Some Thoughts on Dante, Fence Sitting in the Pre-Existence, and Worthiness Interviews

“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.”—Dante Alighieri (as reimagined by Dan Brown through John F. Kennedy)

The above bit of folk wisdom does not come from Dante. It is a wholly modern misquotation first fumbled by Harvard graduate John F. Kennedy in a speech about the Peace Corps and then adopted by Dan Brown’s fictional Harvard symbologist, Robert Langdon in the multi-kazillion dollar bestseller Inferno. Harvard, apparently, has been slipping a bit in the Italian Classics Department. [Read more…]

(Mis)reading Scripture

book-of-mormon-and-bibleA seemingly evergreen issue in the bloggernacle: what do we do about prooftexting? On the one hand, it allows us to apply scripture to ourselves. On the other, it suggests that scripture, as written, is not up to the task of explicating the gospel and, instead, must be stretched and tortured to tell us what we need to know.[fn1]

An example: at church last year, discussion briefly turned to what we do when traditional Mormon readings of scripture turn out to be significant misreadings.[fn2] It came up in the context of God commanding Ezekiel to combine the stick of Joseph with the stick of Judah. The Gospel Doctrine manual explains that the stick of Judah is the Bible and the stick of Joseph is the Book of Mormon.  [Read more…]

Book Review: Adam S. Miller, “Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan”

MillerAdam S. Miller, Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan: An Urgent Paraphrase of Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Self-published, 2015). Amazon: $8.99 paperback; $3.99 Kindle.

John Locke, in the preface to his posthumously published paraphrases of Paul’s letters, inveighs against the division of the text into chapters and verses because it hinders comprehension of the text as a unified whole. To understand Paul, Locke says, one ought to read the epistles in a single sitting, again and again, until the big picture begins to coalesce. This advice is the most difficult to implement with Romans, Paul’s longest and most complicated epistle, so a well-done paraphrase offers a way in.

Adam Miller’s new paraphrase sets out to address another obstacle: the difficulty that emerges in the culturally specific details and rhetorical tangles of Paul’s complex argument, which becomes only slightly less difficult when read in the NIV or NRSV than it was in the 400-year-old KJV. Miller, then, aims to “translate” Paul not just into a modern idiom, but into a modern context. Since he considers the message of Romans “urgent,” as his title proclaims, he strives to show the relevance of its argument for 21st century readers. [Read more…]

Clarissa Smith Williams

The 1920s signaled a shift toward “second generation” Mormonism. In 1921, the Relief Society received its first Utah-born president, Clarissa Smith Williams, just as Heber J. Grant had become the first Utah-born Church president in 1918. Few people could have been as prepared for the calling as Williams was: her mother, Susan West, married the church historian and apostle George A. Smith, meaning not only that Clarissa literally grew up in the midst of Church headquarters, but also that she had a lifelong association with Bathsheba W. Smith, George’s first wife, a counselor in the General Relief Society Presidency from 1888, and its president from 1901-1910. Bathsheba involved the precocious Clarissa (whose organizational skills led a brother to dub her, even at a young age, “the Little General”) in Relief Society work from an early age, and even predicted that one day she’d become its president. [1] Just like Mormon, Clarissa was a sober child and quick to observe. [Read more…]

Lent III

There is a much arid earth between Egypt and the Promised Land and thus the complaint to Moses sounds reasonable, given the circumstances:

The people quarrelled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst? (Exodus 17).

Here we are a few weeks into Lent and for many of us so many of those good intentions we had back in Egypt are broken. In the wilderness, we have failed. On Ash Wednesday we thought that this Lent would be the one, the one in which spiritual discipline would whisk us all the way to Easter on a cloud of religious glory. Not so, for in our wilderness of Sin, there seems to be no water, despite our hope that things would be different this time. God is right: “This people are wayward in their hearts; they do not know my ways” (Psalm 95). Yes, but that is the way of us, Lord. Have mercy and let the water flow anew. [Read more…]

MHA at 50

50th[1]

The Mormon History Association was founded at a meeting in San Francisco in 1965. For those of you with math skillz, that means that this year (2015) is the 50-year anniversary of the MHA. And to celebrate, Vol. 41 No. 1 (2015) of the Journal of Mormon History is a special issue in honor of the anniversary, guest edited by Spencer Fluhman and Doug Alder. My intention here is to give a brief synopsis of this special issue and then to offer some reflections of my own experience with MHA. [Read more…]

I Thought BCC Could Use Some Mommy Blogging

Some say women can have it all. Some say they cannot. I never really understood the debate until today. [Read more…]

I Stand All Amused

Church is different things to different people. It can be a respite, a haven. It can be divisive; it can knit us together. It is often boring. It can fill us with peace or with pain, and sometimes both within the same meeting. It can be the source of angst and pure joy. But I hope we can all agree that church is the best when it’s funny. The following are my favorite remembrances of irreverent laughter – the kind that causes you to slump over in your pew to hide your shameful shoulder-shaking and tear-wiping from God and the bishop. [Read more…]

Howard W. Hunter

“I feel ours is the mission to serve and to save, to build and to exalt.”

