Strengthening the Strong Ties

Facebook birthdayI had a birthday last week. I didn’t turn a remarkable age or anything, although I am now officially older than Jesus. A few short years ago, turning 30-something might not have been a big deal—a special dinner and a gift or two, maybe. But now, birthdays are marked by friendly emails, texts, and tweets, and a wave of Facebook posts.

Most of the well-wishers just left a short note on my wall, something to let me know we’re still friends. It’s a simple gesture, but it’s fun to hear from old friends, even if it’s only a couple words. What’s most fun for me is hearing from all of them at once—high school friends, college roommates, mission companions, more recent co-workers. It’s a post-modern “This Is Your Life” day of happy memories, or a virtual group hug where I’m the only connection between everyone.

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Cosmological Convergence: The Pavilion That Covers God’s Hiding Place

The Universe

Ben F. checks back in from the halls of science, with a second installment in his BCC guest series on faith and physics. (Read his first post here.)

I would like to ask a simple question as the basis for this post: Is God a native of our universe? Although I lack any significant polling data, I suspect the gut instinct for most Mormons would be a confident “yes.” After all, Mormon theology emphasizes the shared characteristics between God and his spirit children—we believe he has a physical body that exists somewhere in space and time; we believe that his origin is not so different from our own; and we even believe that we can, with sufficient grace, become like he is. Therefore, it seems only natural that he is from the same place we are from—that is, this universe we find ourselves in. Besides, what would the alternative be? That he is from some sort of parallel universe? That would just be crazy, right?

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A darn shame

I cannot, in good conscience, recommend that my gay friends investigate the church. [Read more...]

Gospel Doctrine Lesson #6: “I Will Tell You in Your Mind and in Your Heart, by the Holy Ghost”

Notes, commentary, and questions for LDS Sunday School teachers using the ‘Doctrine & Covenants and Church History’ manual. Feel free to share your thoughts or ideas regarding the lesson in the comments.

This covers much the same material as the last lesson, historically and thematically.  The emphasis continues to be on Oliver Cowdery’s experiences translating the Book of Mormon and, specifically, his attempts to recognize the spirit of revelation in his own life.  While the emphasis of last week’s lesson was more on preparing yourself to receive revelation, this week’s lesson has more to do with recognizing what on earth is going on when it happens.

First of all, go to the new Revelations in Context resource at lds.org and read the article by Jeffrey Cannon on Oliver Cowdery’s Gift.  While you are hopping around, go to Robin Jensen’s post on last week’s lesson and read that as well.  Now return to this post and feel bad; I’m neither as knowledgeable, nor as good a writer as those guys. Oh well.

If there is one message to take from all of the sections being covered this week (and last week) it is this: revelation is not easy work. [Read more...]

Faith and Science: Friends not without Benefits

Lord Kelvin, a long time ago: “There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement.”

Lord Kelvin, 113 years ago: “There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement.”

We’re pleased to present the first in a series of guest posts by Ben F, who is working toward a PhD in condensed matter physics at a fancy school in the northeast. 

Growing up, I took it for granted that faith and science were friends. My parents’ bookshelves were stuffed with an absurd number of works on church history and theology that was matched only by the equally absurd number of volumes on physics, chemistry, biology, and everything in between. I don’t think I ever so much as cracked open one of those books—the Orson Scott Card shelf just seemed so much more interesting to me at the time—but their happy coexistence on those shelves still left a deep impression on me. They were a visual testament that science and religion are close companions, tied together by a common quest for truth and understanding.

Naturally, I thought that was how everyone viewed the issue—until I moved to Provo to attend BYU. Between a discussion in elders quorum about the post-Fall intergalactic migration of the Earth from Kolob to our present solar system and an Old Testament classmate’s vehement insistence that Pangaea existed up until Noah’s flood, I realized that perhaps mine was not the only view people had on science and religion. My first instinct was to burst out laughing whenever I heard something like this, but the part of me trying to be a good person pointed out that everyone comes from a different background and I shouldn’t ridicule people for beliefs that are clearly important to them. But honestly, we Mormons should do much better than that, and here’s why.

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The Implications of Encouraging Early Marriage in a Global Church

This is the first of a two part response to Elaine Dalton’s recent BYU Devotional speech.

Globally, early marriage is inextricably linked to development and human rights concerns. I believe that the words of a general officer of our worldwide church should be considered from a worldwide perspective. In this light, some of her conclusions are troubling. [Read more...]

