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...]

Feasting (Way Too Much) Upon the Word of God

The Interwebs are abuzz with news of some research coming out of Northwestern University’s medical school which, according to lead author Matthew Feinstein, says that youth who exhibit high levels of religiosity tend to become chunkier later in life. In layman’s terms, if you send your kids to early morning seminary, you’re condemning them to a lifetime of obesity.[1]
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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 discreet 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...]

What Love Requires

As lines of people approached long tables filled with grilled tri-tip and baked potatoes, a small loaf of bread, sliced and ready for the taking sat by a large basket of rolls last night at the ward Christmas party. The paper laying next to the crusty loaf labeled it “Gluten Free”.  Cranberry filled Jell-O with a cream cheese underlay was cut into generous helpings and divided into lots. One was gluten-free, the others endowed with a crunchy pretzel crust. Trays of gluten-free, chocolate-oozing dessert were delivered to table after table by the Young Men along with slices of regular chocolate and vanilla sheet cakes from Costco. In addition, a moist gluten-free coffee cake was there for your indulgence. It’s one of the small things we do in our ward for the handful of people who suffer from Celiac disease. That’s what love requires.

We have a handful of brothers in our ward, suffering from diseases not of the body, but of the spirit that caused them to become part of the criminal justice system, and for a time were (or still are) incarcerated. [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...]

Subversion at General Conference

It has been a month and I have yet to see the most controversial talk at General Conference discussed. I suppose it falls to me. [Read more...]

An “Important Strengthening” of Religious Freedom: Temple Recommends in the European Court of Human Rights

Freedom of contract, religious autonomy and the Mormon temple recommend prevailed recently in The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)[1] as the Court rendered its judgment in the case of Obst v. Germany (application no. 425/03). More specifically, the ECHR found that Germany had not violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to respect for private and family life) when Germany’s highest court, the Federal Constitutional Court, had ultimately upheld Michael Obst’s 1993 dismissal without notice by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from his employment as Public Affairs Director for the Europe Area after he had confessed to committing adultery. [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...]

James Adams. Part 2. Aspects of the Sermon.

For part 1, see here.

The late summer and early fall of 1843 was not a healthy time in Nauvoo. Philadelphia had yellow fever in the summer (and it emptied the town) and Nauvoo had malaria. If you could survive a year, the general weakness would usually subside and you had a good chance of staying alive. But the elderly and the very young had a more guarded prognosis. Often, malaria teamed up with pneumonia or cholera or some other bug to take out even the robust. In James Adams’ case, cholera got the blame for his August 11 demise:
[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?

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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...]

A (Secular) Turkish Delight

Any general arguments against the safeguards provided to all religions by the maintenance of a secular public sphere should take into account whether it is better to live as a Christian in Saudi Arabia or Turkey. [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...]

Repentance, Insurance, and What I think is wrong with President Obama’s approach to the BP Oil Spill

I tend to think that, as a church, we don’t understand repentance very well. We have the 5 Rs down, but we still have the wrong attitude regarding it. It is viewed too often as distasteful or as unfortunate, instead of taking on the role that I think it has in the scriptures and in the Gospel. That role being the engine of the Atonement in our lives; the primary means for our becoming like the Father. I think that the reasons that we see repentance primarily in a negative light are, first, that we are ashamed of our sins (and we should be) and, second, we just don’t think repentance is powerful enough. My purpose today is to argue that the second of these reasons is based on unrealistic and unscriptural ideas about what repentance can do.

The comparison between insurance and repentance is a problematic one, but I’m going to make it anyway. [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...]

Mormon Engagement With the World Religions–Conference at USC

If you’re in or near SoCal next weekend, you should check out this conference at USC. For one thing, it’s probably the only time Daniel Peterson and I will ever be on a program together–talk about ecumenism! Seriously, it’s an astonishing lineup of folks, and I’m really looking forward to listening and observing. [Read more...]

Can a Good Mormon Make Over $100,000 a Year?

