Taxing the Temple

10439537According to yesterday’s news, the Church lost an appeal in the European Court of Human Rights and, as a result, will have to pay property taxes on the Preston, England temple.

Of course, the decision raises a number of questions, not the least of which is how a property tax dispute gets to the European Court of Human Rights in the first place. Other fair questions include whether this evinces European prejudice against the Mormon church and what ramifications this decision will have for the Church.  [Read more...]

Hunger Banquet 2014

BYU Hunger Banquet 2014, Co-hosted by The Kennedy Center for International Studies at BYU (source: http://tinyurl.com/lfz42t3)

BYU Hunger Banquet 2014, Co-hosted by The Kennedy Center for International Studies at BYU (source: http://tinyurl.com/lfz42t3)

BYU’s 24th annual Hunger Banquet yesterday was a perfect way to welcome in Fast Sunday and as a prelude to the upcoming season of Lent beginning this week. The Hunger Banquet was a wonderful success, as it has been in past years, and I would like to express my thanks to the students from various initiatives across campus and the Kennedy Center for their work in continuing this important experience for the community. Fasting today on the food I received as someone assigned to the “developing world” in last night’s events has directed my mind to the less fortunate even more starkly than on a normal Fast Sunday. [Read more...]

Polygamous Tax Evasion

In the litany of evils perpetrated by polygamists, one evil stands out above the rest: tax evasion. Feel the chill? Yes, tax evasion.

O RLY? you might ask. [Read more...]

Joseph Smith on Wall Street

josephsmithstatueNo, I don’t mean Joseph Smith’s 1832 visit to Manhattan, though he stayed at 88 Pearl Street, which is mere blocks from Wall Street,[fn1] and he may well have walked on Wall Street.  I also don’t mean the bronze statute of Joseph Smith that stood in the Financial District.

No, I mean the name-checking of Joseph in 2012’s induction ceremony for Kappa Beta Phi, a secret Wall Street fraternity. [Read more...]

Here’s to Me, Mrs. Robinson

Ku ku kachoo, indeed.

One recent afternoon, two new elders were visiting our neighborhood.  There is another Mormon family up the street, and after stopping in to see them, they came by our house.  For all I know, missionaries have been doing these drop ins for years.  I’ve never been home during the day before, but since my husband and I are starting up a small business, we are now both home during the day until our new office is open.  This was a new experience for me. [Read more...]

Divine Underwriting

Six months ago I had the honor of delivering the Alumni address at the Convocation ceremonies at BYU’s Kennedy Center for International Studies. A number of people have asked about it so I decided to make it available here. [Read more...]

Global Toilets I Have Known: A Memoir

This toilet no longer scares me.  I would use this in a heartbeat.

There are few things we take for granted more than personal waste elimination.  The assumptions many Americans share about bathroom habits may include things like: public toilets are a right, privacy (being in “the privy”) is an expectation, we flush pretty much all things – even when cautioned not to do so, we require at least a square or a ply – probably more, and so forth.  As an American who has traveled throughout Europe and lived in Asia for 2 1/2 years, my toilet assumptions have been examined, re-examined, and in some cases flushed away.  I have become multi-toilet-lingual, able to find comfort, nay relief, in a variety of toilet situations. [Read more...]

Killing Narfi: Skyrim and the problem of evil

As Mormons, we have a pervasive, if not terribly well-attributed, belief that, in the next life, if we turned out to be good enough, we’ll get to make our own planets. Folks, why wait? There are a wealth of world-building strategy and role-playing games available right now. One has me in its web right now and it is causing me to consider the creation of a moral universe. [Read more...]

Suspicion, Intuition and Religiosity

Incorrect answer: “To commend me on my good driving.”

“Do you know why I pulled you over?” the officer asked me last Thursday.  I knew from watching my husband’s reactions when he’s been pulled over (the man never gets tickets, I swear) that the best thing to do is to play dead.  Not literally, but you have to avoid certain pitfalls:  being too confident, not being confident enough, being too animated, responding emotionally (regardless of the emotion – but anger and sadness are definitely out), flirting [1], being friendly, and most of all you cannot under any circumstances answer that loaded-for-bear question.  Which can be difficult because officers must be trained in waiting out uncomfortable silences. [2]  Almost anything you say or do can be misinterpreted to your detriment. [Read more...]

Polygamy, Society, and the Mormons

When I returned to my office after winter break, I found two large brown boxes (with “Joe Christensen” written on the sides) waiting for me in the mailroom. I was pretty sure I knew what they held and, sure enough, upon opening them, I saw copies of Taxing Polygamy, my (finally published!) article dealing with the difficulties that a regime of legally-recognized polygamy would present to the U.S. tax system.

And, in celebration of its finally being published, I thought I’d do a little polygamy-blogging, starting with this broad introductory post.  [Read more...]

The Mormon Lectionary Project: Martin Luther King, Jr.

