This series examines, from a somewhat naive point of view, the meaning of “infinite” in a number of contexts. Joseph Smith delves deeply into the infinite, and in particular in funeral sermons, even though he does not engage it with rigor. (Parts of this series appeared elsewhere.)
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Updated to now include video of the lecture.
Sponsored by Sunstone and Friends of the Marriott Library at the University of Utah
Relief Society sisters now have a new resource—a compact history of the Relief Society called Daughters of My Kingdom. The new manual, which is to be used from time to time for lessons given the first Sunday of each month, is not only unusual for its focus on women but for its chronological organization. Most Church manuals are organized thematically, offering little scope for discussing change over time. Despite its uplifting narrative, this manual may require a new set of skills. As teachers of women’s history know, you can’t just “add women and stir.”
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich taught her first Relief Society lesson more than fifty years ago, when she was an undergraduate attending a student ward at the University of Utah. She began teaching women’s history at the college level in 1975 when she was a graduate student at the University of New Hampshire. She is the author of many books and articles on early American history and women’s history and is now completing her first book-length work in Mormon history, “A House Full of Females: Family and Faith in Nineteenth-century Mormon Diaries.” She is 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University.
Which brings us back to Joseph Smith. [Read more...]
The below is a slightly edited version of a post I submitted to The Seeker. The post hasn’t been picked up (they prefer to only publish posts on topics where multiple different posts are submitted by the Seeker bloggers, and while the Amish beard cutting cult was a possible topic suggested, I was the only one to write on it.) But yesterday I saw the movie Martha Marcy May Marlene, a very intense portrayal of a young woman who got caught up with a group that is what in popular parlance would be called a “cult.” It wasn’t a religious group; they were located in the Catskills and were more like a 1960s free love commune on steroids. The leader of the group is portrayed by the actor John Hawkes, and he is terrific in the role. Anyway, watching this movie kind of pissed me off, because here is a group that clearly would be a cult in the popular conception of the word (the c-word is not used once in the movie, an excellent artistic choice), and yet conservative Protestant countercultists have so misused the word “cult” that, in a way, they have given such dangerous groups aid and comfort by lumping them in with established and safe Christian faiths with which such countercultists simply disagree theologically. So here are my thoughts: [Read more...]
On this Veterans Day it seems appropriate to reflect on a battle we’re all currently enlisted in, because we just lost a whole regiment today, so to speak. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared Africa’s western black rhino extinct today. Dialogue‘s recent issue focusing on the environment and Latter-day Saint thought (guest-edited by the beloved Steven Peck) got me thinking. Given our scriptures which declare that an important relationship exists between God, the earth, and humans, the loss of the black rhino should catch our attention.
We believe God created the heavens and the earth, and that male and female were created in God’s image. It’s in our scriptures and our rituals. I’ve been told there’s been a bit of debate on how all that creation stuff really shook out, but here I want to focus on the idea of God’s creation in terms of the fall of Eve and Adam, and all of their posterity, and our responsibilities to creation. [Read more...]
“Predestination” seems to be fundamentally an argument about power in the relationship between humans and God. To what degree is God directly involved in our everyday stuff? To oversimplify: a strict view of predestination might hold that God wills every single thing that occurs, from the flapping of the butterfly wing to the hurricane it [didn't] cause because God caused it. A loose view barely allows room for God to intervene in the world at all. God set things in motion, deist-like, and either can’t or won’t infringe on us lest he damages agency. Either of these positions (and the vast array of possibilities lying along the spectrum) entails a few unpleasant things.
Strict: I can rest with certainty if I’m chosen. But being chosen means others won’t be, which seems rather arbitrary and cruel.
Have you ever met a strict Calvinist who doesn’t feel they are elect? I haven’t
Loose: I have a degree of autonomy, I’m free to respond to God’s invitation. But what exactly do I have to do in order to measure up?
Have you ever met an exhausted Mormon? I have.
These aren’t the only points to be made, but this isn’t the place for a full discussion of Calvinism and Mormonism. Instead, I want to show how a recent book distinguishes the latter from the former. [Read more...]
While we believe we come “trailing clouds of glory” from a pre-mortal past, our scripture reading comes trailing clouds of interpretation from pre-Mormon centuries of hermeneutics. Our spirits weren’t created ex nihilo, nor are our assumptions while reading. This might raise a few eyebrows, but it seems to me that we members of the Church mingle the philosophies of men with scripture on a fairly regular basis. Not so much by incorporating particular ideas into our canon (though we do that too),1 but in the very way we approach scripture to begin with. The ways we read scripture mingle the words on the page with our implicit assumptions.