– Howard W. Hunter

Howard W. Hunter, November 14, 1907 – March 3, 1995 (source: http://tinyurl.com/nyepynv)

Howard W. Hunter, November 14, 1907 – March 3, 1995 (source: http://tinyurl.com/nyepynv)

Howard W. Hunter served for only nine months as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, from June 4, 1994 until his death on March 3, 1995, the shortest period of any Church President so far. A banker, lawyer, and accomplished musician, he was called to be an Apostle on October 10, 1959 by President David O. McKay, who had recently dedicated the Los Angeles, California temple (1956) with the support of President Hunter, who was then serving as the President of the Pasadena, California Stake with the responsibility of organizing the open house and dedication of that temple.

President Hunter faced many medical problems during his time in Church service, for which he became somewhat known, including a heart attack, broken ribs from a fall at general conference, heart bypass surgery, bleeding ulcers, kidney failure, hospitalization for exhaustion, and finally prostate cancer that spread to his bones in the last few months of his life. He had faced health problems since his earliest childhood when as a four year old — and nearly half a century before the polio vaccine was revealed through painstaking scientific discovery — he suffered from polio, which reportedly affected his back for the rest of his life. His dedicated service through much pain and suffering occasioned by these medical problems made his life a model of “enduring to the end,” an important tenet of Mormon doctrine closely associated with exercising faith in Jesus Christ and regular repentance for falling short of true Christian discipleship as the way to demonstrate acceptance of and dedication to the Atonement of Jesus Christ in one’s personal life (1 Nephi 13:37). [Read more…]

Animals, Ranked

To some–notably John F.–ranking things is not a worthy endeavor. But Steve and I know better, and we know that ranking things is the responsibility of every Latter-day Saint as part of the building of Zion. It is part of our faith. Indeed, you could say that Steve and I follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things should be ranked, we hope all things will be ranked, we have ranked many things, and hope to be able to rank all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek to rank these things. If there are any things that aren’t like those other things, we seek to rank those things also. Today, Animals!

manimal

As always, these rankings are authoritative.
[Read more…]

I Hope that My Redeemer Lives

“I am a Christian by Yearning. Opposed to my doubt and perversity is a longing that the gospel be true. Christians are made, said the apostle Paul, of faith, hope, and charity. Though I have little charity and less faith, perhaps I have hope in some abundance.”—Levi Peterson

I have been thinking about Levi Peterson’s classic essay “A Christian by Yearning” a lot recently. It articulates better than anything I know current state of my spiritual understanding, which lies somewhere in between Bruce R. McConkie’s absolute certainty that he was on the verge of meeting Christ and C.S. Lewis’s recollection that, before his conversion, he was “very angry with God for not existing.” Between the poles of faith and doubt, I find hope in great abundance. [Read more…]

How to teach girls in your stake computer programming

crowd

Photo by Queen Scarlett http://www.queenscarlett.com/ [2]

This is a report back on a successful Saturday activity I ran in our stake this year (what is a stake? see note at the bottom of the article). I hope to convey enough detail that others can replicate this activity in their stakes, spreading the joy and usefulness of coding far and wide! The purpose of the activity was to teach all the girls in the stake, ages 8-18, how to write computer programs, and contextualize the importance of developing divine skills (such as coding) within the gospel. In my day job, I teach computer programming to undergraduate and graduate students, and I’m passionate about broadening participation in our field to include more women and people of color. This activity was, for me, a unique opportunity to bring my professional and gospel lives together. I had a blast, and so did the girls!

[Read more…]

Final call for Canterbury

4262004_60958_2It’s five weeks and a day before the Canterbury pilgrimage (beginning April 7). A reminder that there are ways to participate that don’t necessarily mean participating in the whole event: join us for food at The George Inn in Southwark, for Evensong at St. Paul’s, for the fireside at BYU London, in walking from Detling to Canterbury via Ashford, or from Canterbury to Dover on the Via Francigena. Go to the event’s page for more details: https://www.facebook.com/events/1501719523403545.

