It’s Just Business

One of the underlying meta-narratives in the torture report last week is the story of two Mormons who may or may not have just been doing their job. John C’s post teased at this just a bit, but the commenters took it further. (You should read his post before reading this one, BTW, as I’m leaving out almost all of the details around what happened.) 

One commenter asked “What about LDS people who work in the weapons industry making killing machines?” Are they to be judged by the same standard?

Is it fair to expect an LDS moral code to help us make decisions about how we make our living?

[Read more…]

Gratitude & Selfish Altruism

Poverty creates a cycle of low self-esteem that is tough to break.

Why do we give?  Is our altruism ever purely unselfish or do we give in part because we hope to gain something? In the wake of Thanksgiving, my son was assigned a talk on gratitude in which he talked about some of our family experiences, and it reminded me of a post I did a while back.

Eighteen months ago, we had an opportunity to join a house building in a small village outside of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  My husband was working as treasurer for a Cambodian women’s charity, the Tabitha Foundation, that provides jobs to women who would otherwise not be able to support themselves or their children.  In addition to providing jobs for these women, the foundation was also breaking ground to build a women’s hospital.

[Read more…]

The love of many shall wax cold – Libertarianism and apocalypse

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…]

Pastors’ Housing, Take 2

ParsonageHarpersLast week, almost a year after a district court in Wisconsin declared the parsonage exemption unconstitutional, the Seventh Circuit has reversed her decision. And thus ends a (brief) chapter in the religious culture wars.

Or not . . . [Read more…]

Queries toward Zion in the Wake of the Polygamy Essays

Reactions to the recent Gospel Topics essays on polygamy (here and here) have been widely varied, running on a spectrum from “WHAT?!” to *yawn*. The fact of this diversity raises some interesting questions, especially in light of Jesus’ statement “If ye are not one, ye are not mine.” The point isn’t that we all should have had the same reaction (although there has been commentary to that effect); rather, the urgent question is whether we as members of the Church can come together in the face of such diversity—and if so, how.

[Read more…]

Ancient Prophets

Something to think about as you lie awake in bed tonight:

Twenty years from now, David A. Bednar’s only going to be 82. Dieter F. Uchtdorf will only be 94. L. Tom Perry will be 112.

By 2034 standards, it’s possible that those men will no longer be considered that old.

[Read more…]

If You Like Trunk-or-Treats You Probably Don’t Have a Testimony

Holy crap Trunk-or-Treats are the worst things in the world and if you believe Trunk-or-Treats are consistent with the Gospel, you are wrong.

E.T. Trick or Treating

What is the point of a Trunk-or-Treat, anyway? When I was a kid and this societal cancer first reached my awareness, I understood that it was born of concern about poisoned candies and apples with razor blades and other dangerous crap that Big Mom was worried about. It probably got its start from the movie E.T., when that punk Elliot didn’t come home on time and Gertie was going on and on to the police officer about her dad being in Mexico with his lover. Halloween + Adultery + Space Aliens = NO MORE TRICK OR TREATING. So, instead of sending the kids out on the streets at night like rational human beings, we line everyone up in a parking lot and distribute candy like it’s freaking Hamsterdam. [Read more…]

Revisiting the Idea of Stronger Marriages

We’re grumpy, but attractive.

In September, I blogged about The Myth of Traditional Marriage, reviewing studies from Stephenie Coontz’ book Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage.  As a follow up, I wanted to explore how we as Mormons can build stronger marriages.

The world is changing, and if we want to strengthen marriages, we need to deal with the reality that exists.  A few things have drastically changed in the last fifty years.   [Read more…]

Choices, Choices

I’ve been reflecting a lot on E. Quentin Cook’s talk called “Choose Wisely.”  This was the opening talk of the Priesthood session, so I suppose that makes me not the target audience, and yet it’s clearly a talk with universal application. [1]  I won’t let that stop me.

E. Cook begins by talking about the problems when we rationalize our failures to act heroically.  He uses the example of Lucy not catching the ball in the Peanuts comic strips.

While always humorous, Lucy’s excuses were rationalizations; they were untrue reasons for her failure to catch the ball.

He then goes on to talk about the eternal ramifications when we rationalize our failure to prepare for our eternal goals. [Read more…]

Are We Not All Beggars?

blind beggar“…look to the poor and needy and administer to their relief, that they shall not suffer.” Now note the imperative verb in that passage: “They SHALL not suffer.” That is language God uses when he means business.

