We still have several weeks until the October General Conference, and given what’s happened in the meantime, many Mormons like me are concerned it could be gloat-mageddon. If I were putting together a General Conference, here are the things I would include and what I would cut. Of course this is already unrealistic because there are over a dozen speakers, each of whom has his or her own areas of focus and points of view. But this is my list; YMMV. I’ll start with the Fears and end with the Hopes. [Read more...]
This is the first in a series of posts on memories of Joseph Smith. One should always be cautious with memories, even for immediate events. So much of what we remember is colored by the bio-“technology” of perception and the ability of our brains to fill in the gaps of the past, while simultaneously supplying interpretive links to present worldview and belief. Studies of memory, especially distant memories, suggest that those recollections rarely represent accurate reproductions of past events. Moreover, people who recalled Joseph Smith’s sayings or acts were rarely disinterested bystanders. That said, these memories are interesting for what they may tell us of Joseph but perhaps more about those who remembered him.
So, it had been a long time since I had been to the temple. I’m talking years. I don’t have a good sense of how many; certainly more than two. Maybe five or something like that. This was strictly a function of my fundamental laziness. I used to go maybe four to six times a year, but working in the City and commuting by train it’s hard for me to do it on a week night. So often I would go on Saturdays, but then they started encouraging locals not to do that so that they could accommodate all the people coming in from out of town. These days, now that the temple district has been repeatedly cannibalized from various temples being constructed in what used to be a huge district, that concern probably doesn’t exist anymore, but I still have that directive rattling around in my brain. And when my TR expired, getting a new one was a hassle. I’m psychologically not down with having to return to church after the three-hour block, and having to do two interviews is a pain. And the Stake one can be a difficult get. But, to make a long story short, my blogmates recently inspired me to get back in the saddle, I managed to orchestrate the two interviews I needed in a fairly painless bit of logistics, and with a hot new TR burning a hole in my pocket I attended our ward’s temple night this evening. I just got back a little while ago. [Read more...]
A while back–weeks or months ago, or maybe a year, who knows–I read an article about a dispute between a lesbian and a Muslim barber. This is not a joke. This was in Toronto. (Also not a joke.) The lesbian wanted a “businessman’s haircut” (not sure what that is, not being a businessperson, but I assume it’s a thing businesspersons and their barbers know about). The Muslim refused because his religion forbids him from touching a woman who isn’t his relative. I don’t know what the relevance of her being a lesbian was, but it was part of the story, which is why I include that tidbit here. I guess her being a lesbian somehow explained why she would be visiting a barbershop that catered exclusively to men, although I should think that would be offensive on some level, I don’t know. Who am I to judge? It still doesn’t explain why she’d want especially to visit a Muslim barbershop. But I digress. The woman was offended by the Muslim’s refusal and filed a complaint with the human rights commission. The case went to moderation. [Read more...]
A list of the top ten hymns made more awesome by adding “In The Bathtub” to the title:
10. Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee [Read more...]
Terryl L. Givens
Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Cosmos, God, Humanity
Hardcover: i-xiii, 390 pages.
Publisher: Oxford University Press, forthcoming (2014).
Pre-order Amazon price in the US: $27.96.
When I heard that Professor Givens had embarked on a work of “Mormon Theology” I was more than a little skeptical. Not that it hasn’t been done before. That isn’t the problem. It’s just that theology, as James Faulconer has written, is something that just doesn’t seem to fit Mormonism. However, when I got my greedy little hands on Givens’ book, I was pleased to see that it is a work of theological heritage. In Givens’ words: “I am here tracing what I regard as the essential contours of Mormon thought as it developed from Joseph Smith to the present, not pretending to address the many tributaries in and out of Mormonism’s main currents.”(x)
It’s a commonplace to note that in the Church nobody chooses her calling. Rather, God, through the mediation of priesthood leaders, calls us to serve, typically only for a limited time, in any of a wide variety of capacities. There is much to be said for this approach: sometimes, by doing things we never would have chosen for ourselves, we, like Moses, learn things “we never had supposed.” Having this potential for divine surprises built into the system is a good thing.
Still, this approach comes at a price: we lose the concept of vocation—the idea that God calls us individually to walk a particular path of divine service. (Angela C recently wrote an excellent post about this.) To be sure, patriarchal blessings can provide something like an individual call, but in most cases there are not formal institutional venues for performing the things that we in the depths of our souls feel that God has called us to do. If a person in another denomination feels called to the ministry, in many cases there are formal processes of discernment and training to guide that person in working out whether this is really what God wants him or her to do. In Mormonism a person who feels so called must either wait for a formal calling or figure out some less formal way of acting as a minister. This latter option can mean “doing much good of [one's] own accord,” but it can also lead to tensions with the institutional Church. [Read more...]
