My wife and I recently watched “The Words,” a movie with nested stories about writers. It featured a trope that occurs fairly regularly in movies about writing: the all-night burst of inspiration that produces Deeply Moving Prose, usually after the person doing the writing has gone through a prolonged period of emotional difficulty. The desired effect of this trope is to imbue the writing with a kind of mystical power—an effect that these movies usually augment by keeping said Deeply Moving Prose more or less sealed off from the viewers, Hitchcock-style, because it’s easier to imagine Deeply Moving Prose than it is to produce it (which may explain the irony that most movies about writing, including this one, are badly written). [Read more…]
There’s a huge, but underexplored, problem with the Book of Mormon: it don’t get no respect.
Richard Bushman bemoans the fact that the Book of Mormon can’t get a toehold in cultural history classes or the Harvard Divinity School, because the world outside of Mormonism gets stuck on its origins. The angelic delivery, the miraculous translation, heck, the gold plates mean must be a hoax. And, as a hoax, they don’t even get to the point where they confront the text.[fn1] [Read more…]
In his conference talk, Elder Holland set out to preach Jesus as one who can save us from the Fall. I was very grateful to hear such a sermon on Easter Sunday. To make his point about Jesus, Elder Holland insisted on the need to believe in a literal Adam and Eve who fell in the Garden of Eden so that Jesus could become, as Paul would have him, a second Adam who brings life after the first brought death. I’m not going to argue about whether we need to take the story of Adam and Eve literally or not (even though I don’t think we do); rather, I aim to show how Genesis offers a second perspective on the Fall, one in addition to the familiar story of Adam and Eve. [Read more…]
A seemingly evergreen issue in the bloggernacle: what do we do about prooftexting? On the one hand, it allows us to apply scripture to ourselves. On the other, it suggests that scripture, as written, is not up to the task of explicating the gospel and, instead, must be stretched and tortured to tell us what we need to know.[fn1]
An example: at church last year, discussion briefly turned to what we do when traditional Mormon readings of scripture turn out to be significant misreadings.[fn2] It came up in the context of God commanding Ezekiel to combine the stick of Joseph with the stick of Judah. The Gospel Doctrine manual explains that the stick of Judah is the Bible and the stick of Joseph is the Book of Mormon. [Read more…]
Psalm 121, BCP Psalter, Coverdale, 1662, St Paul’s Cathedral Choir
* * *
For the high born, whose name and social position — and wealth — often stems directly from his or her birth, the doctrine that “except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3) is a troubling proposition. This certainly seems to have been the case with the Pharisee Nicodemus, a “ruler of the Jews” (John 3:1) and a “master of Israel” (John 3:10), who flirted with Christian discipleship during Christ’s ministry. Will I lose my name, my status, my wealth if I am thus “born again”? These considerations perhaps reveal Nicodemus’ question to Jesus — “How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” (John 3:4) — as a sincere concern rather than the smart-alecky provocation visible in some popular versions of the story. [Read more…]
There is something I want everyone to understand (assuming I’m right (if I’m not right, hopefully people will forget that this blogpost ever happened). Life is a frame job. You are bound to fail. [Read more…]
This guest post is by long-time friend of the blog Michael Austin.
I read the Qur’an often because it speaks peace to my soul.
I know that sounds kooky, but I promise I’m not a hippie or anything. I don’t burn incense or wear sandals. I wouldn’t even call it a spiritual experience. It’s more like a calming effect. I love to read the text, and I love to listen to the recitations of a talented qāri’ (which I am doing even as I write). It’s not the meaning of the words that does the peace-speaking; it’s the words themselves. I have long been deeply affected by the way that the Qur’an represents the voice of God. [Read more…]
I’m looking forward to studying and teaching the New Testament this year in Gospel Doctrine. (And thanks Kevin and RJH for helping me with my lesson this week.) I’ve taught the other books a couple times, but never the New Testament, so I’m not as familiar with it as I should be. This year is my chance to figure out some stuff I’ve had on the back burner for a long time. I plan on spending this year learning and reading and talking about Christ, and letting his words sink in and challenge me to rethink things.
Because the teachings of Christ are a lot more difficult and radical than we give them credit for. There’s friction in his words, and there are calls to action. The same guy who said “My yoke is easy” also told a certain ruler to give away everything and follow him. I don’t imagine it was any easier for the fishermen to leave their nets than it would be for us to leave ours.
