Some Thoughts on the Inevitable Failure of Pretty Much Everything

Most social movements, most bureaucratic structures, most utopias, and most dreams are doomed. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t dream and try to build things. There is beauty in the ashes, especially if we figure out how polyphony works and how moments of passing discord contribute to the ultimate harmony.

We could do worse than trying to learn from William Byrd. He lived in a moment of great religious discord–Protestants and Catholics were killing each other everywhere, and the choice of whether to set music in English or in Latin was open to potentially dangerous political interpretation. He set this piece both in Latin and in English–a reminder, perhaps, that Zion is always under siege from all sides, often from those who believe they are her most ardent defenders.

Agreeable, Vol. II

11Welcome 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”.

I stopped attending church more than five years ago because of concerns over some doctrines and policy. [Read more...]

New JSPP content now online

So, the Joseph Smith Papers crew has released another batch of content on their website. Included in the release are holograph images and transcriptions of the four contemporaneous accounts of the King Follett Sermon (plus the T&S version as a bonus). [n1] The chunk of early 1842 documents includes the minutes of the organization of the Nauvoo Masonic Lodge. Also some Nauvoo Legion minutes, and skads of letters and deeds. One page that has been out for a while but is announced today is the Calendar of Documents which lists all the known JS documents to 1833 along with forgeries, so you can easily check.

Solid work guys.
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  1. I hereby proscribe (again) any reference to the TPJS in historical writing, when discussing anything before the time it was written.

Mormon Lectionary Project: Mohandas K. Gandhi

With this post, we’re taking the Mormon Lectionary Project into new territory, using the genre to write about figures without days in the Common Lectionary. Most of these will be LDS, but Gandhi comes first because of his death date, 30 Jan. 1948. Just as we’ve been adding LDS scripture to previous posts, it seemed appropriate to include the Qur’an and the Bhagavad Gita in this one.

Mohandas K. Gandhi

Dan. 6:10-11, Matt. 5:38-42, 1 Cor. 13, Qur’an 4:256-57, Bhagavad Gita 2:55-57, Alma 24:20-27 [Read more...]

Transgressors in Eden

This Sunday in Sunday School, we’re going to study the Fall.[fn1] The lesson quotes Elder Oaks distinguishing sin from transgression[Read more...]

Am I exempt from paying tithing? It depends.

Between December and January, Bishops frantically try to meet with members to conduct tithing settlement. During these interviews the Bishop asks members whether they are paying a full tithe and the response is usually quite simple: Yes, no, or part. However, there are also some circumstances in which members may be exempt from paying tithing. Young missionaries, for example, are not required to pay tithing. In addition, the CHI also states that “Members who are entirely dependent on Church welfare assistance” are also exempt.

Most members, I suspect, would feel comfortable with this exemption and yet those who receive state benefits are not similarly exempt. How can we reconcile these two? [Read more...]

Sherlock Holmes in Utah

We seem to be in the midst of a Sherlock Holmes revival, what with the BBC’s Sherlock series, CBS’s Elementary (both are set in the present) and the Warner Brothers movies staring Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law. This little side-light on good old Holmes has a Mormon connection.

In 1923, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, British author and advocate for the Spiritualism movement, visited Salt Lake City, Utah and delivered a lecture in the Mormon Tabernacle.[1] Doyle was and is most famous for his fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes.

Doyle in his mature years.

Doyle in his mature years.

Holmes’s first adventure involved a crime that was linked to the Mormons of Utah, specifically, the Danite Vigilante Corps so popular in the nineteenth-century press. A Study in Scarlet was sold for 25 pounds sterling and appeared in December 1886.
[Read more...]

Suspicion, Intuition and Religiosity

Incorrect answer: “To commend me on my good driving.”