Lent II

Psalm 121, BCP Psalter, Coverdale, 1662, St Paul’s Cathedral Choir

* * *

For the high born, whose name and social position — and wealth — often stems directly from his or her birth, the doctrine that “except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3) is a troubling proposition. This certainly seems to have been the case with the Pharisee Nicodemus, a “ruler of the Jews” (John 3:1) and a “master of Israel” (John 3:10), who flirted with Christian discipleship during Christ’s ministry. Will I lose my name, my status, my wealth if I am thus “born again”? These considerations perhaps reveal Nicodemus’ question to Jesus — “How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” (John 3:4) — as a sincere concern rather than the smart-alecky provocation visible in some popular versions of the story. [Read more…]

Family History Road Trip

We caught up with the wagon train at the California Trial interpretive center.

We caught up with the wagon train at the California Trail interpretive center.

I live in Vienna while the rest of my side of the family remains scattered across the western United States. Thanks to a confluence of favorable factors, we are able to make an annual visit to the old homestead each year for several weeks, which has led to a tradition of a trip within a trip–we fly home, spend about a week moving from couch to couch paying our respects, then take a week to be tourists and travel somewhere I never got around to visiting while growing up , and wrap things up by cooling our heels at the parental roost for a few days.

[Read more…]

From God to Garcia

My heart goes out to the man who . . . . when given a letter for Garcia, quietly takes the missive, without asking any idiotic questions. . . .Civilization is one long, anxious search for just such individuals. Anything such a man asks will be granted. He is wanted in every city, town and village—in every office, shop, store and factory. The world cries out for such: he is needed and needed badly—the man who can “Carry a Message to Garcia.”–Elbert Hubbard

The list of the world’s bestselling books over time (factoring out recent publishing phenomena like Harry Potter and The DaVinci Code) is a fascinating sociological study in its own right. It includes several books around which whole cultures have been organized (The Bible, Quotations from Chairman Mao), and others that changed the way people thought and learned (The McGuffey Readers, Dr. Spock’s Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care). And coming in at #6 is perhaps the most unlikely bestseller in the history of either unlikeness or bestsellers: Elbert Hubbard’s forgotten business classic, A Message to Garcia (1899) [Read more…]

George Herbert: Shepherd and Peacemaker

The 1630s—the decade of George Herbert’s death—were a tense period in the history of the English church. William Laud, bishop of London since 1628, became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633. He came to office with an ambitious program of reform designed to bring unity to a fracturing polity. The fault lines had begun to show in 1625 when Puritans began to turn the methods honed in the anti-Catholic pamphlet wars on the bishops of their own church. Laud hoped to bring unity by simmering down the conflict with Rome, but this of course only fostered further accusations that he was a crypto-papist. Instead of bringing peace, Laud’s program culminated in two disastrous wars with Scotland—events that helped precipitate the civil wars of the 1640s. [Read more…]

Religion of a Different Color

RoaDC

Review of W. Paul Reeve, Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 335 pages, with Notes and an Index. [Read more…]

Temple Prep for Daughters: Brace Yourself

This post is an honest and personal admission of my raw feelings about attending the temple as a woman and my budding concerns as the mother of a daughter. [Read more…]

Mormon Space Doctrine: A Necessary Embarrassment?

Kolob_CoverI was recently introduced to something called “the Kolob theorem.” It arose in an otherwise sensible Mormon discussion of astronomy and cosmology and was seamlessly introduced into the conversation alongside other theories such as the Big Bang and the multiverse. Its proponents are otherwise normal, well-educated Mormons who generally say sensible things. [Read more…]

Seeing the sites, II

I recently was in St. George with my family. We have been there before, but this time we went to some new spots.
[Read more…]

Historicity, Schmistoricity

There has been much internet controversy in the bloggernacle and on facebook of late regarding the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Julie Smith recently wrote an excellent summary of why it is (or, at least, probably should be) beside the point. But I’m going to go one further. I’m going to state that the debate is, in its heart, inherently silly and self-contradictory. Allow me to explain. [Read more…]

Word of Wisdom Violations, Ranked

Are we reaching the bottom of the barrel? Are we running out of things to rank? A day may come when the supply of things to rank fails, when Steve and I forsake our weekly foray into meaningless listicle nonsense and break all commitments to carrying on this ridiculous tradition, but it is not this day. No, today we rank violations of the Word of Wisdom, in order of least to most sinful.

cooking wine

As always, these rankings are authoritative.
[Read more…]

The Most Controversial Bloggernacle Post in the 6,000-Year History of the World. This Week, at Least.