I realize this sounds like an indictment. But keep in mind that, according to Mormons, not everything the serpent says (“ye shall be as gods…“) is necessarily 100% false. A revelation to Joseph Smith states that God speaks to his servants “in their weakness, after the manner of their language.” A certain amount of mingling seems inevitable, so in my view the question isn’t really about whether it happens, but what we do about it.
One thing we can do is become more aware of our assumptions. Like any good Mormon might, we can start by learning our hermeneutical genealogy. That’s an exercise far outside the scope of a blog post and explorations are already underway elsewhere.2 I want to call attention here to one particular way the Enlightenment still affects our scripture reading today: in our view of biblical scholarship. [Read more...]
Spend an Evening with the Authors
We are excited to announce the arrival of Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism by Terryl L. Givens and Matthew J. Grow, published by Oxford University Press. We will have both authors at our store to speak about and sign their book on Friday, October 14. They will be here from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., speaking at 6:00, and will answer questions and sign books before and after that time. [Read more...]
The U.S. Armed Forces have a problem. Particularly since the advent of the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the incidence of sexual assault within the armed forces is high. Perhaps more disturbing, the majority of these assaults are perpetrated by fellow soldiers. As this link indicates, in the middle 00s 6 of 10 women in the military were victims of sexual assault or harassment. [Read more...]
[Note from Admin: Recently, while under the influence of some (allegedly) fermented root beer, a rogue BCC perma suggested that permas from M* and BCC switch places in the name of building bridges or increasing dialogue between two groups who often don't seem to play nicely with each other. Although no one was sure if anything would come of this proposal, Geoff B. has made good on his end of the agreement.]
Geoff B is a convert to the Church who writes for Millennial Star. http://www.millennialstar.org
For a relatively recent convert like myself, President Hinckley’s April 2003 talk right before the U.S. entered the Iraq war was very confusing. On the one hand, it was clear to me after reading the Book of Mormon two or three times by then that the Church’s message is one of peace, non-aggression and avoiding offensive wars. On the other, President Hinckley seemed to be justifying the Iraq invasion.
A new crop of women is coming of age, matriculating into the universe of higher education, and entering the workforce. They grew up in an age of intense marketing towards children, and an age of specialty marketing towards girls. The Disney film franchise was entering a Renaissance period with the release of “The Little Mermaid” in 1988–with a wide-eyed plucky mermaid dreaming about growing up and becoming part of the world, and then “Beauty and the Beast” in 1991 with a wide-eyed plucky village girl dreaming that there must be more than her provincial life. In fact, Disney made a fortune on remaking the image of girls in movies. The old Disney films were filled with beautiful but vapid, lifeless girls who needed to be saved by even more vapid, lifeless princes. This new crop of heroines were defined in a different way: pretty, plucky, adventurous–they were corporate packaged junior feminists. They got into scrapes, they got out of them, they learned to love, and everything came up roses. Ever wondered how Ariel would fare in corporate America….
As a young child I knew I had several male relatives, but outside the immediate family, my paternal grandfather and my Uncle Louis, I really didn’t have much to do with them. My mother’s brothers were basically all out of the picture for one reason or another, while my father’s family was whittled down by death to my Uncle Louis and my aunt who shall remain incognito.
My mind and heart are full today on this latest instance of Adventist disappointment. Most of my friends have enjoyed reasonably good-natured if sometimes hostile humor at the expense of the current iteration of muddled arithmetical exegesis, this time by a Protestant entrepreneur named Harold Camping. I’m sympathetic to their responses–the way Protestant millenarianism often presents itself is both arrogant and xenophobic. But one of my closest friends lost his mother this week, and today we bid her farewell in the LDS chapel that sheltered me for a crucial decade of my life. My heart is not in the Rapture parties staged by my friends and coworkers because my heart is with my friend and his family. As I reflected on the juxtaposition of C*’s funeral and the mostly good-natured mockery of Camping and his followers, I felt to attend more closely to the meanings that lurk behind Rapture rhetoric. In our shared grief, I want to draw out some of the important meanings hiding behind the half-silly, half-spiteful rhetoric that circulates around Rapture predictions. [Read more...]
One of my favorite bible translations is Da Jesus Book. This is a translation from Greek to Hawaiian Pidgin. This pidgin (properly a Creole if you are a stickler for linguistic accuracy), like many of the world’s pidgins, arose in the context of diverse people needing to speak together. [Read more...]
