As Mormons we believe strongly in the principle of agency. Modern scripture tells us that the War in Heaven was fought over it.  And yet this belief sometimes leads us to believe that, as W. E. Henley famously put it, “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.”  Aside from the doctrinal insistence that Jesus should be the captain of our souls, and acknowledging that Henley’s poem can be of use when we need to rouse ourselves against the troubles that surround us, the reality remains that much about our lives remains outside our control.  It may be true in the ultimate sense that we control our destinies, but in many ways we simply don’t have such control in the short, medium, and even the long term of our mortal lives. The unexpected has a way of occurring, no matter how righteous we may be. And in this respect, it sometimes seems as though Life—or its nefarious human agents—is out to get us.
In September, I blogged about The Myth of Traditional Marriage, reviewing studies from Stephenie Coontz’ book Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage. As a follow up, I wanted to explore how we as Mormons can build stronger marriages.
The world is changing, and if we want to strengthen marriages, we need to deal with the reality that exists. A few things have drastically changed in the last fifty years. [Read more…]
One of the benefits of having lived so close to the edge for so long is not taking things for granted. I know what it’s like to be facing losing (and then actually losing) my home. I know what it’s like to lose a loved one to addiction, to parent alone, to be afraid, to be facing homelessness, to be dependent on the charity of others. I know the sting and humiliation of throwing my lot at the mercy of an overworked DSHS caseworker in hopes of receiving aid. I know what it feels like to have our names on paper ornaments on the Giving Christmas Tree, where a “Boy, Age 8″ would like some Legos and a coat. I know well the spaces inhabiting our periphery, the margins of our lives, where we all hope to never go, and where hope is all you’ve got if you get there. [Read more…]
Those who hunger and thirst after religious news have been blessed over the last week, as the Roman Catholic church has held an extraordinary general assembly synod (or council) of bishops with the subject, “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization”. In other words, this group of bishops is particularly focused on ministering to families in the modern age, and in finding answers quickly. Some basic information on the Synod can be found here, but the newsworthy item is that the Synod has just issued its mid-term report, and it is a really interesting read. It presents some limited parallels to Mormon approaches to families (including non-traditional families), and provides an interesting comparison to our own Proclamation on the Family.
UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA
FEBRUARY 27-28, 2015
The Faith and Knowledge Conference was established in 2006 to bring together LDS graduate students in religious studies and related disciplines in order to explore the interactions between religious faith and scholarship. During the past four conferences, students have shared their experiences in the church and the academy and the new ideas that have emerged as a result. Papers and conversations provided thought-provoking historical, exegetical, and theoretical insights and compelling models of how to reconcile one’s discipleship with scholarly discipline.
Julie Smith over at Times and Seasons has done an excellent job of covering the decision to edit the word “fourth” out of Elder Bruce A. Carlson’s prayer opening the Priesthood session of General Conference. Public Affairs eventually responded to Smith’s request for an explanation by saying:
While the women’s meetings have long been an important part of general conference week, they are not usually referred to as a session of general conference. Edits are routinely made to general conference proceedings prior to publication of the official record. In this case a simple edit was made by the conference producer to reflect the usual numbering of the sessions.
What’s striking about this statement are the words “routinely” and “usual,” which have the effect of taking something many saw as significant and asserting that it was in fact banal all along—as if to say, to those of us who dared believe that something extraordinary had happened, “Everything is normal: nothing to see here.” That Carlson’s prayer apparently built on the momentum of President Uchtdorf’s words opening the General Women’s Meeting, only to have the effort stifled by the bureaucratic inertia of “routinely” and “usual,” indicates one of the challenges of bringing change to a large and complex organization. (At this point it’s worth noting that Carlson was taking his lead not from rabble-rousing feminists, but from a counselor in the First Presidency, someone we sustained last weekend as a prophet, seer, and revelator. Carlson, too, seems to have believed that the prophetic can occur at General Conference.)
A recent article outlines a presentation by a family-friendly NGO, the UN Family Rights Caucus, to a panel discussion at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva as a follow-up to the successful passage of a resolution on the “Protection of the Family” (A/HRC/26/L.20/Rev.1) earlier in the summer. [Read more…]
I was asked to give the faculty address at Stanford’s annual LDS Convocation, held in Stanford Memorial Church. This is the text of my remarks.
October 9, 2014
In Computer Science, our traditional greeting is, “Hello, world” So, “Hello, world!”