I have not been to the Mount of Transfiguration, but I have seen it. The view from the ruins of the ancient church at Umm Qais in Jordan (ancient Gedara) is of Tabor some twenty miles away in Israel. At Umm Qais, the connection with the miracle of the Gedarane swine is most prominent, but as I visited I found that my attention kept turning to Tabor and that strange event we call the Transfiguration. [Read more...]
This late work appears as the final poem in Donald Justice’s Collected Poems (Knopf, 2006). It has been a favorite ever since I learned of it a few years ago. The third stanza strikes me as an especially clear expression of religious hope as tempered by thoroughgoing realism about the difficulty of life, represented by the almost Beckettian song at the end of the second stanza.
1 There is a gold light in certain old paintings That represents a diffusion of sunlight. It is like happiness, when we are happy. It comes from everywhere and from nowhere at once, this light, And the poor soldiers sprawled at the foot of the cross Share in its charity equally with the cross.
2 Orpheus hesitated beside the black river. With so much to look forward to he looked back. We think he sang then, but the song is lost. At least he had seen once more the beloved back. I say the song went this way: O prolong the suffering if that is all there is to prolong.
3 The world is very dusty, uncle. Let us work. One day the sickness shall pass from the earth for good. The orchard will bloom; someone will play the guitar. Our work will be seen as strong and clean and good. And all that we suffered through having existed Shall be forgotten as though it had never existed.
Note: regular BCC commenter melodynew contributes to a Poetry Sunday series over at The Exponent. Read her entry for today here. The more poetry, the better!
Within days of finishing the Camino de Santiago, or perhaps while we were still on the way, we plotted our next pilgrimage (for those wanting to join the Mormon Society of St. James’s pilgrimage next year, it is already decided: Canterbury).
St. Olav’s Way in Norway is the obvious second pilgrimage in Europe, not necessarily because of Olav’s importance (at least outside of Scandinavia), but because of the popularity of the path and the way it is organised: like the Camino, Olav’s Way is signposted and has pilgrims’ lodgings along the path. (Not to the extent of the Camino, mind you, which is in a league of its own in this regard.)
Walking for 100km over five days towards a pilgrimage spot will need no justification to those who understand the joy inherent in such things. In that sense, walking again was a given. We have an added poignancy this year in that our friend and Camino brother Jordan Fowles is no longer with us. We will think of him all the way.
Olav Haraldsson was the first king to Christianise Norway and was martyred at the battle of Stiklestad in 1030 for his troubles. The church raised near to his burial became Nidaros cathedral in Trondheim, and it is to there where we set our feet.
We are: Ronan (England), Peter and Beate (Austria), John C, Tana, and Gabe (Germany), Martha (USA), and John F. (USA). We are believers and non-believers. We are Christians, Mormons, Mormon-Christians, Anglo-Mormons, and “other”. We are pilgrims.
UPDATE: Day Five: Sundet Gård to Nidaros (Trondheim)
In case you were planning on going but saw registration was closed, it is now open.
Origins and Destinations: Forty Years of Mormon Women’s Histor(ies).
Utah Valley University
Science Building Auditorium
9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Honoring the Life and Work of Claudia L. Bushman
The Temple and Observatory Group is offering a seminar for those in the midst of a faith transition or crisis in the Minnesota area on
Saturday, Sept. 27 at 6125 Shingle Creek Pkwy, Brooklyn Center, MN 55430. Featured speakers include Terryl and Fiona Givens and Spencer Fluhman.
The event begins at 10:30 and goes until 3:30.
Academic approaches to scripture sometimes arouse suspicion in LDS circles, especially when they include the Higher Criticism (“Moses didn’t write the five books of Moses?”) or reading the Bible as literature (“So you think this is a work of fiction?”). People using or advocating these approaches often draw charges of privileging the intellectual ways of the world over the pure spiritual truth of God, of trusting in the arm of flesh, or of kowtowing to secular disbelief in the interest of seeming more acceptable.
