground Zero Mosque”) present an opportunity for Mitt Romney to assume and evince leadership in the Republican Party, possibly even ousting populist Tea Party Anti-Federalist demagogues based on fundamental Federalist principles in the process? [Read more…]

Look Out, World!

At the recent FAIR conference in Utah, some interesting data were shared.  Guess what?  People don’t like us. No, let me rephrase that: people really don’t like us. According to the polling firm which gathered the data, LDS people have an unfavorable to favorable rating of 5 – 1. For every person who thinks well of us there are five who do not. To compare, notice that Jewish people have a favorable rating of 7 – 2 (seven likes for every two dislikes) and Catholics have a favorable rating of 2 – 1. Where are we going and how did we get in this handbasket?

[Read more…]

The Sacrament of Grief

BCC is thrilled to welcome Nicholas S., known throughout the records of the Bloggernacle as Latter-day Guy, as a new guest blogger.

Note: Among my many deficiencies as a missionary were my journal keeping habits. These habits were deficient mainly in that they did not exist. The events described are true to the best of my recollection, but there may well be some inaccuracies regarding certain details and timing. Also, names have been changed to protect the innocent. And the guilty.

––––––––––––––––

Merear, Domine, portare manipulum fletus et doloris… [1]

Both too early and too late, the phone rings. It is after seven o’clock in the morning when Elder Latu picks up the receiver and mumbles a groggy hello.

“Yeah, let me get him, President.” [Read more…]

Nice to See It Published, But How Does It Affect Growth?

This guest post comes from frequent BCC reader Erich S.

An article about the LDS Church and its members appeared in the Financial Times last week. I have now received it from 5 independent sources, all LDS, and I can only assume you have either already read it or will receive it soon. While it is nice to see these kinds of articles giving us largely positive press, I believe they may also be problematic.
[Read more…]

Studying with the Jehovah’s Witnesses

A local Jehova’s Witness has put me in his “finding pool.” Oh, I know he probably wouldn’t call it that. But the truth of the matter is unmistakable. Sporadic morning visits have evolved into regularized bi-monthly drop-bys, and I’m handed a bright new copy of the Watchtower and other assorted literature each time. This Witness is paired with a different “companion” on each visit. Sometimes he’s the “senior companion,” clearly showing his greenie the ropes. Occasionally, he’s the “junior companion”, accompanied by an obviously senior leader, who I imagine gives him pointers after our brief conversation ends and the door closes.

I suspect in this Witness’s mind I am a “golden contact”. I answer his questions semi-thoughtfully, and in a way I know is helpful to the flow of his sales pitch. The truth is, I can’t help but be nice to these guys. They remind me so much of a 19-year-old me. Yes, many of our theological assumptions and conclusions couldn’t be more different. But our door-knocking approaches are oddly similar, both in the leading questions asked, and in the slight awkwardness of bearing and conversation that inevitably characterizes our forced chatter. I find myself wondering, “Do they hate this as much as I did back in the day?” “Do they really think the questions they’re asking me are as religiously pivotal as their script would have me believe?” The whole experience is like a trip down memory lane, yet I must confess I’m kind of glad when it ends.
[Read more…]

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