“Do you know why I pulled you over?” the officer asked me last Thursday.  I knew from watching my husband’s reactions when he’s been pulled over (the man never gets tickets, I swear) that the best thing to do is to play dead.  Not literally, but you have to avoid certain pitfalls:  being too confident, not being confident enough, being too animated, responding emotionally (regardless of the emotion – but anger and sadness are definitely out), flirting [1], being friendly, and most of all you cannot under any circumstances answer that loaded-for-bear question.  Which can be difficult because officers must be trained in waiting out uncomfortable silences. [2]  Almost anything you say or do can be misinterpreted to your detriment. [Read more...]

The Book of Mormon and the King James Version

Many people find problematic the extent to which the Book of Mormon quotes the King James Version of the Bible, because this practice can make the Book of Mormon look more like a cobbled-together 19th-century text than a translation of an ancient artifact (bearing in mind Joseph Smith’s idiosyncratic usage of “translation”). Without claiming to offer a solution to this conundrum, I’d like to put forward an 1820s analogue, in which the translator of a recently recovered text relied uncritically on the King James Version, in the process masking some interesting details of the scriptural text presented.

[Read more...]

Dear Church, We Need Our Sabbath Day Back

Like many Mormons, I am made for the Sabbath. Like many of you, I’m exhausted and yearn for a weekly day of rest. Sadly, I rarely get one and that’s a problem. [Read more...]

Polygamy, Society, and the Mormons

When I returned to my office after winter break, I found two large brown boxes (with “Joe Christensen” written on the sides) waiting for me in the mailroom. I was pretty sure I knew what they held and, sure enough, upon opening them, I saw copies of Taxing Polygamy, my (finally published!) article dealing with the difficulties that a regime of legally-recognized polygamy would present to the U.S. tax system.

And, in celebration of its finally being published, I thought I’d do a little polygamy-blogging, starting with this broad introductory post.  [Read more...]

Lava Bombs and Malls

Last night I had a series of terrible dreams. One involved lava bombs. The neighbor’s home (who happens to be my bishop) was blasted to smoldering flames, my old pickup caught one squarely in its rusted bed, then my house was battered, dead center in the master bedroom. Naturally, I was standing in the driveway, barefoot, crouching down as hell rained upon the neighborhood. I ran into the house to get my wife, but suddenly realized she was still in bed (it must have been early). Crying, I tried to get up the stairs but lava was splashed about, seriously impeding my progress and then barring my way finally. Knowing her fate, as dreams are often omniscient, I went to the little cabinet where somehow there were spare car keys, grabbed one for the new car and rushed outside, hoping to get up north to check on . . . I don’t know what. The dream went on, predictably getting worse until I woke.
[Read more...]

Sheila Taylor talk on Mormonism and Theology @ Berkeley

On Sunday, January 26 at 7 PM at the Berkeley Institute, theologian Sheila Taylor will be giving a presentation on “The Role of Theology in Mormonism.”  [Read more...]

By Common Consent: Reflections on Mormon Political Theology

Jason K. is an English professor specializing in Milton and currently at work on a book project studying political theologies during the English Civil War period. The organizer of the Mormon Lectionary Project series here, this is his first post as a regular guest blogger at BCC.

For my first non-lectionary post, I thought I’d adapt some earlier ruminations on this blog’s eponymous scripture.

In a recent Sunday School discussion, D&C 20:63—”The elders are to receive their licenses from other elders, by vote of the church to which they belong, or from the conferences”—was referenced as an example of church government by common consent. The notion of voting, however, seems more democratic than LDS church government typically is. In this case the general membership is not voting to select elders, but to grant them licenses, authorizing them to function elsewhere. My question is: why go through the formality? Why can’t the person in authority to ordain elders simply issue the license and have done? In addressing this question, I suggest that Richard Baxter’s work of political theology, A Holy Commonwealth (1659), offers a helpful analogue to LDS practice.

[Read more...]