Depending on who you ask you’ll get a different answer. I offer a qualified “yes,” which may be against the grain depending on who you ask and how the discussion goes. BYU professor James E. Faulconer has called Mormonism “atheological,” stressing that Mormons emphasize history, practice, and lived experience above rational, propositional content.1 In the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Louis C. Midgley characteristically skewers theology along similar lines, saying that in spite of a few caveats, theology is “not entirely at home in the LDS community.”2 Philosopher Adam Miller has paradoxically or puzzlingly depicted theology as excess, likening his own work to the construction of a Rube Goldberg machine (it depends on how you read Miller whether this is a good or bad thing).3 Blake Ostler’s three volume series is heavily theological, but he uses a different “T” word in the title: Exploring Mormon Thought.4
I suppose my patron saint should be St. Ronan, an Irish Saint whose journey to Brittany and subsequent miracles make him a figure of minor celebrity in Celtic Christianity. With a middle name of James, I can also turn to James the Just, brother of Jesus, or James the Great, son of Zebedee (he of the Camino de Santiago), or the “other James” (son of Alphaeus). Regular readers of the blog will know of our experience on the road to Santiago, and so James the Great it shall be. [Read more...]
In Which I Unpack a Finance-Based Atonement Parable (or Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Work on Wall Street)
Understanding the Atonement is tough.[fn1] To try to understand it, theologians have come up with theories to describe the whys and hows of the Atonement, and stories to illustrate how the Atonement works.
We’ve got a handful of favorite illustrative stories in Mormonism, including bicycles and lickings. I was recently reading chapter 12 of the Gospel Principles manual, and I came across an Atonement story that I haven’t seen in a while: a parable of a debtor and a creditor. What follows are my thoughts as I reread it:[fn2] [Read more...]
The Feast of William Wilberforce, 1833
Leviticus 26:12-13 (KJV), Psalm 146:5-10 (NRSV), Jeremiah 22:13 (KJV), Micah 3:5-12 (KJV), Matthew 25:31-40 (KJV), Galatians 3:23-29 (KJV), James 5:4, 1 Nephi 17:24-26, Mosiah 29:40, Doctrine & Covenants 101:79
The Collect: O Father, Thou who hast raised up Moses to lead Thy Children out of bondage, let us take inspiration from Thy servant, William Wilberforce, a latter-day Moses, to devote our lives in Thy Church to Thy righteousness in accordance with the universal moral law, becoming instruments in Thy hands to advocate the cause of those who are in bondage and learning that we must never become an obstacle to others’ inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; for the sake of Him who gave His life for us, Thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with Thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. [Read more...]
The title of this post is a lie: I’m not going to defend God’s sovereignty, not really anyway. I’m not not going to do it for two reasons. First, because I have no theological belief about God’s nature or power or personality or sovereignty firm enough to qualify as something that I am genuinely capable of “defending.” Frankly, God is a mystery to me, and I tend to believe that He wants it to be that way, for His own mostly unknowable reasons. Second, because to engage in a defense means to present an argument–in this case, one against the position that Jason has sketched out, which presents some questions and possibilities in connection with the idea that the Mormon notion of God presents Him as vulnerable, not sovereign–and while I’d like to think I’m at least minimally well-read in the theological literature, my disagreement with him, and my belief that the God which Christians like ourselves worship is not essentially vulnerable, but rather is essentially sovereign, is rooted in other perceptions that lack the rigor of theological argument. The best I can do, then, is talk about where those perceptions came from, and what they’ve meant to me. [Read more...]
Did the law of consecration become effectively suspended or temporarily replaced by the law of tithing when the early Latter-day Saints couldn’t make it work out? Joseph M. Spencer answers with a definitive “no” in For Zion: A Mormon Theology of Hope. Spencer’s latest book offers an analysis of the law of consecration through a close and detailed reading of selections from Paul’s letter to the Romans and Joseph Smith’s revelation now canonized as section 42 of the Doctrine and Covenants. [Read more...]
Collect: Generous God, whose Son Jesus Christ honored the service and discipleship of Martha and Mary of Bethany: Guide our hands likewise to serve thee in serving others, and open our hearts likewise to know thee and Jesus Christ our risen Lord; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. [Read more...]
Guest post by Michael Hicks.
I’m not always consistent. But I’ve been consistent about two things for many years.
First, in discussions of Mormon music I always say that the masterworks of indigenous Mormon hymnody are mostly in the Primary Song Book. Second, whenever I hear Janice Kapp Perry spoken of in a disparaging or even mocking way–not uncommon among BYU music majors–I always speak up in her behalf. [Read more...]
Recent events—the death of Jordan Fowles, the shooting of the Stay family in Texas—have prompted some internal BCC discussions about the character of God. Commenters occasionally accuse BCC of being an echo chamber, but our discussions of this topic have turned out to be full of lively debate and disagreement. We’ve decided to bring our discussion to the blog, with several posts on the subject over the next few days. Our collective goal is to stimulate further conversation, not to defend any particular theological position (although some of us might choose to argue vociferously in the comments).
