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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The Body as a Temple

No need to go to the temple. Your body is one!

In 1 Corinthians 6:19, it says:  “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?”  As some Mormon youth teachers used to like to say to encourage chastity:  “Your body is a temple, and he doesn’t have a recommend!” or as I saw on a tee shirt:  “Your body is a temple, not a visitor center.”  This scripture is often trotted out in opposition to tattoos or piercings, likening those actions to vandalism of the exterior temple walls.  It’s also used to support the Word of Wisdom, and this interpretation isn’t unique to Mormonism.  Other faiths use it to enforce modesty, anti-smoking and temperance.

But what if this scripture is not referring to our individual bodies, but the body of saints?  Consider this passage from 1 Corinthians 12: 12-14: [Read more...]

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...]

Reading as Response, an Introduction Courtesy of BYU Studies

BYU Studies has posted an understanding, helpful response today to the article in the New York Times (“Some Mormons Search the Web and Find Doubt”) that has caused some stir in Mormon circles online over the weekend.

BYU Studies’ Editor-in-Chief, John W. Welch, notes that “BYU Studies may shed some important light on those subjects. While no one has all the answers to every question, the BYU Studies website, together with many other resources and publications, are now easily available to provide many well-researched and well-written treatments of topics of current interest. We invite people to familiarize themselves with this website. It may come in very handy.”

I really like the BYU Studies response and the selection of potential starting points for reading about certain historical issues offered there. Reading about and candidly discussing our history is the perfect response to this problem. [Read more...]

The Testimony Puzzle

“I’d like to stand on my feet today . . .”

I have never been a big fan of testimony meetings for a variety of reasons, but maybe my opinion is starting to shift.

I recently taught the May Sunday School youth lesson from Come Follow Me “What does it mean to bear testimony?” Since I teach 12-13 year olds, including my own son, I wanted to find a game or object lesson to help illustrate testimony.  I found the idea for a puzzle on the church’s website.

I showed the class a partially constructed puzzle.  My son immediately shouted out “It’s a goldfish in a bowl.  Boom!”  I said it wasn’t a goldfish.  Another boy agreed with my son:  “It’s definitely a goldfish.”  I assured the class again that the picture was not a goldfish.  The puzzle object lesson seemed to be working in ways not intended, demonstrating that some people draw wrong conclusions based on scant evidence and their own personal assumptions.

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Dead Serious

Round them up and ship them to a camp somewhere.

Over the last several years, a painter in Utah named Jon McNaughton has been trying to make a name for himself by using the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a prop in politically provocative pictures which attempt to communicate his apparent belief that only people who hold political views consistent with those of the current American political extreme right wing are in harmony with the Lord’s Gospel and, in fact, acceptable to God. [Read more...]

Female Garments: The Underwear Business

knee length shorts – good today, bad tomorrow

The history of garments is complex.  At one time they were made by members from patterns.  The marks used to be cut rather than embroidered.  And modifications to the styles have been made on several occasions, particularly changing the styles for women to feminize them and make them more practical (elbow and knee length vs. wrist and ankle, also the change to two-piece).  The church has made changes so that they fit better, so that women have more options, to allow those serving in the military to wear them, and to use new fabrics as they’ve become available.

And yet, despite all these changes, many women find garments problematic at one time or another for a variety of reasons.  On the positive side, women report finding garments spiritually comforting, a reminder of their covenants.  Many also appreciate the lack of visible panty lines (at least not where you expect to see them!).  I appreciate both of these things myself.  Some women consider them to be very comfortable, particular for lounging around the house.  But I have also experienced many of the drawbacks women discuss when only other women are present. [Read more...]

Do you have to lose your faith to find it?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about faith, specifically about what a trial of faith might consist of. I don’t know that I’ve ever really had a trial of faith. I’ve experienced no great tragedy (knock on wood) and, while I’m excellent at self-sabotage and self-pity, I’ve had no real obstacles to overcome. My father has always been kind to me, so I’ve never had any trouble imagining a loving Heavenly Father who wants the best for us. I’ve never really had cause or need to question my faith in any significant sense. I worry that this has made me lazy. [Read more...]

Sacramental Memory

In one of the leadership training videos produced by the Church a woman talks about a particularly chaotic, frustrating day she had with her four year old. She told him she was at her wit’s end and didn’t know what do anymore. He suggested she sing “I am a Child of God,” which, of course, she then did. She said she was grateful for the opportunity to be reminded of who her child was.

There is a significant distinction between knowing (or understanding) and remembering in this little didactic story. It’s unlikely that this mother had stopped believing that her child was a child of God, and likewise it seems wrong to interpret her as becoming uncertain about her child’s eternal identity, whereas once she had been much more confident.* She said that she needed to be reminded of this. What she had known was never in doubt; it would be wrong to say that her knowledge about this thing was incomplete or had broken down. She had forgotten and needed to remember. [Read more...]

“This is my favorite thing.”

Hushpuppy and the girls (photo from collider.com)

In his Sunday Afternoon Conference Talk, Elder D. Todd Christofferson focused on the Redemptive power of the Atonement in our lives. While it is historically accurate and theologically legitimate to discuss a redemptive power and an understanding of Atonement tied to a redemption of humanity from some great debt, I feel like it can interfere with our understanding of the Atonement’s purpose.
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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...]

