An open letter from Otterson: Context missing from discussion about women

The following is an open letter from Michael Otterson, Managing Director of Public Affairs for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A PDF of the letter is available here.

Context missing from discussion about women

Comments on various blogs over recent months about what Church leaders should or should not think and do about women’s roles in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints prompt me to provide some context from an insider perspective that may be helpful.

Recently a woman posted this comment on a blog: [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...]

Mormon History Association conference next week

Next week is the annual conference of the Mormon History Association. It will be held in San Antonio, Texas (next year is in Provo). It is probably too late for a last minute trip plan, but if you live in the area, be sure to come down. (Register here; program here)
[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...]

The Book of Mormon: My Testimony

So in Priesthood today, I offhandedly remarked that I believe that Nephi made a mistake in killing Laban. And boy-oh did that ignite some pushback.[fn1] And I realized that I ought to explain how that belief fits in with my testimony of the Book of Mormon.

As a starting point, I believe that the Book of Mormon is true.  [Read more...]

Sunday Morning Poem: “The Agonie,” by George Herbert

This series could not continue long without featuring George Herbert…

                                The Agonie

     Philosophers have measur’d mountains,
Fathom’d the depths of seas, of states, and kings,
Walk’d with a staffe to heav’n, and traced fountains:
     But there are two vast, spacious things,
The which to measure it doth more behove:
Yet few there are that sound them; Sinne and Love.

     Who would know Sinne, let him repair
Unto mount Olivet; there shall he see
A man so wrung with pains, that all his hair,
     His skinne, his garments bloudie be.
Sinne is that presse and vice, which forceth pain
To hunt his cruell food through ev’ry vein.

     Who knows not Love, let him assay
And taste that juice, which on the crosse a pike
Did set again abroach; then let him say
     If ever he did taste the like.
Love is that liquour sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as bloud; but I, as wine.

Sometimes I Feel Like I’m Almost Gone

Our Sisters are Leaving

There is a painful conversation swirling in our culture; whispered sorrow, frustration, anger, fatigue, and a tentative raising of voices asking for more representation in the governance and care of this institution that we call our spiritual home.  Millions of women are members of this institution charged with doing God’s work on earth, an institution that theoretically demands the very best that each member has to offer.  What can be said to those women who feel that their best is not wanted, valued, or needed?    [Read more...]

Remember when everyone was into blogging?

Hey guys, you remember blogs? Man, those were great. I miss them.

Especially today.

Because earlier this morning in the process of cleaning out a bunch of old folders in the dusty and cobwebbed corners of my hard drive, I came across a folder containing my user archive for a long-forgotten web browser. Based on the contents, I think it was created two computers ago–probably when I got the computer that my current computer (which is itself several years old, and about to be replaced) replaced, and just copied all of my user data and files over from the old box so as to make sure I didn’t lose any of the obviously vital information that I apparently didn’t look at again until today. Anyway, I started clicking through the folder, and found a sub-folder containing a great big long list of bookmarks–sites that, 5-7 years ago I visited regularly. Most of it was blogs–holy smokes the blogs. Blogs from the days when Blogger was just exploding, and every family in the ward, every old high school friend, and every bored office dweller with too little to do was creating a blog, posting some pictures, and feeling like the king of the internet because that one post got like, I swear, 9 comments, and none were from your mom. [Read more...]

The Spirit of Elijah

Angus Mackay, Piper to Queen Victoria

Angus Mackay, Piper to Queen Victoria

When my twelve year-old son Jeffrey wanted to learn to play the bagpipes, I thought it was cool. I honestly did— I have always loved highland bagpipes, and find them haunting and beautiful. While our surname is an obviously Scottish clan name, I never really gave it much thought beyond knowing we were one of thousands of families whose “Mac—” became “Mc—” during the emigration to the United States. I knew my ancestors came down through Canada via Nova Scotia, but I somehow missed picking up Nova Scotia is NEW SCOTLAND.