My task this evening is to join our identities as scholars and saints, and so I want to explain what I think is a particularly Mormon moral obligation we assume as members of the Stanford community. [Read more…]
[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]
Today is the first full day of Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles, one of several Jewish holidays that I have long felt a certain amount of holy envy for. I love it for several reasons: because it is, at heart, a harvest festival, associated with the “ingathering” of crops and taking comfort in the bounties of the land; because it focuses our attention on the element of “place” in those rituals (both divine and mundane) that attend our building of our own homes and lives; but mostly, I think, because it conveys a permanent sense of the transitional in those very same bounties and that same sense of hominess and belonging. All Israel was commanded, during the days of the feast, to build booths or temporary shelters for themselves out in the fields, to leave their homes and beds and sleep and eat their meals inside them for seven days, to remind them of their special–but also always perilous–dependent relationship with God, who led them out of Egypt and made possible everything they were or had. Anyway, herewith, seven thoughts: [Read more…]
Does Mormonism have a theology? My gut response, as someone who reads 17th-century theological debate for fun, is to say “no.” We do not, as a people, engage in the sort of definitional arguments that characterize formal theology. Ask someone after sacrament meeting what kind of Christology Mormonism has and you’ll probably still make it to Sunday School on time (unless that someone is Blake Ostler). This isn’t to say that your typical Mormon is stupid for not knowing what Christology is, or for not being able to place Mormon belief within the historical arguments about it. The typical Catholic probably couldn’t do that either. The difference is that Catholicism has a long history of philosophical engagement with these questions, and Mormonism doesn’t. Our engagement tends to be more ad hoc, with an Orson Pratt here and a Sterling McMurrin there. At present, in addition to Ostler (and approaching theology in a quite different way), we have the triumvirate of Jim Faulconer, Adam Miller, and Joseph Spencer.
I’ve been a little . . . ill disciplined in continuing this series (sorry, Melody), but the next one seems very appropriate.
Of all the Spiritual Disciplines, none has been more abused than the Discipline of submission (Richard Foster).
The recent LDS General Conference has served another reminder that Mormons greatly value submission to God through his prophets, which submission is admitted to sometimes be difficult but always right. As the Lectures on Faith suggest, “a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.”
One does not need to look far, however, to see the evils to which religious submission can be bent. Foster is probably right: “Nothing can be put people into bondage like religion, and nothing in religion has done more to manipulate and destroy people than a deficient teaching on submission.” Let us be careful. [Read more…]
I watched Elder Oaks’ Saturday afternoon remarks with great interest; being somewhat familiar with talks he has given over the last few years, I anticipated that he would address the issue of same-sex marriage, as he has done in the past. And while same-sex marriage was one of the subtexts that ran throughout his address, Elder Oaks’ topic was instead on the challenge of loving others and living with differences. He focused on a key question: why is it so difficult to have Christlike love for one another? He addressed that question and by so doing, offered counsel that was heartily welcome if not new. [Read more…]
Peter Enns is an evangelical Christian and a Bible scholar—two identity markers that’ve raised a few conflicts for him. Which really is too bad, because he seems like a pretty faithful, intelligent, funny guy. At least, he seems like that based on this faithful, intelligent, and funny book he just wrote about the Bible. It’s called The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It.
I think a lot of Mormons could really benefit from Enns’s experience. [Read more…]
“…look to the poor and needy and administer to their relief, that they shall not suffer.” Now note the imperative verb in that passage: “They SHALL not suffer.” That is language God uses when he means business.
On Saturday afternoon, Jeffrey R. Holland stood at the podium delivered a gut-wrenching punch to all Latter-day Saints on what it means to actually live as a Christian. Being a follower of the Savior means acknowledging very real commandments, not mere suggestions, on what it means to dedicate our lives to following the Son of Man. [Read more…]
It’s time to recap the latest General Conference through the medium of GIFs like I did six months ago. First, a few quick observations about General Conference and social media:
- I swear that the Pinterest memes with scrolly fonts and pictures of nature are up before the speaker even finishes the talk. What is up with that? Also, does it remind anyone else of Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy?
- I started to struggle to tell the difference between the tweets about General Conference and the other random tweets I was getting throughout the weekend. Perhaps it’s the medium, but here are a couple that showed up that gave me pause:
- “Lets all be compassionate to those folks who are now moving away from Climate Change Denial and those who are stuck. Life is for learning.” 
- “Facts have no agenda. They can’t be racist or sexist or bias in any way. They can’t be softened or changed to avoid offence. They just are.” 
On to the GIFs:
I understand some of you spent last night watching some game where guys run around carrying a ball that isn’t even spherical, when you could have been watching an epic Giants-Nationals game that ran the longest in MLB post-season history: 18 innings for the Giants win. The game clocked in at 6 hours 23 minutes, shattering the previous playoffs record by over half an hour. And here we gather for hours 7 and 8 of the general sessions of General Conference weekend….
As a reminder, all comments on this thread will be moderated by me. Giants fans only, please.
DAY 2, people! Or maybe Day 3? By President Uchtdorf’s reckoning, we’re heading into the fifth session of this General Conference. Happy Sunday morning.