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

This post is, in a sense, a sequel to two older posts: “Can a Good Mormon be a Meritocrat?” and “Can a Good Mormon be a Socialist?” In case you can’t be bothered to read until the end, the answers to the three questions are: “Probably not,” “Yes,” and “Sometimes, maybe, but seriously, why would you want to take that risk anyway?” [Read more...]

Those in favour, Manifest it? Part 1

This just a short, two part series on sustaining.  This first post tries to ask some questions regarding the purpose of sustaining (both others and ourselves) and the second post will look at the process of sustaining by examining the question of whether we sustain the person or the office. [Read more...]

The Silence of the Sinner

According to the current CHI, when someone is disfellowshipped or excommunicated, one of the stipulations associated with this status requires that the person should refrain from speaking in Sacrament meeting or giving public prayers. If the person was a Priesthood holder they are also asked to not use their Priesthood.  Despite not being explicitly stated, this counsel is often interpreted to be a restriction of public speaking during our Church classes or lessons.   I wonder how this prohibition functions within the context of the Church, why it is required and how this added expectation aids or inhibits the process of repentance?

[Read more...]

Doctor-Patient Relationships and the Process of Repentance

If anyone has ever studied the Sociology of Health and Illness you will have certainly come across Talcott Parsons’ ideas on the ‘Sick Role’.  This ‘paternalistic’ model of the Doctor-Patient relationship and other models like it (i.e. the co-operative and the consumerist) can be applied to the process of seeking help from a Bishop in the process of repentance.  This analogy is based on an assumed similarity between the roles of Bishop/Doctor & ‘Sinner’/Patient.  I think this is a useful, though not flawless, comparison but it is one that might help us think through how a Bishop could respond to someone who is seeking to confess and repent.  Further I think it could also facilitate discussion upon the issue of how ‘Sinners’ can navigating this difficult relationship. [Read more...]

Creativity, Generosity and Humility: Grand Fundamentals of Mormonism

At a recent FAIR conference, Terryl Givens, while introducing his work on the history of the Pre-Mortal life in Western thought, made this statement: ‘What I have come to appreciate is this cardinal insight: If the restoration is not yet complete, then other traditions have much to teach us. Not by way of confirming, corroborating, or verifying the truths we already have. But by way of actually adding to the body of revealed doctrine we call precious and true. The Restoration is neither full nor complete… What if, instead of scrambling frantically to find explanations when Joseph appears to have borrowed from the masons, or Ethan Smith, or Tom Dick, we instead see another marvellous possibility of his actually practicing what he preached.’ [Read more...]

Religion Without Culture: Self-Identifying as a Mormon

Since the results for the Pew Forum’s Religious Landscape Study (RLS) were released, there has been fairly little attention paid in the Bloggernacle to the outcomes as they pertain to LDS belief and policy–a few posts here and there, mostly reporting a particular outcome: As a Church, we are more effective at retaining life-long members than any other of the major religions included in the study. However, an eye single to this stat robs us of a more curious one: the LDS Church is the only major religion in the United States in which lifelong members exhibit higher degrees of religiosity than converts. Julie Smith at Times & Seasons provided a link to a summary article on this topic last October, and I recommend reading the comments in her thread, as they touch on the key purposes of this post.[1] The full paper can be found here and contains considerably more detail.[2] [Read more...]

We Should Be Mormons

It is discouraging to see many Mormons in our day and age following some fundamentalist creedal Christians in taking an anti-science stance relating to organic evolution or other matters in which fundamentalist creedal Christians, based on their own unnecessary inferences from the Bible, have chosen to see faith at war with science. [Read more...]

A Mormon Liturgy for Fourth Advent

I recently left a note here about the “liturgy” that our ward routinely does in honor of Remembrance Sunday and which I look forward to every year. We also enjoy a uniquely Mormon liturgy on Fourth Advent to celebrate Christmas properly as one — as a “ward family”. Hopefully the word “liturgy” isn’t misleading here: make no mistake, the meetings still had the rough and tumble of low church Mormon practices (i.e. this wasn’t a ritualized sung Eucharist or anything, just a slightly different readings-based format to Sacrament Meeting channeling the inspiration received by the Bishop in contemplating the Christmas message for the ward). [Read more...]

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