So when Jeff picked up the pipes, I started poking around. (He is also a tuba player, and his younger brother plays the bugle. Take a moment to grieve for our neighbors) Jeffrey also wanted a kilt. My uncle is a judge who wears full Highland Dress for formal occasions, and I discovered our family has a tartan. A specific tartan, tied to very specific ancestral lands in the northern highlands of Scotland. Cool, right? We don’t just have a modern tartan- we’ve got an ancient tartan, a hunting tartan, a formal tartan… [Read more...]

Sunday Morning Poem: “Fault”

I find that poetry occupies a place very near the heart of my worship. Nobody in my High Priest’s Group is at all surprised anymore when I bring a poem into the discussion, and I’ve even been known to read them over the pulpit in testimony meeting. In that spirit, I’d like to inaugurate an occasional series in which I post a poem on Sunday morning, leaving the verse to speak for itself. (Discussion in the comments is, of course, both welcome and encouraged.) I’ll start things off by sharing an effort of my own, now six years old.

Fault—an interesting word:
culpability as chasm—
the building pressures
of an inner tectonics
resulting in rupture,
the riven self reveals
the illusion of identity.

The first tremors throw
off the balance,
and the aftershocks
reiterate the wound,
the trembling gap between
the self I framed
and the charted graphs
of my seismic soul.

Agreeable, Vol. IV

Welcome to Agreeable, a bimonthly advice column in which I will tell you, dear Reader, as to whether your planned course of action is “agreeable” or “hmph”. Direct your questions (max 200 words, please!) to the admin address (see ‘About’, above) with the subject line “Agreeable”.   

My wife and I recently had a baby girl. She is going to be blessed in sacrament meeting and we plan to host a luncheon at our house afterwards. We expect seven couples made up of family and close friends along with their many children for a total of about 45 people. We originally planned to prepare a main dish and have our guests bring side dishes but after looking at the cost and prep time decided it would be easier to hire a local food truck to serve tacos.  [Read more...]

Your Friday Afternoon Chat Transcript

Deep Fried Fair Food

One time, many months ago, Steve and I tried to start a recurring feature in which we post the unrehearsed, unplanned, and (basically) unedited transcripts of our IM conversations that deal with the weightiest of matters. It didn’t go over so well, and everyone got super mad and that was a darn shame, because it was an amazing post and I’m not remotely bitter about it nope not at all.[1] Anyway, we are going to give it another whirl today with a topic no less divisive than last time: Deep Fried Foods. If you’re interested in seeing what spurred this conversation into existence, go here.

Scott: Gotta say, the whole deep-fried fair food thing just puzzles me. I think it’s all gross. Like even when people are showing “the greatest” fried stuff at fairs, none of it is appealing to me.

Steve: I like fried foods. Those little donuts.

Scott: Me too–but not fried for the sake of frying. Like, I think a decent corndog is great.

Steve: yes.

Scott: But they go so over the top that the result isn’t a corndog anymore–it’s 6 lbs of batter with a gargantuan sausage in the middle, and leaves you sick. [Read more...]

Pure for God

Only $85!

Only $85!

I subscribe to Meridian Magazine. This past week I kept noticing that the same article was appearing in every issue, by Maurine Proctor, titled “Stumbling upon a Treasure in Jerusalem.” I finally opened the page and read it, and then learned why it kept being repeated; it was actually a sort of essay-advertisement for a necklace based on a reproduction of a bulla (the impression made from a seal) that had been discovered as part of an archaeological dig in the Temple Mount area of Jerusalem in 2011. The inscription on the bulla had the letters DKA LYH, which was interpreted as Aramaic deka leyah, “Pure for God.” The presumption of the archaelogical team was that the seal had been used to stamp items declared as ritually pure and therefore acceptable for use in the temple. Meridian is selling these reproductions for $85 each; the gold-plated ones have sold out, but silver-plated ones are still available in limited quantity. [Read more...]