In 1907, in an effort to put in place a picture of Mormonism for a 20th century audience, the Church, by common consent, approved a list of beliefs as well as explanation and confirmation of a transitioning Mormonism. That effort may have had some impact within the Church, but its lasting effect as a new public direction in doctrine was minor in terms of its traction outside the Church and especially in the collective memory of the media, such as it was. [Read more...]
Disclaimer: Ok. This is over long. Nothing as exciting as the title intimates happens. It’s just rumination on aging. I wouldn’t bother with it.
Every year an old friend and I undertake an adventure. H. and I are middle aged now. Past our prime and youth when our adventures were bolder and more carefree. I can remember when we then, full of laughter, took his new pickup and rubbed its shiny sides against aspens for luck while searching out some secreted beaver dam in which to toss a fly. Now we fuss and fret. We worry endlessly about our kids and their kids and temper our exuberance with caution having faced too many sorrows and misfortunes since. We are stressed and plagued with the press of the day to day, and we both in demeanor have that worn edge that cheese graters achieve when used on granite. [Read more...]
My daughter has been on a major family history jag recently, and she’s turning into quite a little genealogist (better than her old man, anyway). She just sent me a wonderful treasure: a 21-page single-space typescript manuscript containing the first person memoir of Elizabeth Lee, which she wrote in January 1931 in Columbia. She was the older sister of my great grandmother Alice Lee. (This Lee family is related in some fashion to Harold B. Lee, but I haven’t tried to figure out exactly how.) I thought it was a wonderful window into what it was like to grow up as a girl in Utah in the 19th century, so I’m going to share a few excerpts with you here. (If she were alive today I suspect she’d be a perma at FMH.) Enjoy! [Read more...]
If you have spent much time with Latter-day Saint illustrated literature you have probably seen images of this painting:
The artist was James Taylor Harwood (1860-1940). Harwood’s story is interesting and Mormon-related if for no other reason than his LDS commissions to produce religious works like the one above (Come Follow Me – commissioned by the Deseret Sunday School Union) but it’s more interesting than that. To understand Harwood’s story, it is necessary to understand his parent’s and so we begin with James Harwood, James Taylor’s father.
The following is a submission from Ron Madson, written on February 23, 2011, the fourth anniversary of his father’s passing as a tribute to his legacy.
My father was a WWII veteran that served in Patton’s infantry in the European theatre. It wasn’t until he was 91 years old before he told me the details of his war experiences—and I am not aware if he told anyone else. My father was the most Christ-like person I have ever known. In the fall of 2002 I sat with my father listening to the war rhetoric seeking to justify our nation’s invasion of Iraq. This man, who rarely showed emotion and spoke seldom, emotionally told me that he did not believe that there was any scripture or Christian principle that would allow us to attack another country as we did in Afghanistan and were about to do in Iraq. He was certain that in our anger, fear and pride we, like the Nephites of old, were abandoning our covenant with the Lord by being the aggressor. He was hopeful that as a people we would surely denounce these wars. Knowing his character I am certain that if he were magically young again, he would have applied for conscientious objector status as to our current wars— as he would have in Viet Nam. [Read more...]
I’m impressed by the “Jesus is _____” campaign. It’s catchy, it has viral appeal, and what’s more it arrives at the desired result — driving a large discussion about Christ — without imposing a predetermined path to discussion or a forced conclusion. It’s sponsored by some large Protestant churches (the largest being here in Seattle), but despite the relatively narrow view of Christ offered by the sponsored religions the campaign invites large and open discussion and debate about who Jesus is and what he means to us. As the site explains, “So maybe the reality of who Jesus is remains too big for the blank.” [Read more...]
One of my older brothers who is dead now and can’t punish me for telling this story, was the family rebel (hereafter referred to as TR). By the time he turned 13 he smoked, had been in jail overnight for drunk driving (yes, that’s right, not juvy) and had experienced the charms of several older neighbor girls. We lived just on the edge of suburbia and beyond our house to the west were empty fields, formerly farmland, now lying fallow and destined for new subdivisions. If you went far enough the land became boggy, with salt pools forming the boundary of strips of muddy ground populated by weird weeds. As my brother matured, his misadventures multiplied but gradually he toned things down, entered the Army, got married and had several children. One passion we shared, one of the few, was cars.
If any of you fans of Mormon Studies happen to be in or around Logan this Thursday, be sure to check out the 16th Annual Leonard J. Arrington Mormon History Lecture, held in the Logan Tabernacle. Details below the fold.