Terryl and Fiona Givens’ The God Who Weeps offers a provocative vision of a God whose heart beats in sympathy with human hearts, presenting this, as its subtitle (How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life) proclaims, as a compelling answer to the difficulties of being human. I want to follow in the spirit of Adam Miller’s thoughtful critique of Weeps in the Spring 2014 issue of Dialogue (subscribe if you haven’t yet) by probing some of the implications of the vulnerable God that the Givenses find in Moses 7:28-29. This probing will be ad hoc rather than systematic, stirring up dust rather than settling questions. With Miller, my aim is not to denigrate the book (pas du tout!), but rather to honor its contribution by allowing it to provoke further thinking.
As Latter-day Saints we have a long, rich tradition of having a plan. We have a respectable and well-deserved reputation- a reputation for responding in times of need, for helping others, for being organized and for having not just a plan, but the Plan.
All of this planning tends to lead us to make very careful choices in our lives—we can almost create a checklist of the steps we will take, from the time we learn Jesus wants us for Sunbeam until we return with honor from our missions and set about finding our Eternal Companions. It’s really nice when all the pieces fall into place and the Plan works out in the ideal manner—I just haven’t met anyone yet for whom that’s the case. We can check all the boxes, we can do everything according to the plan, our desires can be righteous, and we forget that our faith is not a bartering chip with the Lord.
If faith is built upon the premise of exchanging anything with the Lord, it is not faith. [Read more...]
The June 2014 issue of Sunstone hit my mailbox earlier this week. As I glanced at it, I saw it was an anniversary issue, celebrating 40 years of existence since its origins in 1974 (when I was a high school sophomore). The whole issue is a cornucopia of navel-gazing, but I rather enjoy some navel-gazing and after 40 years I think they’re certainly entitled. I just this moment finished reading the issue, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. If you’re not a subscriber, this would be an excellent issue with which to initiate a subscription. [Read more...]
In the comments to Russell’s missionary post, there seems to be a strong consensus potential missionaries need to learn to work hard. And I agree; missionary work demands hard work. A corollary, according to many of the comments, is that kids these days do not, in fact, learn to work hard.
That assertion I find a little more problematic. Partly, it’s because I teach Millennials professionally and, in my experience, many of them do, in fact, work hard. And partly it’s because the accusation of laziness is an evergreen one; every generation, it seems, considers the subsequent generation the laziest ever (conveniently, it seems to me, forgetting their own youthful laziness). [Read more...]
One of my most popular posts ever was a Mormon version of Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary, a satirical version of definitions of words according to Mormon culture.  I thought it was time to expand that first effort. I’ve included original definitions, a few reader suggestions, and added to the list with some more of my own. With this preamble, I bring you Mormon Jargon the Sequel: 2 Mormon 2 Jargon.
The Collect: Heavenly Father, who through Thy Son hast led Thy Chosen People into many wildernesses with the promise that they will blossom as the rose, make us pioneers willing to crucify our old self in Christ’s death to find life with Him in that Undiscovered Country that is Thy Kingdom so that we may then speak peace to those in fear, strengthen the weak hands and confirm the feeble knees, through Thy Son Jesus Christ, who reigns with Thee in Thy Kingdom, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. [Read more...]
This installment: Karen is hopped up on goofballs, and we are visited by the lamest of the Three Nephites.
Steve: GST, apparently Karen is drunk on cold medicine. And she’s not even sick!
GST: I like how she parties
Karen: Hi Greg. I’m Karen and I take cold medicine.
GST: Yeeesss [Read more...]
Despite recent calls to ‘hasten the work’, the church does not seem to be growing in the UK. While there may be pockets of growth, on average, it seems like the number of people baptized is not growing when contrasted with the attrition we are also observing. What is particularly striking is that the absolute growth in membership is substantially lower than what we would have expected if we just followed the increase in membership due to baptisms. This implies that we are both failing to convert new people and appear to be losing some of those who were already members. These statistics do not tell us why this might be happening; it could be due to emigration, death, or resignation. All of these are important but I suspect that there has been at least a small uptick in the number of resignations per year over the last 5 years. Since 2000 the church has not been growing in the UK and this seems unlikely to change in the near future. Taken together, the future looks pretty dim.
All of this is worrying but there is something else that, for me at least, is of greater concern. [Read more...]