Steve left a comment on WVS’s lovely post a few days ago that rang true: “I wonder if Conference hasn’t lost some of its power because of the ease for watching.”
With that in mind, if you’re sitting on a comfy sectional, or reclined in an easy chair, or propped up with pillows behind you and waffles in front of you, join us in making this session a “lean-forward” one. Take some notes. Share your thoughts out loud with those around you. Tweet. Leave comments here (though take note: we’re modding with a heavy hand this weekend, as you might have noticed yesterday. More on that here.)
If you’re just tuning in, yesterday’s session notes are here, here and PH session is here. There were some remarkable talks—Holland, Oaks, Esplin, Uchtdorf, Wong, Packer, Cook, Eyring, and Monson seemed to be especially impactful on our readers and #ldsconf tweeters. Here’s hoping that spirit continues today.
On with the live coverage!
It’s going to take a heckuva Priesthood session to top the sessions earlier today, folks. Get ready to be translated.
President Henry B Eyring conducting, music from the MTC Choir all the way up from beautiful Provo, Utah!
Opening Hymn: Rise Up, Oh Men of God
Opening Prayer, called the 4th Session of General Conference! (hooah!)
Oh goody! The men are going to sing a medley of children’s songs, too! [Read more…]
Choir is from Grantsville, Stansbury Park, and Tooele–Holly Bevin, conducting, Linda Margetts at the organ. President Uchtdorf conducting (the meeting, not the choir, I presume).
Opening Hymn: Arise, O God and Shine (props for not breathing between “streams” and “of.” And the descant on the last verse sounded great.) [Read more…]
And lo, the Aggies did crush the Coogers, and it was gray and navy and delightsome and if you disagree with me then good luck trying to get your comments in on this thread!
We’re about an hour or so from the start of the session, so feel free to comment on your cereal, your clothing, your key words and candy rewards, or whatever else you’d like until the top of the hour when I’m going to turn on the filter a bit. As for me and my house, we will serve the pancakes.
And we’re underway! [Read more…]
I have two memories of war as a child. The first was during the Falkland’s Conflict in 1982. We were on holiday in France and my father would listen to BBC World Service Radio to hear reports about the battle to reclaim the Falkland Islands from Argentina.
The second was in 1991 when the First Gulf War against Iraq began. School stopped as we watched images of the air war on the TV.
In both memories, war was a very big deal. [Read more…]
General Conference has its own culture but the present version of that culture is rather modern. It has been used as a medium to announce policy changes or revelations, for a long time, certainly. But addresses at conference were not particularly regarded as “revelation” in any formal sense in say, the nineteenth century. The April-October cycle seemed firmly in place for headquarters meetings by Nauvoo, but certainly June was almost as important historically prior to that. What is the most important conference ever? I think one could argue that June 1831 was important, and November 1831 too. October 1830 is up there. But of course these were tiny gatherings compared to today’s giant (media) audiences. April 1844 was certainly influential (though it was not a general conference for technical reasons). August 1844 was mightily important, and August 1852 ranks up there. And what about October 1978?
Over on the blog Peculiar People, Joe Spencer has taken Michael Austin’s recent book Re-Reading Job to task for promising, and then not providing, a “Mormon Job.” Instead, as he notes, Michael Austin draws from the reception history and secular investigation of Job to provide a helpful overview of this very difficult work, with some devotional content. Austin does spend quite a bit of time critiquing the Sunday School manual’s approach (read the first two chapters and the last, with a couple of other verses thrown in), deconstructing the most common Mormon approach, but he doesn’t offer a Mormon approach to replace it. Or does he?
Conference weekends are big weekends for church bloggers. There’a lot of traffic, a lot of comments, a lot of tweets. We’re going to try something a little different this weekend, so we hope you’ll bear with us. Here’s the scoop. [Read more…]
It seems to me that one of the major challenges of the 21st century involves figuring out how to be present to other people. Technology has given us so many ways of connecting with others, but with these opportunities come some obstacles as well. Part of the value of social media is the way that it can help us keep connected regularly with distant friends, but these connections can often be fairly shallow. For that person who sat across the room from you in middle school math class, this might be okay, but with closer friendships it can feel like a hollowed-out version of something once solid. And in rare cases, social media can foster real friendships with people we’ve never met in real life. Conversely, social media and other forms of technological connection can distance us from the people with whom we are (or ought to be) present all the time, especially our families. Given Joseph Smith’s teachings about friendship as “the grand fundamental principle of Mormonism” and about the eternal potential of family relationships, I believe that figuring out how to be present to other people is a pretty powerful theological imperative. In a recent post I thought about these questions in terms of heaven; for this post, I turn to the here and now. [Read more…]