Whee, the People! A Faith-filled Inauguration

Sunrise behind the capital

Ouch Dark Thirty

AnnE, who worked yesterday as an ASL interpreter for the inauguration, continues her guest stint at BCC.

I arrived at the Inauguration so early yesterday morning, it was pretty much uniforms, audiovisual crew, and of course the snipers.

With fewer than half the 2009 crowds expected and at least fifteen more degrees forecast on the mercury, I was hopeful for a less Armageddon-like experience than four years ago. Indeed there were fewer tree climbers, and the crowds did not scurry across the frozen Reflecting Pool this time as though a Starbucks lay on the opposite bank of the North Platte. There was however a fair amount of fainting, port-a-john scaling, and a two-hour monologue shouted from the perimeter about THE BABIES.

The theme was “Faith,” and the musical performances featured enthusiastic and unapologetic hymns of praise, as well as patriotic standards in which God was central. The choir from Lee University invited our monotheist cousins and folks of other persuasions with aspirations (pun intended) to “join with Abraham’s seed to adore Him.” It was one worshipful program.

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Science is so cool. You are part Neanderthal!

Q_and_PicardHow deeply I love studying the wonders of the universe. There was a report of a four billion light year across object! That’s 4,000,000,000 light years! Not miles. Lightyears! I watched a show on PBS last night that talked about the recent complete sequencing the the Neanderthal genome. A species near our own, but vastly different, and guess what? Unless you are from Africa, from one to four percent of your genome is Neanderthal! African populations missed this introgression. Now that’s genealogy! (If you don’t believe this, I would encourage you to become an activist demanding the release of all death row inmates convicted on DNA evidence. It’s of the same type.) [Read more...]

The Pedagogy of Sunday School (part 1)

I was recently called for the fifth time as a Sunday school teacher, and once again I am very pleased. I teach professionally — mostly high school, mostly English and humanities — and I find the process of preparing and delivering a lesson comfortable and enjoyable.

Because my professional obligations having shifted in recent years, I have been thinking more about the way we teach and the way we learn in Sunday School, applying the same pedagogical concepts of teaching literature to high school students to the teaching of Sunday School. Today I will talk muse a little about methodology and outcomes.

I generally teach Gospel Doctrine in the same way I teach a literature class. We have a text and we are looking at the text’s apparent purpose and its methods in pursuing that purpose. As I generally do with literature, I make the assumption that the text is successful, doing an analysis of the text rather than an evaluation.

But what reading of the text do we favor? As J. Stapley pointed out there are different approaches, and I am certainly interested in offering flavors of all of those readings. In the end, my job is not to offer a single reading of the text, whether that reading be my own or the authoritative reading.

As a literature teacher, I want students to develop their own reading, supported by the following:  [Read more...]

Mormonism in 2012: A (Fashionably Late) Recap

2012I called 2011 “The Year of the Mormon,” and I’m standing by that designation, but what a year we’ve had since then! As the Mormon Moment gets on its bike and rides into the sunset, it’s worth looking back at some of the high points and low points of 2012. Here are my own selections, in no particular order:

 

 

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Mourning with Those that Mourn – A How-To

As a Young Mens leader in my ward, I’m seldom called upon to offer guidance during times of grief. So I was at a complete loss recently when a desperate father reached out for help with his son, who had witnessed the tragic death of his best friend.

The young man hadn’t been to church in years, and in fact I’d never met him. So I was expecting an awkward housecall—I figured the last thing a grieving teenager wants is a stranger from church to talk to.  What should I say? How should I act?

I sent a distress call to the wise BCC permabloggers, who pointed me to a wealth of resources here on the blog. I wanted to aggregate and share their guidance, as we’ve had much to mourn over the past couple weeks. I hope it’s as helpful for you as it has been for me. Please feel free to share any additional resources and reactions in the comment.

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“Look for the Yellow Vests”: Mormons and Sandy

My friend Joshua Brown shot this footage of the Sandy relief effort yesterday in the Rockaways here in NYC. In case you weren’t aware, Mormons have played a very active role in the relief effort; for instance, the local missionaries have worked tireless every day since Sandy hit. Their contribution has been noticed. A co-worker of mine organized a non-Mormon volunteer team last week, and here’s what she had to say:  [Read more...]