[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]
A few months ago, I began reading the Old Testament, a book of scripture which I have never before been able to read all the way through (the closest I ever came was 25 years ago while on my mission in South Korea; reading from Joseph Smith’s Inspired Version of the Bible, I made it all the way through Jeremiah, at which point I simply couldn’t take it any more and gave up). This reading, once I determined that I was going to do it right, involved my trusty Revised English Bible (my favorite translation out of the four or so I own) and Robert Alter’s wonderful translations and commentary. Just before Christmas I finished working through his largest chunk of the Old Testament, The Five Books of Moses, and I figured I ought to be able to come with at five statements of gratitude for my reading of this, the oldest and most foundational text of the whole Western religious and philosophical tradition. [Read more…]
Dissolution seems to be our most recent zeitgeist. With the recent referendums in Spain and the UK, the strife in Ukraine, and the increasingly schismatic politics in the US, it seems that long-held social ties and traditions hold less value than in the past. We seem more and more capable of drifting away from one another.
I have a tendency to see the rise of modern conservative libertarianism as concurrent with this trend. [Read more…]
A Book Review by Michael Austin*.
The Miracles of Jesus
Eric D. Huntsman**
Deseret Books, 2014
(Click on each spread to enlarge.)
OK, I’m just going to admit it: I was a little bit skeptical when I first got Eric D. Huntsman’s newest book, The Miracles of Jesus, and saw that it was a glossy, gorgeously illustrated book fit as much for framing as for reading. High production values in books make me nervous, as I always wonder what they are hiding. And then there is the fact that it is published by Deseret Book — the official publishing arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Official publishing arms make me even more nervous, as I usually have a pretty good idea what they are hiding. All I needed was a third strike to set it aside and move on to the next book in my pile. [Read more…]
We still have several weeks until the October General Conference, and given what’s happened in the meantime, many Mormons like me are concerned it could be gloat-mageddon. If I were putting together a General Conference, here are the things I would include and what I would cut. Of course this is already unrealistic because there are over a dozen speakers, each of whom has his or her own areas of focus and points of view. But this is my list; YMMV. I’ll start with the Fears and end with the Hopes. [Read more…]
Academic approaches to scripture sometimes arouse suspicion in LDS circles, especially when they include the Higher Criticism (“Moses didn’t write the five books of Moses?”) or reading the Bible as literature (“So you think this is a work of fiction?”). People using or advocating these approaches often draw charges of privileging the intellectual ways of the world over the pure spiritual truth of God, of trusting in the arm of flesh, or of kowtowing to secular disbelief in the interest of seeming more acceptable.
The Collect: Heavenly Father, who through Thy Son hast led Thy Chosen People into many wildernesses with the promise that they will blossom as the rose, make us pioneers willing to crucify our old self in Christ’s death to find life with Him in that Undiscovered Country that is Thy Kingdom so that we may then speak peace to those in fear, strengthen the weak hands and confirm the feeble knees, through Thy Son Jesus Christ, who reigns with Thee in Thy Kingdom, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. [Read more…]
In the many narratives of faith crisis that one hears these days, a common theme is resistance to the idea that the Sunday School answer of “read the scriptures” will do much good. “Don’t you understand that the scriptures got me into this mess in the first place?” people ask incredulously, especially as they’re troubled about questions of Book of Mormon historicity, the character of the Old Testament God, or a number of other concerns. [Read more…]
In Church, and in Church-related discussions, I often hear people differentiate Church policies from doctrine. Policies, they say, can (and not infrequently do) change; doctrine, on the other hand, cannot. It has never changed and will never change.
These doctrine-vs.-policy discussions are rarely satisfying, in my experience. We argue over whether we’re talking about doctrine or policy, but rarely make it any further. And in part, I believe, the impediment is that we don’t really have a clear sense of what we’re talking about when we say “doctrine.” [Read more…]
Trinity Sunday, Year A
The Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, who as the Father and the Son, aided by the presence of the Holy Spirit, appeared to thy servant Joseph Smith, jr.: grant that we may be one with each other, and one with thee, as you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are one God forever and ever.
Two minutes can seem a very long time. I know because I was given the responsibility for keeping time during the two-minute standing silence that our UK ward observed every Remembrance Sunday. I was strict about it and timed exactly two minutes, but everyone, including my fellow bishopric members, began glancing around anxiously, the other counselor looking at me out of the corner of his eye. Perhaps in past years people had been casual about the two minutes, just estimating it. Based on my experience of a two-minute silence, a two-minute long siren wail would seem an eternity. [Read more…]
Sorry, no, not that Alma; his son.