A darn shame

I cannot, in good conscience, recommend that my gay friends investigate the church. [Read more...]

The Priesthood is not a superpower

I ordained my son a deacon a couple of weeks ago.  The first thing he did when we got home was to facetiously wave his hands toward a chair and attempt to move it with the power of his mind and/or Priesthood.  I immediately told him, “The Priesthood is not a superpower.”  It is something that, I suppose, bears repeating. [Read more...]

Science is so cool. You are part Neanderthal!

Q_and_PicardHow deeply I love studying the wonders of the universe. There was a report of a four billion light year across object! That’s 4,000,000,000 light years! Not miles. Lightyears! I watched a show on PBS last night that talked about the recent complete sequencing the the Neanderthal genome. A species near our own, but vastly different, and guess what? Unless you are from Africa, from one to four percent of your genome is Neanderthal! African populations missed this introgression. Now that’s genealogy! (If you don’t believe this, I would encourage you to become an activist demanding the release of all death row inmates convicted on DNA evidence. It’s of the same type.) [Read more...]

Some Thoughts On the War For the Heart and Soul of Mormonism

In recent years there has been a significant amount of academic literature that argues, in essence, that political orientation is largely determined by social, cultural, and psychological factors, rather than the initial or continued imposition of the will upon political belief. [1] In other words, we are largely predisposed one way or another toward political belief and that any talk of free creative production with regard to political orientation, or positive or negative political assent only makes sense within that context. In still other words, I cannot simply choose to authentically train myself to think conservatively if I am more prone to liberal political thinking and vice versa. [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: Stephens and Giberson, “The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age”

Title: The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age
Author: Randall J. Stephens and Karl W. Giberson 
Publisher: Belknap Press/Harvard University Press
Genre: Evangelicalism
Year: 2011
Pages: 356
Binding: Hardcover
ISBN13: 9780674048188
Price: $29.95

If the word “Evangelical” popped up in a word association game, hair-trigger responses might include words like “Republican,” “anti-evolution,” “Jerry Falwell,” or “fundamentalist.” Word association games aren’t usually the best way to understand religion. (When it comes to Mormons, “polygamy” usually tops the list.) Numbering an estimated one hundred million people—sixteen million in the Southern Baptist Convention alone (7, 187)—the American evangelical community is actually more diverse than these labels can hope to communicate. Politically, the spectrum ranges from conservative to liberal (though perhaps heavily weighted toward the former), all bound loosely together by a common commitment to the necessity of being “born again” through Jesus Christ. Such Christians have no central authoritative body and no single all-encompassing creed. But the open marketplace of religion in the United States has provided space for an evangelical “parallel culture,” complete with its own schools, publishing houses, music industry, summer camps, school accreditation agencies, historians, scientists, and family counselors. [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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Corpus Christi

I don’t think it’s insignificant that Mormons do not have religious holidays, even Christmas and Easter are drawn from western Christian traditions; and thus are usually celebrated by Mormons when the rest of Christendom celebrates them according to the region of the world they are in at the time of those holidays. For instance, Easter in Russia is celebrated by Mormons according to the Orthodox calendar, while Easter in Italy is celebrated by Mormons on the date accorded by Catholic tradition. Christmas in Russia slides by January 7th with little fanfare, culturally crushed by seventy years of Soviet thought. As I’ve mentioned before, while I don’t dislike Christmas, I don’t love it. What holidays offer me is what it means to be Christian as I flesh out day-to-day actions and interactions from all the celebratory traditions that can be overwhelming and at the same time feel meaningless.

In The Exponent II Winter 2011 Issue; Erica Eastley explores some of the practices of new Mormons with non-Christian backgrounds. She notes, “[The] culture of the LDS Church is heav­ily influenced by Protestant culture and practice. This isn’t surprising or nec­essarily a bad thing, but it does affect how the Church and its doctrines are received by people whose background isn’t Protestant.” [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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The Mormon Naturalist

No this isn’t a post about Steve Peck, much as I think that would be fun. Instead, its in the vein I’ve been sort of mining a little here lately. I hesitate to use the tired “Mormonism and Science” title, but what the heck. Why not?
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Monday Morning Theological Poll: Monster Mash Edition

In honor of the holiday, we present the following poll. (multiple answers accepted)

Answers are only considered legitimate if recited three times in the dark in front of a mirror during a sleepover.

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...]

Becoming a Mormon: Thinking about a Brand with Elder Ballard

I am a recent convert to “Mormonism” myself. Not too many years ago you could find me vigorously arguing on Mormon-themed blogs about the importance of avoiding the word “Mormon” as a nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[1] At the time, it felt like a concession to detractors of our faith to self-identify by the nickname they derisively gave to us in the nineteenth century. Ironically, however, it was precisely our nineteenth-century ancestors in the faith who had made peace with the descriptor and good-naturedly co-opted it to describe themselves, leaving us with the lasting nickname. [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...]

Pluralism and Persecution in the UK

Despite the Telegraph’s deliberately provocative title (“Christians are more militant than Muslims, says Government’s equalities boss”), which doesn’t accurately reflect the content of the article, the Chairman of the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission recently raised some interesting points and makes some insightful observations about integration, pluralism and claims of religious persecution in modern society (ht:M*). [Read more...]

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