Another thing…

The Pew Forum offers something of note — voter composition by religious affiliation (according to exit polls).

Romney won among all religious communities except Hispanic Catholics, Black Protestants, and “other [non-Jewish/Christian] faiths.” There’s a confirmation of demographic swing against the GOP there, which isn’t surprising. More interesting to me is that the Evangelicals turned out for Romney (79% vs. 20% for Obama) in greater numbers than in 2008 (73% vs. 26%) and 2004. This would seem to suggest that there was no Evangelical anti-Mormon problem for Romney, at least in the composition of the electorate. White Christians can vote for a Mormon.

Duck Beach to Eternity

You won’t learn much about Mormonism from watching Duck Beach to Eternity, but you will learn a lot about how Mormonism intersects with current-era, white, upper-middle-class privilege. [Read more...]

The best thing about having a Mormon president

[Yeah, I know, this Mormon Moment crap is getting old, but the election is just around the corner and our fifteen minutes are almost up. I have to cram in all the Mitt Romney posts I can over the next few weeks.]

The other day I was in a restaurant and a boisterous group walked in and immediately started talking politics. Two things: 1) Why do people feel the need to do this in public? and 2) Can’t they do it some time when I’m not trying to eat? But back to my anecdote. Somebody said they’d seen a bumper sticker that said something to the effect of “I’d rather vote for the MORMON than the MORON”–which under ordinary circumstances would, of course, be hilarious. Unfortunately, under these particular circumstances, “Mormon” was spelled incorrectly. Which kind of makes you wonder how they even thought of that joke in the first place. It is a puzzlement. [Read more...]

What Doctors Cannot Tell You, Q&A with Kevin Jones

Q&A with Kevin B. Jones, author of
What Doctors Cannot Tell You: Clarity, Confidence and Uncertainty in Medicine (Book website)

[I have known Kevin since college and have always admired his kindness, wisdom, poetry, and intelligence. He has written a thoughtful book about uncertainty and confidence in medicine, and I'm honored to have him participate in a Q&A for BCC.]

Q: Why did you write What Doctors Cannot Tell You?
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A Platitude of Attitude

[This is not a screed against my Facebook friends, whom I love. It’s just a gentle reminder, and a crude sequel of sorts to Sam MB's and Karen H's wonderful posts earlier this week.]

There’s a paradox inherent in the idea of “true religion”: as certitude increases, empathy tends to decrease.

That’s probably a platitude, but I think it’s one worth bringing up as we go into an election season full of high-decibel cultural clashes between political parties, geographies, religions, and within the LDS community itself. Even now, I browse Facebook and see friends who are so firm in their faith in Jesus Christ that they are completely incapable of civil conversation. Paradox!

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Review: Joanna Brooks, “The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories From an American Faith”

Title: The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories From an American Faith
Author: Joanna Brooks
Publisher: Self published (but not for long…)
Genre: Memoir
Year: 2012
Pages: 204
Binding: Paperback
ISBN13: 9780615593449
Price: $11.99

Rumor has it Joanna Brooks’s self-published memoir, The Book of Mormon Girl has been picked up by Free Press/Simon & Schuster for national publication this August with an expanded chapter-and-a-half. We’ve seen a lot of chatter about her book online recently, so I thought I’d venture a review. I hope you’ll excuse my decision to kick things off with an observation based on personal experience. (The Book of Mormon Girl is, after all, a personal memoir!) My own undergraduate years were spent writing and editing articles for a variety of small Utah newspapers. I remember how daunting it felt to be assigned an article on a subject I knew next-to-nothing about, like computer animation, mechanical engineering, or say, feminism. Oh, how comforting to a journalist is that friendly, articulate insider willing to endure the inane questions of—and likely later misrepresentation by—the stammering cub reporter! [Read more...]

Fireside this Sunday, Berkeley, CA

This Sunday at 7pm, I’ll be doing a fireside at the LDS Church on 1501 Walnut Street in Berkeley, CA.
I’ll be speaking on “Seals and Communal Salvation in Early Mormonism,” a variant of the talk I gave at Columbia last month. Open to the public. This one will be devotional in intent with some academic infrastructure.

Gas Prices and the Mormon Commute

The average cost of a litre of petrol in the UK right now is £1.39. That is $2.23 per litre, which is $8.42 per gallon.

Yes, ouch. This post is about the cost in fuel of being an active Mormon in the United Kingdom. [Read more...]

