I’ve come to believe that the answer to this question largely depends on what university you attend. Some universities are privately owned and overseen by particular religious organizations. Others are overseen by state governments. The immediate context of scholarly pursuits always impacts the work that results, but not always in predictable ways. As with many academic pursuits, there’s no simple one-size-fits-all definition of religious studies. This suggests we should be skeptical when we encounter generalities like this: “Religious studies is a secular enterprise which excludes and damages faith and dismisses believers,” or “Religious studies is what happens when apologists and theologians try to gain academic respectability.” [Read more…]
About two months ago, BYU admitted in the New York Times that, although it had a medical and a theatrical exception to its no-beard policy, it didn’t allow for religious exemptions from the policy.
That struck many of us as outrageous (see this prior BCC post and the comments), especially in light of the LDS church’s sincere commitment to encouraging and protecing religious liberty. Well, the policy has changed. [Read more…]
All easy missions are alike; every hard mission is hard in its own way. [Read more…]
Given how frequently we come across other people in our day-to-day lives, it’s somewhat shocking how rarely the depths of their humanity become manifest to us. Even walking down the street in a crowd, as often as not we perceive people primarily as objects to be taken into consideration as we navigate the spatial world. Through mindfulness and other such techniques we can, in the novelistic manner advocated by David Foster Wallace, work toward empathy by imagining stories for the people around us. While there’s much to be said for this approach, in the end it only makes the prospect of our really coming to see another person seem all the more improbable. [Read more…]
Working through the Funeral Sermon book, trying to put together a real draft, I’m attempting once again to write an introduction (presently designated as Preface). I’ve written large chunks that have been (and no doubt others that will eventually be) discarded. This post is stuff on the chopping block, but it has some important features that deserve some discussion I think. So I am dumping it on you all. No doubt it is terribly boring stuff, but that’s the nature of the beast. What follows was just an initial draft, so I don’t claim a serious stake in it. I put the pictures in to entertain Steve Evans.
[Cross posted at Boap.org’s blog.]
“The Book of Nature,” wrote Galileo (d. January 8, 1642), “is written in mathematics.”
“Philosophy [i.e. physics] is written in this grand book — I mean the universe — which stands continually open to our gaze, but it cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and interpret the characters in which it is written. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometrical figures, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these, one is wandering around in a dark labyrinth.”1
In these words from Saggiatore—his mid-career manifesto setting out the principles of the scientific method—we find one of many examples of Galileo’s genius. Everyone knows him for his adaptation and improvement of the telescope and for the astronomical discoveries he immediately began to make as he pointed it toward the sky. But he revolutionized more than just astronomy. It was Galileo who brought the promethean fire of celestial mathematics to the dark labyrinth of the Earth and physical bodies in motion here below. [Read more…]
“…do what we can, to deliver any we can, from the poverty that holds them captive and destroys so many of their names.” Jeffrey R. Holland, October 2013
Last fall, during the October General Conference, Jeffrey R. Holland delivered a supernal sermon on caring for the poor, and on what that means to our everlasting obligation as followers of Christ. (I wrote up my response to the talk here for BCC.) For myself, and for many Latter-day Saints, Elder Hollands words have had long echoing ripples. They were supposed to, frankly. I have found myself, particularly over the holidays, keenly aware of the comforts and blessings of my life, and of the responsibility I bear with those blessings and comforts. As we were admonished in the sermon, in clear, cutting words, being a follower of the Savior means acknowledging very real commandments, not mere suggestions, on how to live. [Read more…]
Nearly from its inception, the Proclamation to the World has been a controversial document as people have different ideas about how to have a successful marriage and family when God only approves of one way . At the heart of this controversy: so-called wholesome recreational activities. Just what is a wholesome recreational activity? [Read more…]