Protology, Eschatology, and High School

So, Joseph Smith waxed eloquent on the social aspects of the before life, and the afterlife. We get a pithy summary courtesy of Orson Pratt and William Clayton:

“that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there”

And this makes me shiver a bit. Niles Crane, fictive Seattle psychiatrist expresses my thought best:

I’ve always liked the notion [after I die] of meeting the great figures of history. But then I think, what if it’s like high school, and all the really cool dead people don’t want to hang out with me?*

—————–
*On the wall in the St. George temple is a painting. All those cool dead people? They’re hanging out with Wilford Woodruff.

Emily Dickinson

MLP

MLP

Mormon Lectionary Project

Emily Dickinson

Isaiah 6:5-8 (NRSV)Psalm 111:7-10 (Common Worship psalter); John 3:16 (KJV)1 Cor. 13:9 (NRSV); 2 Nephi 2:103 Nephi 8D&C 93:23-27

The Collect: Beloved God, who revealedst thy love for Emily Dickinson in the midst of her wrestlings with thee, and who hast now made that love known to us through her verse: grant that we also, in our strivings, may find thy love for us revealed in thy Son through the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[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...]

Idle gaming in a very long night

lettermanfireLetter to a Man in the Fire* is a brief meditation on the question of God’s existence and God’s goodness in the face of inexplicable suffering in the world. (Really brief. I read it in about two hours.) Reynolds Price’s letter, written in response to a young man dying of cancer, is suffused with an unusual mix of uncertainty and devotion. Price spends a lot of time agonizing over whether it’s appropriate to even write a letter recommending the existence and—in some sense—the goodness of a Creator to someone whose present suffering directly calls those views into question. Price’s reluctance is appropriate especially because so many people who write answers to theodicy questions forge ahead with affirmations of God’s goodness without dwelling long with the sufferer in their very real pain. He wants neither to “diminish for an instant my sense of the grinding wheel you’re presently under” by offering weak platitudes, nor “burden you further with darker thoughts than you’re otherwise bearing”—a frighteningly acute description of the strange negotiations comforters must make as they go along trying to “mourn with those that mourn” as well as “comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (80; Mosiah 18:9). [Read more...]

Mother’s Day Debrief

I want to know what your ward did for the big day. [Read more...]

All about Our Mothers

I thought I would open up a thread here for you to tell us about your mums. I’ll go first. [Read more...]

Dame Julian of Norwich

MLP

MLP

Mormon Lectionary Project

Dame Julian of Norwich

Hebrews 10:19-24 (NRSV); John 4:23-26 (NRSV); Psalm 27:5-11 (1662 BCP); 1 Nephi 11:12-23; Alma 30:44; Moses 7:48-49

The Collect: Almighty God, who through thy servant Julian of Norwich showed us the Ground of our being, sustain us we pray with the sweet milk of thy Spirit through the everlasting nurture of thy Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

[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...]

John Taylor, Eyewitness to the Assassination of Joseph Smith

John Taylor as President of the Church, source: http://tinyurl.com/m8agylk

John Taylor as President of the Church, source: http://tinyurl.com/m8agylk

The “Editor’s Pick” at BYU Studies Quarterly today is a new article featuring John Taylor’s eyewitness account of the assassination of Joseph Smith, which Taylor delivered in a sermon on June 27, 1854, the tenth anniversary of the martyrdom. Editor-in-chief John W. Welch writes that Taylor’s “words were taken down in Pitman shorthand and until very recently that dictation had never been transcribed. Deciphered by LaJean Carruth, and edited and introduced by Mark Staker, this impressive document and the materials connected with it in this article should be read in full and featured prominently in any future discussions of that treacherous assassination. It includes many new, interesting contemporaneous assertions and historical details”. [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...]

When prophets of God enslave women

Numbers 31: In which Moses provides inspiration for Boko Haram. @bycommonconsent

[Read more...]

The Distance: A Review of Letters to a Young Mormon by Adam Miller

We do not live the life we think we do. We think that we are the star of our own show or, sometimes, the villain. We think that what we do matters, because we are doing it; our acts are windows into the soul or the building blocks of our character. We assume, though we claim to be disciples, though we claim to be saints, that we are the most important actors in our salvation play. I’m not certain that we are entirely wrong, but we are definitely not entirely right. [Read more...]