Book Review: Richard J. Mouw’s Talking With Mormons

cover mouwLast week, popular Christian evangelist Ravi Zacharias returned to Salt Lake City to address Mormons and other Christians from the Tabernacle pulpit. Back in 2004, Zacharias’s historic Tabernacle address was overshadowed in the news by Richard Mouw’s controversial introductory remarks. Mouw, president of the Fuller Theological Seminary, issued an apology to Mormons on behalf of evangelicals who he said had sinned against Mormonism by misrepresenting their beliefs and practices. Over the past decade, the evangelical (Calvinist) Christian has continued to dialog with various Mormons in order to promote better interfaith relationships. During the last two presidential elections he became one of the many go-to sources for news outlets seeking soundbites on evangelical views of Mormonism. He’s taken a lot of heat for this within his religious community–early on being told that he didn’t know Mormons well enough and so would easily be deceived by them, later being told he had become too close to Mormons to have a clear view of their dangerous heresies.

His new book Talking with Mormons: An Invitation to Evangelicals is an effort to educate the evangelical community about his ongoing work with Mormonism.  [Read more...]

Emails From My Daughter

It’s only a matter of time

A few months ago, we got new phones. We configured the old phones to be wifi-only and let our kids use them to play games, watch movies, etc. as a treat. For my eldest daughter, the primary purpose of the phone is email. Though she is only seven years old, the autocomplete features help her compose emails with relative ease. She loves to get email from her grandparents and her parents, and has taken to carrying the phone around with her in a little purse so that she can check her email on the go. [Read more...]

Our liturgy of lives and deaths

WP_20130714_016I served a mission in France and Belgium. Though I have seen blessing gowns in the Church History Museum, my family has not made a tradition of the infant’s clothing. At the end of my time, I walked with my parents not far from the Grande Place of Brussels, and they found a white lace dress. It was not meant for me, but death and life sometimes intercede without expectation.

[Read more...]

The Mormon Lectionary Project: Martin Luther King, Jr.

MLP

MLP

Mormon Lectionary Project

The Feast of Martin Luther King, Jr., Civil Rights Leader, 1968

Exodus 3:7-12, Isaiah 40:3-8, Psalm 77:11-20, Psalm 98:1-4, Luke 6:27-36, Helaman 13:25-29 [Read more...]

Toward a More Productive, Fulfilling, and Successful Missionary Program

A little over six months have passed since the Church held its mission president training meeting that was double-billed as a worldwide leadership training meeting relating to missionary work to which all members were invited (either in person at the BYU Marriott Center or virtually, by way of the internet) and which was preceded by unprecedented fanfare. [Read more...]

Twitter at Church

Next week, classes start again. The first day of class, as I provide an overview of the class, I’ll tell my students that, thanks to the magic of the internet, they have easy access to plenty of things that are more interesting and engaging than what I can provide. Seriously, even if I were the most engaging professor in the world—and I’m not bad, frankly—I can’t compete with cat videos, instant messages, and the rest of human knowledge and entertainment available online. Still, I have no interest in banning laptops in my classroom. Instead, I suggest that, entertaining or not, my lecture and other classroom interactions will generally be more valuable than said cat videos.  [Read more...]

Call For Stories

Neylan McBaine is the founder of the Mormon Women Project (www.mormonwomen.com), a non-profit creating a continuously expanding digital library of interviews with LDS women from around the world. She blogs at neylanmcbaine.com.

Although it’s been almost a year and a half since I spoke at the FairMormon conference and introduced the term “cooperative ministry” in the context of gender relations in LDS church governance, I still receive emails from readers citing how the talk affected them. [Read more...]

Lord, Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace

One of life’s great challenges is learning to lift up our eyes and actually see those around us.  To see them in all their frailties and faults and weaknesses and learn to love them for their whole selves.  I am not particularly good at this.  I don’t think many of us are really pros, frankly.  But every once in a while life arranges for you to look up. [Read more...]

Police Beat Roundtable XXV

To protect or whatever

The 25th installation of our ongoing look at that most charming column of the Daily Universe. Previous installments can be read here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

This week: GST and Steve discover the dark side of Ken Jennings.

GST: aw yeah.
Steve: oh hey guys, how’s things?
Ken: this takes me back.
Steve: all right, let’s kick it old-skool.