Historicity.

Honest Prayer of a Nervous Home Seller

Dear Lord, help me sell this house before the snow melts, because a peaceful blanket of your winter moisture over my backyard will be the only acceptable camouflage for that neglected jungle.

Bless my eyes to open to new visions, and see the scuff marks upon the walls that have hidden in plain sight lo these many years.

Please send slightly unimaginative buyers to my door, that they may see the beautiful golf course next door, but not comprehend the possibility of a plague of mulligans that shatter the glass of house and auto and cause the sin of profanity.  And while you’re at it Lord, bless the untalented golfers to send their mulligans to the right—not to the direction of my vulnerable abode.  Send the balls to the right and the cash-buyers to the left.

[Read more…]

Lent I

That Lent should be a season of joy seems, well, not quite right. Why voluntarily enter a world of deprivation when life is usually hard enough as it is? We can hardly follow Jesus into the wilderness if that’s where we’re already living, having been cast out of Eden alongside Adam and Eve. Sin and death really do seem to have the dominion here.

Moreover, this privation is supposed to make us like God, knowing good and evil. Knowing as much about evil as we apparently do, might not some good usefully correct the balance? Meanwhile, we kvetch: our bones wither away, because of our groaning all day long. [Read more…]

Living Theology: Lowell L. Bennion

Where to start with Lowell Bennion, a man whose virtues almost defy enumeration? Best, perhaps, to follow his own example and cut to “the weightier matters.” [1] Although he was a theologian, teaching thousands of students in his decades as director of the Salt Lake City Institute that religion should involve the mind and the spirit (a message distilled into his classic book Religion and the Pursuit of Truth), Bennion’s greatest theological impact came from how he lived his life, inspired by these favorite words from Micah: “what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”
[Read more…]

Margaret’s Heart of Africa

DSCN2836We were staying at a nice tourist hotel in Arba Minch, Ethiopia near the Nechisar National Park that borders Lake Abaya in the great Rift Valley. High cinderblock walls topped with broken glass and concertina wire surrounded pleasant little duplex bungalows in which we stayed. It was a nice hotel. My room had a sit-down toilet in one corner and a large bucket beside a garden hose, which I could use to fill the bucket to flush the toilet. There was also a large dipper that I could use to ladle water from the bucket and pour over me in case I wanted to take a shower (and I did, because it was kind of hot). As I maneuvered the mosquito netting around my bed, I was pleased to catch the scent of pyrethroids that meant an added layer of protection from malaria-carrying mosquitos. Here people still die from diseases that for us no longer pose a problem—malaria, measles, typhoid, even polio, that we (until recently) had eradicated. [Read more…]

Shrove Tuesday/Ash Wednesday

MLP

MLP

Mormon Lectionary Project: Ash Wednesday

Joel 2:1-2,12-172 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10Matthew 6:1-6,16-21Psalm 103; 2 Nephi 4: 15-35

The Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Like Advent, Lent signals new life on the horizon. Shorn of all the secular trappings of Easter, the beginning of Lent is thus, along with First Advent, perhaps holier than the holiday it precedes. It is a day worth paying attention to, but in doing so, we admit our Anglo-Catholic tendencies. We Protestants (and Mormonism, whatever its doctrinal divergences, is culturally low church Protestant) have had an uneasy relationship with Lent, the 40 days (not counting Sundays) between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Henry VIII, for example, allowed the eating of dairy products, hitherto forbidden during Lent, in his new English church. The Puritans abolished Lent altogether before it was reinstated by Charles II in 1664. By Victorian times, it had almost disappeared from English custom as one Yorkshireman ruefully noted in 1865: [Read more…]

Mormon LGBT Outreach: Part I

In November of 2013, my stake president, Thomas Fairbanks, asked me to spearhead “gay and lesbian outreach” in the Seattle North Stake.  Seattle is the new San Francisco – our city has a large gay population, both inside and outside the Church.  But very few openly gay or lesbian church members attend services in our wards.  In President Fairbanks’ mind, this wasn’t an ideal state of affairs.  If the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is what it claims to be, if it contains a religious message and provides a spiritual environment that everyone can benefit from – regardless of their individual life paths and circumstances – then we should be a community that welcomes everyone into the communal life of the church.  “Everyone” includes our LGBT brothers and sisters. [Read more…]

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 10,729 other followers