How to “know Brother Joseph again” using the First Vision

linford-first-vision[Another part of my ongoing "Tips for Teachers" series. See the associated links here.]

My friend’s ward has an interesting Elder’s Quorum lesson schedule and I’m not sure how wide-spread it is in other wards. It goes like this:

1st Sunday: EQ Presidency Message
2 & 3rd: PH/RS manual
4th: “Teachings for our Times” (usually a conference address)
5th: Bishopric message

As EQ president, he gets to select lesson topics once a month. For the past few months he’s made use of the Church’s new Gospel Topics essays on issues like “Race and the Priesthood,” “Becoming Like God” and “Book of Mormon Translation.” This month he decided to focus on the new piece about the First Vision so I told him about a lesson I put together back when I taught Elder’s Quorum lessons in my Maryland ward.

[Read more...]

Mormon Lectionary Project: Emma Hale Smith

MLP

MLP

Emma Hale Smith
Proverbs 31, Psalm 51John 11:16, John 14:1-5, Ephesians 2:13-22Jacob 2, Moroni 7:40-48, Doctrine and Covenants 25

 

Miserere (Psalm 51)– Josquin, Brahms, Hurd

“In My Father’s House Are Many Mansions” (McDermid 1908)

Know This, That Every Soul is Free (First hymn in Emma’s original hymnal)

Amazing Grace (included in Emma’s Nauvoo collection of hymns)

Today we remember Emma Hale Smith, the Elect Lady of the Restoration and wife of Joseph Smith. The readings are about love and doubt, and the ways that they live together in every broken human heart. Emma, like the Apostle Thomas, like most of us, was hopelessly twinned–she loved and she doubted. And perhaps this is as it should be. Joseph, like all human beings, was not perfect, not entirely worthy of the perfect love and trust we owe only to God, who never compels our love or condemns our questioning. Emma’s great gift to the Saints, perhaps, is her example of letting her heart be broken again and again, without ever giving up the integrity of her soul. And while we Brighamites  have sometimes let our knowledge of Emma’s doubt obscure our memory of her devotion and love, it is hopeful that we are learning, as the body of Christ, to honor Emma again, to recognize that the Father’s house has many mansions, and that Christ has “broken down the middle wall  of partition,” both between our own doubting and loving selves, and between us as Saints of an ongoing restoration, to make us “fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God.”

The Collect: O God, who sent thy Son, “for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace,” make us also new persons. Break down the partitions in our hearts and minds; let us find reconciliation in the midst of doubt, that we may love Thee and each other with whole hearts. Let grace and charity abound in our remembrance of our foremothers and forefathers. Help us to sing with the saints, that the prayers of the righteous may be answered with a blessing on our heads. Amen.

Beethoven’s Cello Sonatas, or Why I Might Be Okay With the 3-Hour Block

Last night, my wife and I went to hear the final performance in this season’s Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s Chicago residency. Pianist Wu Han and cellist David Finckel performed all five of Beethoven’s sonatas for piano and cello.  [Read more...]

Holding out for a (recognizable) hero

[soundtrack]

Bonnie_Tyler_Holding_a_Hero

Where have all the good men gone, and where are all the gods?

The need for heroes seems to be a human thing, but the type of hero desired seems more generational. See the hand-wringing over the new Captain America films, for instance. Maybe this hero phenomenon gives us another way to think about current discussions about “faith-promoting” versus “warts and all” history. Perhaps the sort of heroes people prefer today differs from the sort of heroes older members of the Church felt a need for. I struck on this probably-obvious idea while reading a book about gone-too-soon author David Foster Wallace.

Wallace half-joked that his deep love for the film Braveheart was due to familial connection. But he also explained that he couldn’t really connect on a gut-level with his famous forefather:

wept as he cried “Freedom.” Which I’m sure from the outside looks so cheesy. [...] He was perfect though: he was never weak, he was never cowardly, he was never . . . There was no, there was nothing in there—I couldn’t recognize myself in him at all, you know?1

[Read more...]

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,393 other followers