This is the first in a multi-part series of posts on this topic. Sorry for the length.
Like most American elders in my mission, I promised countless investigators and churchmembers that one day I would return to Argentina to visit them. Unlike most American elders in my mission, I actually made good on that promise. Roughly 16 months after I returned home, I travelled back to Argentina with a friend who’d also served there — once-a-year BCC commenter John W — and together we embarked on a whirlwind tour of La Mision Bahia Blanca. Our trip was intended as part mission visit, part tourism, but once we arrived, we quickly jettisoned all touristic ambitions, and spent every day retracing our old stomping grounds, looking up every memorable person we’d ever had any meaningful interaction with. (We’d eventually hit 5 of my 7 areas, and 3 or 4 of John’s). It was quite the adventure…. in more ways than we ever anticipated.
In the fevered dreams of my pre-hormonal, prepubescent youth, my deeply felt lust focused on two material desires: I wanted a tent and a mini-bike. It was such a disappointment to dream about these things and then awake to the realization that no, I didn’t really own them. I eventually would actually obtain a tent, but I never did get the mini-bike. Which is just as well. Because eventually I got something even better–an actual motorcycle. [Read more...]
WARNING: This post is gross.
The Mormon Mission experience is a significant rite of passage for many LDS young men and women. But there is another important rite of passage within this rite of passage — at least for a signficant subset of LDS missionaries — that is less widely recognized. I refer, of course, to the various intestinal adventures experienced by elders and sisters who serve in the Third World. Many of us have stories about our adventures; not all of them warrant a retelling, to be sure. But some do. And I flatter myself in believing mine does, so here goes:
It is estimated that today nearly one billion people will watch the FIFA World Cup final. One billion. When have one billion people spread across the globe ever done anything simultaneously? On this, football’s most holy day, I thought I would attempt the beginnings of an explanation for football’s near universal appeal. [Read more...]
I’ve often wondered how much of an effect foreign missions have had on the culture of the church and its members. I know that for individuals, two years or eighteen months living in a different culture is life changing. Often missionaries return to change their majors, career plans etc. I also know many returned missionaries who have chosen to live overseas, recognizing from their mission experiences that they enjoy the adventure of it. [Read more...]
One of my family’s favorite family history personalities is Byron W. Brown. He spent his early childhood in Kirtland, OH, then emigrated to Utah, then helped shepherd subsequent wagon trains. There are wild stories of his buffalo wrangling adventures and suspense-filled stories of his participation in Utah’s Black Hawk War. One reason we have such copious information about him, compared to others in our family of that time, is that he had ample free time to write while he served out a federal sentence for perjury.
WARNING: This is a story that admits that some men, even Mormon men, are interested in having sex with women, and that some BYU students don’t keep the Honor Code. If these facts bother you, then don’t read this story; you will not enjoy it.
I wrote this for a writing class in 1995. At that time I was inactive but recognized that my Mormon background would be interesting to my classmates.
I saw Ellen at a party in November of 1991, and she glowed with a dark and dignified sexuality. Jameson , a former roommate of mine, was throwing a 1960s-themed costume party at his house. Most of the guests wore thrift-store Woodstock cliché to match the Grateful Dead oozing out of the speakers in another room. Ellen stood tall over the kafkans and macramé in an A-lined gogo-styled minidress with a geometric black and white pattern. A matching scarf neatly pulled her strait brown hair back, except her bangs, which hung low over dark, small eyes made darker with makeup. She wore the white knee-high boots like she had born in them. She looked, well, cool. In a room full of undergraduates hyper with the illusion of social release and the faint but palpable hope that the faded bell-bottoms and the pretense of being stoned might reveal something interesting in them that J. Crew and earnest discussions abut the Gulf War did not, Ellen radiated honesty. Her costume seemed to reveal something true about her rather than masking her identity. There was no trace of self-consciousness about her at all.
Of course, it is now impossible to look at that moment with real objectivity; the filter of the years between now and then and our common experience undoubtedly warp and color my memory. The truth is that I cannot remember Ellen ever being self-conscious about anything. We were once caught sunbathing nude by a National Park ranger, and she showed no sign of shame, defensiveness, indignation, or even titillation. The ranger’s over-polite request that we put clothes on seemed to strike her with the same moral force as a reminder to not feed the bears. Standing across the room at the party in her Nancy Sinatra boots, she may have exuded more complex and highly manipulated emotions, but if so, they are lost as I place that event in the context of our lives together. [Read more...]