On Saturday afternoon, Jeffrey R. Holland stood at the podium delivered a gut-wrenching punch to all Latter-day Saints on what it means to actually live as a Christian. Being a follower of the Savior means acknowledging very real commandments, not mere suggestions, on what it means to dedicate our lives to following the Son of Man. [Read more…]

October 2014 Conference Report in GIFs

It’s time to recap the latest General Conference through the medium of GIFs like I did six months ago.  First, a few quick observations about General Conference and social media:

  • I swear that the Pinterest memes with scrolly fonts and pictures of nature are up before the speaker even finishes the talk.  What is up with that?  Also, does it remind anyone else of Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy?
  • I started to struggle to tell the difference between the tweets about General Conference and the other random tweets I was getting throughout the weekend.  Perhaps it’s the medium, but here are a couple that showed up that gave me pause:
    • Lets all be compassionate to those folks who are now moving away from Climate Change Denial and those who are stuck. Life is for learning.” [1]
    • Facts have no agenda. They can’t be racist or sexist or bias in any way. They can’t be softened or changed to avoid offence. They just are.” [2]

On to the GIFs:

film animated GIF

Hearing conference talks in the speaker’s native tongues.

[Read more…]

An Economic Explanation for BYU-I’s Dress Standards(?)

Ashton Kutcher couldn't walk around BYU-I like that.

Ashton Kutcher couldn’t walk around BYU-I like that.

As Steve highlighted earlier today,[fn1] the BYU-Idaho dress and grooming standards are arbitrary and relatively absurd. I mean, seriously, as a born-and-raised Californian, I can’t comprehend a dress code that bans flip-flops.[fn2] The dress and grooming standards can’t be all about modesty, because ankles and toes and beards, oh my! And if all they’re about is obedience, well, that’s stupid. There’s no spiritual value to obeying arbitrary rules.[fn3]

But maybe their actual function isn’t modesty. Or obedience. May it’s economics.  [Read more…]

The Myth of Traditional Marriage

Ooh, baby.

According to the song, love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage.  But when it comes to the history of marriage, pairing marriage with love is putting the cart before the horse.  If we look at why people used to get married, traditionally, we’ll quickly see why marriages today are less stable.  And why that may not be a terrible thing.

The phrase “traditional marriage” [1] is currently in vogue to describe opponents of gay marriage.  Just what does marriage look like over time?  Why do people marry and why is marriage changing so much? [Read more…]

Germany’s Church Tax

A couple days ago, the Wall Street Journal highlighted (subscription required[fn1]) the accelerating loss of members certain churches in Germany are facing. The popular press is placing the blame at least partly on the new administration of Germany’s Church Tax.

What? you ask. A church tax? What’s that?

So glad you asked. [Read more…]

The Desert Blossoms as the Rose (at Burning Man)

Burning ManThis week, somewhere in the middle of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, 50,000 people are gathering for the Burning Man festival, where they do…well, pretty much whatever they want. They trek in their RVs, buses, cars, motorcycles, and erect Black Rock City, where they live for a week in a state of “radical inclusion” and “radical self-expression.” The name “Burning Man” comes from a huge wooden effigy (‘The Man”) they erect at the beginning of the week, and which they burn at the end of the week—the Burning Man.

At the end of the week, no trace of Black Rock City remains. The whole city is built by Burning Man attendees, inhabited for a week, and then torn down and completely erased. (This is not as easy as it might seem—imagine your total water needs for a week in the desert. You’d have to bring that with you, and then carry out any waste and trash.)

[Read more…]

Fornication Pantaloons (updated)

Tellason_jeans,_button_fly

Can we all agree that this is an abominable Gentile fashion? Because Brigham Young certainly can.

For the last year or so, the last page of The Atlantic  has been a column called “The Big Question,” where various notable people answer a question posed by the magazine. In September, it asked: “What is the most significant fashion innovation in history?” In Jennifer Barnett’s mind, the runner-up was buttons down the front of men’s pants in the 1830s. Which is how this question ties into Mormonism: Barnett says that this innovation “prompted Brigham Young to denounce them as ‘fornication pantaloons.'”

I had two reactions when I read this. The first was that those two words, put together, may be the greatest phrase in the history of clothing. The second, though, was skepticism. That sounds like too good a story to actually verify.  [Read more…]

Church Finances, 1947-Style

In April 1959, the Church published its last financial report. The last here is important, though, because, for almost half a century leading up to that report, the Church presented a relatively detailed financial report in each April General Conference.

Until a couple months ago, though, I’d never seen the financial reports that the Church issued. In the course of his reading and research, J. Stapley came across the Church’s 1947 financial report, and offered to let me blog it. I jumped at the chance, and the disclosure turns out, in many ways, to be as fascinating as I’d hoped.  [Read more…]

My Hopes & Fears for the Next General Conference

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…]

Sloughs: of Despond or otherwise

This is a relatively good path in the swamp

This is a relatively good path in the swamp

A slough is a bog or mire, a great, sucking, sticky, consuming pool of mud, muck, or worse. As such, it is a handy metaphor. It can stand in for addiction, sin, bad habits, anything that we feel sucks us in and that we find hard to move beyond. Every step in a slough is a drudgery. Every motion requires far too much energy. It’s all just such a drag, man. A drag.
[Read more…]

In Which I Unpack a Finance-Based Atonement Parable (or Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Work on Wall Street)

Understanding the Atonement is tough.[fn1] To try to understand it, theologians have come up with theories to describe the whys and hows of the Atonement, and stories to illustrate how the Atonement works.