A report of vandalism at the Howard S. McDonald Building was recorded at 6 a.m. June 30. Graffiti had been written on the wall of a bathroom stall with a permanent marker. No mention of the nature of the graffiti was given.
[Read more...]

The Christian Disciplines: Fasting

[All posts in series]

Some have exalted religious fasting beyond all Scripture and reason; and others have utterly disregarded it (John Wesley).

At the risk of breaking Jesus’ injunction to keep schtum about one’s fasting habits, I am pretty good at fasting. I generally fast twice a week, meaning 2×24 hours without food, and began this year with a two-day fasting (non-)binge. I do this for health reasons, because I simply cannot do moderation — I cannot eat moderately, it is either all or nothing. For five days a week it is all, for two it is nothing. This way I am able to keep my weight down. It works.

So when Foster talks about epic multi-week fasts I think I could do it. I am a faster. Hooray! [Read more...]

So just what do Mormons think about evolution?

The following is a guest post by Benjamin Knoll, a political science professor at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. He teaches classes on public opinion, voting behavior, political statistics, and other topics in American politics. He currently serves as the Elders Quorum President in his ward.

A recent popular headline suggested that acceptance of biological evolution has dropped nearly 10% over the last four years among Republicans. This has prompted renewed interest in many circles on the topic of American opinions toward evolution and, particularly for the Bloggernacle audience, how American Mormons view the topic.

[Read more...]

The Annual Summer Seminar on Mormon Culture

Announcing the next Annual Summer Seminar on Mormon Culture, conducted by Richard and Claudia Bushman:

The History of the Mormon Family

Brigham Young University
June 15 – July 26, 2014

In the summer of 2014, the Neal A Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University, with support from the Mormon Scholars Foundation and the Jack and Mary Lois Wheatley Institution, will sponsor a summer seminar for graduate students and junior faculty on “The History of the Mormon Family.” The seminar will be held on the BYU campus in Provo, Utah, from June 15 to July 26. Admitted participants will receive a stipend of $3000 with an accommodations subsidy if needed. The seminar continues the series of seminars on Mormon culture begun in the summer of 1997. In 2014, the seminar will be conducted by Richard and Claudia Bushman. [Read more...]

The Mormon Lectionary Project: Epiphany

The Epiphany, Year A

Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12, 1 Nephi 13:40-42

The Collect: O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

[Read more...]

O Youth of the Noble Birthrate

The Brethren are concerned with the rates at which LDS couples are having babies. Most recently, Elder Dallin Oaks declared:

Because of what we understand about the potentially eternal role of the family, we grieve at the sharply declining numbers of births and marriages in many Western countries whose historic cultures are Christian and Jewish… In the midst of these concerning trends, we are also conscious that God’s plan is for all of His children and that God loves all of His children, everywhere.

So what, then, can we do as individuals and as a community to increase the numbers of births and marriages among us?
[Read more...]

What’s wrong with this picture? More men in women’s meeting than women in general sessions of conference

I was talking to a friend about these images of gender imbalance in the speaking parts in General Conference. In trying to convey how alienating such an overwhelmingly male meeting can be for women in the audience, I posed this hypothetical: if there were a meeting as female as general conference is male, would men in the audience perceive it as a meeting for them, that related to them, where they felt comfortable and welcome? Or would they perceive it to be a women’s meeting? [1]

It occurred to me that this isn’t merely a hypothetical. We do have a meeting that is mostly female, the annual Relief Society meeting. Although we understand it to be a women’s meeting, there is actually more male participation in this “women’s” meeting than there is female participation in the meetings that are supposed to be for women as much as they are for men, the general sessions of conference. This is illustrated in a newly updated infographic (click to enlarge):

GeneralConferenceInfographic.RS
[Read more...]

Breaking the Faith

As the unofficial Bloggernacle chronicler of TV shows about polygamy, it’s about time that I put up a post about the latest entry in the genre, TLC’s “Breaking the Faith,” which is about eight or so young refugees from the FLDS living in a safe house in the Salt Lake area and trying to acclimate to gentile life.  I have not seen all the episodes, but I just watched several on On Demand. [Read more...]

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