MLP

MLP

Mormon Lectionary Project

The Feast of Martin Luther King, Jr., Civil Rights Leader, 1968

Exodus 3:7-12, Isaiah 40:3-8, Psalm 77:11-20, Psalm 98:1-4, Luke 6:27-36, Helaman 13:25-29 [Read more...]

Judge Robert Shelby: 2013 Boggs-Doniphan Gentile (Non-Mormon) of the Year

The Boggs-Doniphan Gentile (Non-Mormon) of the Year award honors the non-Mormon who had the greatest impact on Mormonism, for good or ill, during the year. (See that other blog for Mormon of the Year.) The previous winners are John Turner, Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and Robert Lopez, Judge Vaughn Walker, Stephen Colbert, and Mike Huckabee. There’s no need for nominations and voting this year. This happened:

[Read more...]

Book Review: To Mormons with Love

I was hoping for a little more whoop ass, but the book was very sweet and sincere.

I just finished reading a fascinating book a couple months ago called To Mormons, With Love by Chrisy Ross. She blogs here and gives a quick overview of her book here. You can buy her book on Kindle here. Chrisy and her family are nondenominational Christians who live (voluntarily, not because of Witness Relocation or anything like that) in Utah County – and even enjoy it mostly! I’m not sure I know many Mormons for whom I could say the same, but I might live in the opposite of a Mormon bubble. [Read more...]

“Don’t Let’s Ask for the Moon; We Have the Stars”

“No priesthood session for you.”

When the Ordain Women movement was planning to attend the Priesthood session, my first response was passively supportive.  I felt it was overreaching, but that overreaching is sometimes necessary to expand the Overton Window:

The Overton window is a means of visualizing which ideas define that range of acceptance by where they fall in it. Proponents of policies outside the window seek to persuade or educate the public so that the window either “moves” or expands to encompass them. [Read more...]

BYU Crushes

I recently was alerted to the existence of a brand new Facebook group at BYU for students to anonymously post notes about their crushes.  The student submits their comment to the FB group admins who then re-post it from the site.  The comments run the gamut from cutesy to goofy to stalkeresque. [Read more...]

Three Thoughts, Two Minutes, One Lord

The Cenotaph, London, England (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cenotaph)

The Cenotaph, London, England (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cenotaph)

ce·no·taph, ˈsenəˌtaf/
noun
1.
a tomblike monument to someone buried elsewhere, esp. one commemorating people who died in a war.

Today is Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom, Veterans Day in the United States. Yesterday, the Sunday before Remembrance Day, or Remembrance Sunday, my thoughts turned to the religious and public traditions and rituals observed in the United Kingdom to commemorate the importance of this day as a day of national . . . contrition? penance? gratitude? All of them, I think — “celebrate” is the wrong word for what occurs in the public ceremonies that occur on Remembrance Sunday and Remembrance Day. It is a solemn “remembering,” a holy Remembrance, because we remember the lives of those who served particularly in the Great War (1914-1918) but also in all conflicts in the protection of national or territorial integrity and political freedoms and heritage; more specifically, we contemplate the sacrifice that it is to put one’s life on the line for these values and ideals. Very few, if any, “celebrate” that these sacrifices were made or that such devastating wars occurred; virtually all unite across racial, ethnic, and religious divides to remember them and commemorate their sacrifices. [Read more...]

Purity, Rules and Allergies

Childhood allergies like hay fever are linked to an absence of contact with fecal matter in their early years. [1]  In other words, their houses were too clean for them to develop immunity. [2] When antibodies have no real threats to fight off, they’ll pick the next best thing – dust, pet dander, and pollen. [3]  I’m pretty sure it would make my mother proud that my hay fever is a byproduct of her obsessive cleanliness.  Perhaps this phenomenon also explains why Mormons are prone to creating extra rules on top of our already high standards.  Let me explain. [Read more...]

If Modest Is Hottest, It’s Not Modest

I know what you are thinking.  Another article on modesty?  Well, stuff your preconceptions in a sack and read on, because I’m about to blow your mind.  [1] About 18 months ago I read an article in the New York Times about a scientific formula to predict celebrity breakups. [2] Here are the factors that correlated in their prediction model: [Read more...]

Mormon Marriage Equality

Are men and women partners or competitors?  What about in marriage?  Do men feel threatened by wives with successful careers?

Are Mormon marriages more equal or less equal than other marriages?  Do Mormon women feel that they are taken seriously and treated as equals by their husbands?  Are they encouraged to follow their dreams?  Do they find their work (whether at home or in the workplace) meaningful and rewarding?  In the give and take of marriage, are men and women giving and taking fairly?

I recently finished reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In.  In the book, she talks about several things we can do to help women achieve their potential and to help men and women feel more equal and personally satisfied, within their personal lives and in the workplace.  This list includes things like: [Read more...]

Songs I Wish Were in the Hymn Book

Growing up I always thought the image on the hymn book was Angkor Wat.

