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...]

For the Strength of YOUth

In a recent post, frequent commenter Ardis noted her experience with the standards of the church that have been pushing similar themes since the mid-1960s.  This reminded me of a post I did elsewhere noting some of the “timeless standards” from the 1965 pamphlet.

There is a new trend in the church to elevate the For the Strength of Youth standards to something that should be applied to all members, not just the youth.  I’ve experienced first hand and heard online from others that local wards have reviewed the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet and standards with the adults, explaining that it applies to them as well.  In our Singapore stake, this was presented in a talk called “For the Strength of YOU.”  What’s behind this trend?  Here are some possible theories: [Read more...]

BYU’s Honor Code and Hostile Environment Sexual Harassment

No cap sleeves, slit one inch above knee. Come to daddy!

Does the BYU honor code create or discourage sexual harassment?  Does the increasingly stringent focus on female modesty create or discourage objectification of women?  In both cases, women are often singled out and approached by total strangers who feel it’s acceptable to make comments on their appearance.  In the work place, this behavior may constitute creating a hostile work environment.  At BYU, we call it standing valiantly for right.

In employment law, hostile environment sexual harassment refers to a situation where employees in a workplace are subject to a pattern of exposure to unwanted sexual behavior . . . It is distinguished from quid pro quo sexual harassment, where a direct supervisor seeks sexual favors in return for something . . . courts have . . . recognized hostile environment as an actionable behavior since the late 1980s. [Read more...]

A MAD Man Fold-In

There is something different about Jon McNaughton’s latest painting. Sure it contains the basic elements of distasteful propaganda we’ve come to expect from him over the years, but when I first saw it, it reminded me of the kind of painting I am used to seeing in the pages of MAD Magazine (no offense to “the usual gang of idiots”). Then I saw that the artist himself described the piece as “parody” and I realized I was right. Maybe that is the best context to view “Liberalism Is A Disease”…

[Read more...]

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...]

Worst Mormon Date Ever

Maybe if I had brought a cooler that would have been even more awkward.

I just finished reading Brian Donovan’s book Not a Match: My True Tales of Online Dating Disasters. My oldest son starts college in the fall, so I have been feeling nostalgic about my own dating days as a Cougar.[1] What makes a bad Mormon date bad? The same thing that makes any date bad: awkwardness. This is my story.

[Read more...]

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...]

Unequal equalities

It strikes me that a lot of our disagreement over feminist issues in the church comes from one variation or another of straw-man argumentation. It is much easier to disagree with a caricature of our intellectual opponent’s argument than with the real thing.  I’m going to talk about a particular type of caricature here today; Alison Moore Smith provided several last week. It is useful to note these things, because, hopefully, they will help us move past superfluous and irrelevant grandstanding and focus on the important arguments in any debate. Also, world peace might spring up. [Read more...]

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