Some Thoughts On the War For the Heart and Soul of Mormonism

In recent years there has been a significant amount of academic literature that argues, in essence, that political orientation is largely determined by social, cultural, and psychological factors, rather than the initial or continued imposition of the will upon political belief. [1] In other words, we are largely predisposed one way or another toward political belief and that any talk of free creative production with regard to political orientation, or positive or negative political assent only makes sense within that context. In still other words, I cannot simply choose to authentically train myself to think conservatively if I am more prone to liberal political thinking and vice versa. [Read more...]

Thanks, Jon Stewart

Just now on The Daily Show, Mr. Stewart presented a lovely segment that ruthlessly mocked the media’s coverage of Romney’s faith. The high point for me was watching Robert Jeffress rationalize his endorsement of a non-Christian cultist over a mainstream Christian.

If Mr. Stewart keeps up this level of coverage, he might just end up with a Boggs-Doniphan Gentile of the Year Award to add to his pile of Emmys.

Which would be awkward, as Mr. Stewart is in no way a gentile. But it would be his due, as Stephen Colbert won the BDGotYA in 2009.

I’ll post a clip as soon as it’s available online. In the meantime, those on the West Coast can watch the episode at its regularly appointed time.

UPDATE: Here is the clip. (wordpress.com doesn’t embed ComedyCentral videos)

Excited About Romney, Despite Myself

So that’s it: The Republican nomination process is finally over. (Gingrich might still be kicking around, but once Nate Silver calls it, the thinking has been done.)

Ever since Romney first announced his candidacy in the last election, I’ve been very conflicted about Romney, and about the idea of a Mormon candidate, and about Romney as that Mormon candidate. To be blunt, he has uncanny valley issues of seeming almost-but-not-quite-human—I’m not even sure he would pass the Turing Test. The NY Times hilariously describes him as “the first quantum politician.”

And it’s way too early to say whether a Mormon candidate/president is going to make things easier or harder for the church. But we at least know that there will be an increasing level of scrutiny and curiosity about Mormonism, and there’s a chance that it will lead to increased bigotry. (To know the church isn’t necessarily to like the church.)

But despite the obvious flaws with the first Mormon presidential candidate, and despite the potential for it to blow up in our faces, my heart leapt when I first read the rumors on Twitter this morning: “Breaking: Washington Post says Rick Santorum will suspend presidential campaign.”

Whoa. The Republican candidate for president is a Mormon. A former stake president. That’s so effing cool! 

Now that we’ve all had a few hours to reflect, share your thoughts below. My contribution is this: I was way too hasty when I named 2011 “The Year of the Mormon”…I assumed the buzz about Mormonism wouldn’t get any louder. Just wait.

Dear BBC

[Available on Youtube]

To: James Jones, Producer, The Mormon Candidate

Re: This World: The Mormon Candidate (BBC2)

Dear Mr Jones,

If we are to follow the educational philosophy of Charles Dickens’s  Thomas Gradgrind — “In this life, we want nothing but Facts, sir; nothing but Facts!” — then we would find little to complain about in John Sweeney’s BBC account of Mitt Romney’s Mormonism. Sweeney, the BBC’s go-to cult hunter, famous for his aggressive encounter with Scientology, provided a number facts about Mormonism that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints simply cannot deny.

They are, inter alia: Mormon prophet Joseph Smith married upwards of 30 women. The Egyptian of the extant fragments of the Book of Abraham is not directly related to Smith’s translation. Mormons once swore blood oaths in their temples. As a conservative religion, Mormonism can be a rather alienating place for those whose faith wanders from orthodoxy. The church maintains its own Vatican-like Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. &c.

Some of these facts, and others besides, are bound to make uncomfortable viewing for Mormons. Some are defensible, others are not. Many strike at the heart of Mormonism’s curse as a pre-modern religion that has come of age in a modern and post-modern age. The patina of history has rendered benign the strange beliefs and practices of some more ancient religions. Mormonism is not so lucky and this is why facts, polemically deployed, are not always as truthful as Gradgrind, and Sweeney, would have us believe. [Read more...]

Jon McNaughton’s Idea Journal

For centuries artists and lovers of art alike have studied the masters, hoping for a glimpse into the process of creative genius. Now, an unprecedented find. A never before seen look into the mind of one of the greatest painters our generation has seen…

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Poor Rich People

Hawkgrrl returns to grace us with her words.