We’ve got a handful of favorite illustrative stories in Mormonism, including bicycles and lickings. I was recently reading chapter 12 of the Gospel Principles manual, and I came across an Atonement story that I haven’t seen in a while: a parable of a debtor and a creditor. What follows are my thoughts as I reread it:[fn2]  [Read more…]

Mormon Jargon 2

Now in a slightly less abridged form!

One of my most popular posts ever was a Mormon version of Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary, a satirical version of definitions of words according to Mormon culture. [1]  I thought it was time to expand that first effort.  I’ve included original definitions, a few reader suggestions, and added to the list with some more of my own.  With this preamble, I bring you Mormon Jargon the Sequel:  2 Mormon 2 Jargon.

[Read more…]

Are Mormons Too Trusting?

I send you as sheep among wolves. Or in this case a lone wolf among sheep.

“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”  Shakespeare  wrote that in All’s Well That Ends Well.  Is being trusting a virtue or evidence of lack of discernment?  Are Mormons more gullible (as is often asserted or at least implied) than the average person? [Read more…]

Cyberbullying and “Gospel Revenge” in the Kingdom

This morning my day was ruined by the shock of learning that some Mormons, apparently drunk with Schadenfreude at Kate Kelly’s excommunication and wanting to exact some kind of Gospel revenge, have created a Facebook page called Ordain Women Exposed, the content of which essentially amounts to traditional internet abuse — cyberbullying — of Kate Kelly in particular and, collaterally, of anyone who supports or perhaps shares some of the concerns of the Ordain Women group. [Read more…]

Defining Doctrine

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…]

2014 World Cup Group Stages Open Thread

2014 WC Venn Diagram of Hope

An actual conversation between myself and RJH this morning:

Scott: Are you optimistic for England?
RJH: Don’t be silly!
And so it begins!

THIS IS A THREAD FOR BLOGGERNACLE SOCCER FANS TO DISCUSS THE WORLD CUP. HATERS GET LOST.

[Read more…]

Some Tax Benefits Are Just for Churches

(I originally wanted to call this “Pastoral Housing, Take 2″[fn1] but, it turns out, pastoral housing is only one small aspect of the case.)

Last week, a federal court in Kentucky issued a decision in a lawsuit that could have far-reaching ramifications for churches.[fn2] In broad strokes, American Atheists, Inc., Atheists of Northern Indiana, Inc., and Atheist Archives of Kentucky, Inc. sued the IRS, arguing that certain tax provisions applicable solely to churches were unconstitutionally discriminatory. [Read more…]

Is Mormonism Making You a Better Person?

Hiding behind the church rather than taking responsibility.

Sometimes as active members, we are caught up in being the best Mormon we can be, the most observant, ticking all the boxes, perceived well by other ward members.  We can forget that the point is to become a better person by following Christ’s teachings, not just to become a better adherent to a set of religious requirements or a better person as defined by the community.

But shouldn’t this be the same thing?

No, of course not. [Read more…]

A Jungian Interpretation of the First Vision

You may say I’m a dreamer.

The traditional LDS perspective of the First Vision is that it was a literal visit from two Heavenly beings to an awake and alert Joseph Smith.  Joseph consistently refers to it as a vision, not a visit, and his earlier accounts sound (at least to me) more dreamlike than the 1838 version we have recorded in the Pearl of Great Price.  Often, visions in scripture are vivid dreams with a meaning that is applied to a broader group than the individual who has the vision.

What if we take the First Vision in the opposite direction, and consider it as a dream with significance to the dreamer rather than a conscious and world-altering event?  If a dream, then it is likewise a foray into the subconscious mind of Joseph Smith. This approach is not to dismiss a divine source for the First Vision; just to explore a Jungian perspective on the elements of the vision without regard to its source, as Jung might have done had Joseph been on his couch. [Read more…]

A Day of Fasting and Prayer

Nicolas Kristof has done us a great service in bringing to the nation’s (and world’s) attention the depraved and cowardly kidnapping of hundreds of Nigerian girls by the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram. Boko Haram means “Western education is a sin” in the Hausa language. All that “secular” learning. Boko Haram would rather conflate religion and the state, ensuring that women have no voice in society, confined to whatever influence their husbands allow them in their homes in the forced marriages into which they are sold in their early or mid-teens. [Read more…]

Honoring Our Mothers, Warts & All: A History of Mother’s Day

I had assumed that Mother’s Day was a greeting card holiday invented by Hallmark to turn filial guilt into revenue.  I was surprised to discover that Mother’s Day has a history longer than Christianity!  Ancients celebrated Isis (Mother of the Pharaohs), Rhea (Greek Mother of the Gods), and Cybele (The Great Mother).  The worship of these ancient goddesses is similar to the reverence we show to Mary, Jesus’s mother as these Mother Goddesses are often depicted with a baby in arms.  They also represent the reverence we should feel toward our own Heavenly Mother, symbolizing the care the earth provides to us all physically and the divine protection we receive. [Read more…]

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