On my mission, in one city my companion and I had to walk 45 mins to get to our area to teach.  We were newly together and frankly, she was driving me nuts.  She insisted on singing hymns the entire time we walked through the banana fields and winding rural paths. Relentlessly.  Finally, I couldn’t take it any more, so I started belting out Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.”  She recoiled as if I had just taken a big swig of Vodka, wiped my mouth, and then offered it to her.  But then, she accepted the proffered folk song olive branch and started to sing it with me.  She shrugged and said she guessed it was not inappropriate even if it wasn’t a hymn. [Read more...]

On Becoming More Christlike

What does it mean to become more Christlike? I will confess that the quest to be Christlike has sometimes bothered me, not because I don’t think it is a worthy goal (at my house, we are currently memorizing Moroni 10:32–33), but because I am naturally plagued by mortal doubts as to its practical feasibility. I understand that becoming like Christ is the whole point of the gospel. But it is not an unproblematic proposition, when you think about it. 

[Read more...]

Conversion or Comfort Zone?

Pay no attention to the cricket . . .

It’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between righteousness (that needs no correction) and self-righteousness (that can’t bear or acknowledge the need for correction).  Put another way, it’s difficult to confidently consider something personal revelation unless it differs from our own conscience or our own self-justifications or what we would do (even if we are tempted to do otherwise). Yet, the more we live the gospel, the more righteous and godlike we become and the less likely revelation will contradict our own views. [Read more...]

Power in Prayer

Unfortunate Brothers: Korea's Reunification Dilemma, directed by Dodge Billingsley of Combat Films & Research

Unfortunate Brothers: Korea’s Reunification Dilemma, directed by Dodge Billingsley of Combat Films & Research

The excellent and moving documentary “Unfortunate Brothers: Korea’s Reunification Dilemma” will be screening at Westminster College in Salt Lake City on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 7:00 pm. There will be a Q & A following the film with the director, an expert from the film, and a member of the National Unification Advisory council. Admission is free, doors open at 6:30pm. This is the ninth original documentary created for the “Beyond the Border” series produced by Combat Films & Research for the David M. Kennedy Center at Brigham Young University, and the first program focusing on Korea. It will also air on September 30, 2013 at 8:00 p.m. on KBYU-11.
[Read more...]

Drowning in Modesty Guidelines at Girls Camp

Trying out for a role in The Boyfriend? No, just packing for Girls Camp.

Marcel Proust said: “People wish to learn to swim and at the same time to keep one foot on the ground.” That seems an apt description of the Girls Camp and Youth Conference modesty guidelines for Young Women that have emerged in some wards and stakes.

I have heard a few stories on the internet over the last few years about wards and stakes who have created increasingly onerous dress requirements for the YW, including at girls-only events like Girls Camp as well as Youth Conferences.  I naturally assumed this was a handful of crackpots in isolated areas trying to out-righteous each other for scraps of praise until last week when my sister-in-law shared with me that her stake is now requiring all girls to wear both a tee shirt and knee length shorts over their one-piece swimsuit to swim–at Girls Camp!* [Read more...]

Attractive Lies and Boring Truth

A guest post from Mike Austin. Mike is Provost, Vice President for Academic Affairs, and Professor of English at Newman University in Wichita, Kansas, a member of the Dialogue Board of Directors, and a generally all-around great guy.

Trouble, Right Here in Sal Tlay Ka Siti

“I always think there’s a band, kid.” —Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man

By the time that I figured out that I hated The Music Man, it had been my favorite musical for more than 20 years. When I was ten, my mother took me to see Tony Randall as Professor Harold Hill at the Tulsa Little Theatre, and I was hooked. I listened to the LP for hours at a time, and, when the Robert Preston/Shirley Jones movie came to HBO a few years later, I watched it almost every day for two months. I have seen five stage versions and two film versions of the play a total of probably 30 times. I probably have most of the lines by heart. [Read more...]

Religious Belonging & Dunbar’s Number

Everyone must stay in these arbitrary groups we’ve created.  Don’t cross the streams.

A few years ago I read a great book by Nicholas Christokis and James Fowler called Connected:  The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks.  There are a few points about social networks that I’ve been thinking about as relates to our social networks like the church, Facebook, and the blogs we frequent.

Given the findings of the book, the most important aspect of our church life is our local ward.  At work we used to say that to an employee, their direct leader was the whole company, for good or bad.  The same can be said of our local wards:  to members, the experiences in those local wards are the whole church experience (or nearly so).  Having a ward you like and where you feel accepted is therefore pretty important.

[Read more...]

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...]

Is It Time to Reduce the BYU Subsidy?

Enter to learn; go forth to toil in obscurity.

My son was recently admitted to BYU for the upcoming fall semester.  Here are some things about BYU we discovered in the application process:

  • BYU is mind-blowingly cheap.  It is about a tenth the cost of other universities he applied for and twice what we would have to pay for an in-state tuition assuming we could somehow qualify as residents having lived abroad for two and a half years.  When room & board and other incidental costs are included, that gap is narrowed a little so that other schools were only 4 times the cost of BYU. [Read more...]
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