This has been a crappy few years to be rich.  There have been a few jerks who’ve really given wealth a bad name:   Wall Streeters who traded in junk bonds, pyramid schemer Bernie Madoff, and “hot rabbit” and accused maid molester DSK.  Many rich people are under water on their mortgage(s).  Add to that a Democrat government that is unapologetically tone-deaf to rich people and their needs.  As Jesus said, “The poor ye have always with you.” Meaning, it’s always going to suck to be poor, but being rich is supposed to be awesome, right?  Yet, thanks to a few bad apples and a little global economic peril, rich people are vilified and reviled, mocked openly for their very riches.  There’s something wrong when 99% of people can threaten the well-being of the overwhelming minority, the 1%.  It’s a good thing the rich can afford personal security and to serve in government.

And the hits keep coming.  A recent study shows that (I am not making this up) rich people are more likely to take candy from babies.

First of all, depending on how old the babies are and the type of candy, babies should not be eating candy.  It’s unsafe.  Babies’ teeth may not be well developed enough for a nougat or a crunchy Heath bar.  Another problem with babies eating candy is that they are often very messy with it.  I have known a baby to take a caramel out of his drooling mouth multiple times before ultimately leaving it in the carpet, resulting in property damage.  Should we really reward that kind of behavior?  Also, with the childhood obesity problem in the US, the rich people may be providing a valuable service in preventing babies from becoming addicted to low-nutrition foods.  Of course, the article did not make any of these valid points, instead implying that rich people are selfish bastards. [Read more...]

Review: Stephens and Giberson, “The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age”

Title: The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age
Author: Randall J. Stephens and Karl W. Giberson 
Publisher: Belknap Press/Harvard University Press
Genre: Evangelicalism
Year: 2011
Pages: 356
Binding: Hardcover
ISBN13: 9780674048188
Price: $29.95

If the word “Evangelical” popped up in a word association game, hair-trigger responses might include words like “Republican,” “anti-evolution,” “Jerry Falwell,” or “fundamentalist.” Word association games aren’t usually the best way to understand religion. (When it comes to Mormons, “polygamy” usually tops the list.) Numbering an estimated one hundred million people—sixteen million in the Southern Baptist Convention alone (7, 187)—the American evangelical community is actually more diverse than these labels can hope to communicate. Politically, the spectrum ranges from conservative to liberal (though perhaps heavily weighted toward the former), all bound loosely together by a common commitment to the necessity of being “born again” through Jesus Christ. Such Christians have no central authoritative body and no single all-encompassing creed. But the open marketplace of religion in the United States has provided space for an evangelical “parallel culture,” complete with its own schools, publishing houses, music industry, summer camps, school accreditation agencies, historians, scientists, and family counselors. [Read more...]

President-elect Romney

When Mitt Romney is selected as the Republican nominee and is eventually elected President of the United States, what should his first words be? [Read more...]

Roundtable: Mormons & the Zombie Apocalypse

BCC has never shied away from difficult topics. Indeed, throughout its history, bloggers and friends of BCC have often convened into roundtable discussions to address some of the sticky issues that face us as a religion and as human beings. Past discussions have dealt with depression, correlation, historicity, and the status of women in the church. Today, BCC Labs continues this fine tradition by talking about zombies.

Steve Evans, Scott B., Sir Ronan, Matt Page, and guest Matt Bowman have graciously taken the time to contribute their thoughts to this timely discussion. [Read more...]

Latent Racism, Orientalism and “Magic Underwear” in American Society and Mitt Romney’s Presidential Campaign

African Muslim Men in Religious Attire, source http://www.thingsoftheday.com/?p=3285

As I made my way through the crowded local Costco recently, I stepped back a moment and appreciated the diversity surrounding me. Although approximately 92% of the population in the UK is white, about 45% of the remaining 8% of the UK population that are ethnic minorities live in London. And we’ve enjoyed having a high concentration of this 45% in and around the area of London where I currently reside. We have become accustomed to seeing people in their religiously significant daily dress in all circumstances, from the morning school run, to regular visits to the supermarket, to going to movies in the cinema and just about everywhere else. (In fact, it is not unusual for us to see such dress in our LDS ward on Sunday as investigators from all of these ethnic and religious backgrounds politely keep their commitment to the missionaries working in the area to visit us and see what the Church is all about.)
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