As Grant Hardy has pointed out, Mormon likes to tell stories that parallel each other. Often, those parallels seem meant to starkly contrast good and evil; the parallels between King Benjamin and King Noah immediately spring to mind. Other times, they seem to illustrate the consequences of different behaviors. Compare, for example, the escape of Limhi’s people from the Lamanites with the escape of Alma Sr.’s people. [Read more…]
Sarah arose early in the morning. She looked out and saw Abraham saddling the donkey as though for a journey. Later he came in and said, “God has commanded me to bring Isaac up to a mountain that he will show me, there to offer a sacrifice.” Sarah watched them ride off together. [Read more…]
The Collect: Heavenly Father, who gavest power to Thy Son, Jesus Christ, to rise in resurrected glory on this holy day: let our hearts be changed through faith in His name so that we of Thy latter-day Church may live as spiritually begotten sons and daughters of Christ, adopted through Baptism in His name, that we, as disciples of Jesus Christ, may live and serve Everyman as though he were Christ, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with Thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. [Read more…]
Eric Huntsman concludes his series on Holy Week.
Χριστὸς ἀνέστη! Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!
Christ is risen. Hallelujah! Christ is risen indeed. That is how Christians all over the world have been greeting each other all over the world this morning, and it is how I wish to greet you as I bring my brief stint guest-posting here at BCC to an end. [Read more…]
The Collect: Almighty God, who through your Son overcame the world and conquered death, grant that we might not only live in him, but that we might daily rejoice in this gift of life through thy Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.
The Collect: O God, thou who sawest fit to try our faith on this day between the death and resurrection of thy Son: lift up our hearts with the hope of his rising, by the power of thy Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Collect: God the Eternal Father, we ask Thee in the name of Thy Son, Jesus Christ, to strengthen our resolve as we contemplate the suffering and voluntary sacrifice of Thy Son and seek to emulate the loyalty of Thy Servant Simon Peter in the Garden but without violence or aggression, seeking healing and peace rather than confrontation and conflict as we hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering, through the grace of Thy Son and His Atonement in Gethsemane and on Calvary, who now lives and reigns with Thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. [Read more…]
And he, bearing his cross went forth into a place
called the place of the skull, which is called in Hebrew Golgotha:
where they crucified him . . .
After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished,
that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst . . .
When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said,
It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.
Good Friday is observed with great solemnity in some Christian traditions. While not marked as a holiday as such in the LDS community, Good Friday can be a tender and reflective time for individuals and families to pause and consider how Jesus, as our great high priest, offered himself as a sacrifice for us: “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Hebrews 9:12). Understanding how and why he died makes the miracle of his resurrection on Easter morning all the more glorious and joyous. [Read more…]
The Thursday before Easter is a day rich in deep, often poignant events. These include Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, at which he instituted the sacrament and washed his disciples’ feet; his prayer and agony in the Garden of Gethsemane; his betrayal by Judas and abandonment by the other disciples; and his arrest, cynical examination, and abuse by the Jewish authorities of the time.
Known as Holy Thursday in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox communities, in many English-speaking countries this Thursday is sometimes called “Maundy Thursday.” The word “maundy” is an early English form of the Latin mandatum for “commandment” and recalls Jesus’ teaching “A new commandment I give you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye love one another” (John 13:34). [Read more…]
The texts for today are Mark 14:1–11; Matthew 26:1–16; Luke 22:1–6 and cover the plot to kill Jesus, the Marcan and Matthean anointing of Jesus prior to his Passion, and Judas’ decision to betray Jesus. The fact that the lovely story of the anointing is in an intercalation (or “sandwiched”) between two dark, deceitful scenes has given the day its traditional name “Spy Wednesday.”
One note on chronology: many LDS harmonies list “no events recorded” for Wednesday, and as far as I can tell this arose from J. Reuben Clark, and others, adopting the harmonization of some nineteenth century Victorian divines, who read “two days before Passover” inclusively. For my reasons for counting it exclusively, see the discussion in my working chronology. I think this also fits the pattern of relative time markers in Mark, and even if it did not, remembering these events on “Spy Wednesday” puts us in harmony with the majority of other Christians who are following traditional observances during Holy Week. [Read more…]
The texts for Tuesday are Mark 11:20–13:37; Matt 21:23–25:46; Luke 20:1–21:38; John 12:37–50.
Mark begins by addressing the lessons learned from the withered fig tree, preparing readers to continue seeing the temple and Jerusalem authorities as unfruitful and ripe for destruction. But rather than obsessing about the failing of the biblical chief priests and Pharisees, it is probably best, as always, to see how they most frequently represent our own failings. As the prophet had declared, and as a chorus of Handel’s Messiah so vividly portrays, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord had laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). [Read more…]