We celebrated “Little Christmas” in my house growing up (mostly as the day to take down the Christmas tree), but it was only vaguely connected with the arrival of the magi in my understanding until much later. In college, I sang for the morning prayer service, a wonderfully awkward mashup of Harvard pomp and attempts at Christian humility. It was there that I first heard this memorable passage from Evelyn Waugh’s forgettable and forgotten novel Helena. In a passage near the end of the book, the titular Helena, sainted (literally!) mother of the emperor Constantine, has made a pilgrimage to Bethlehem in search of the vera crux. At the Feast of Epiphany, she muses on the Wise Men’s belated arrival to worship the infant Christ. This prayer has become the beloved ending of my personal observance of Christmas. [Read more…]
The Collect: Our Father in Heaven, we thank thee for the life of thy Only Begotten Son who is our Good Shepherd leading us through the darkness in the paths of salvation just as the light of thy star led wise men in ancient days, and all people, to thy Son’s presence; and we ask thee to ever fortify our faith in Him, through the latter-day revelations of Him and the Restoration of thy Priesthood authority, by which we as disciples of Jesus Christ may join in the act of anointing each other kings and queens, priests and priestesses unto thee, the Most High God, as our Lord was once Anointed as the Messiah to reign with thee and thy Holy Spirit, One God, now and for ever. Amen. [Read more…]
On Mondays during the school holidays, my son joins his grandfather as a volunteer at our local Oxfam shop. His reasons for doing so are several: he’s a good boy who likes doing good things (when not killing grunts on the Xbox), he likes spending time with his grandpa, it’s his first experience of a “job,” and it counts towards a community service programme in which he is active.
I’m looking forward to studying and teaching the New Testament this year in Gospel Doctrine. (And thanks Kevin and RJH for helping me with my lesson this week.) I’ve taught the other books a couple times, but never the New Testament, so I’m not as familiar with it as I should be. This year is my chance to figure out some stuff I’ve had on the back burner for a long time. I plan on spending this year learning and reading and talking about Christ, and letting his words sink in and challenge me to rethink things.
Because the teachings of Christ are a lot more difficult and radical than we give them credit for. There’s friction in his words, and there are calls to action. The same guy who said “My yoke is easy” also told a certain ruler to give away everything and follow him. I don’t imagine it was any easier for the fishermen to leave their nets than it would be for us to leave ours.
Yesterday we took our seats in the chapel just as the sacrament hymn was coming to a close. As if our late arrival wasn’t disruptive enough (you’ve got to arrive in good time in order to occupy the more discrete but even more coveted last row), our toddler broke the silence between the hymn and prayer by standing up on the bench and exclaiming, finger pointed to the center section of pews: “Da sind ganz viele Michael Häupls!” (There are a whole bunch of Michael Häupls!). Unlike most of you, I knew that Michael Häupl is the long-serving mayor of Vienna where we live, but I was still quite bewildered why sacrament meeting would prompt such a response. After church my wife told me that our daughter was referring to this poster: [Read more…]
So this coming Sunday we start our New Testament curriculum year. I plan to do an introduction to the New Testament, much along the lines I did four years ago, the gist of which you can read from my blog post at that time. I also think I may add a little bit about NT scholarship. Gospel Doctrine is not an academic course in the NT, but it is useful for students to have some sense of some of the issues that would be broached in such a course. Some of the things I’m toying with briefly describing are textual criticism, the delay of the Parousia, pseudonymous writings (although I’m thinking this last topic might be too much to bite off for only a portion of a single lesson and am leaning away from mentioning it). The other thing I’m thinking about describing is the Synoptic Problem. So I thought I would take a shot at describing this issue here in case it might be useful to others preparing similar introductory lessons. [Read more…]
Through the end of today, BCC will match your charitable donation to Oxfam, up to a total of $1000. Let us know if you’re in. Email admin@byc_______ with the amount you have donated if you want to keep things private.
(In 2015, Oxfam will be part of a charitable drive here at BCC. More later . . .)
What does it mean to be perfect? As the Christmas cards poured into and eventually overflowed my mailbox this year (the mail lady begrudgingly asked me if I knew everyone in the western hemisphere, as she once again put the mail wagon in park at the curb and made her way to my door with the things she couldn’t stuff in our regulation US mail box. I paid her off in a giant box of hazelnut fudge, so don’t feel too bad for her. We’re pals now.) I would stand at the kitchen counter, hoarding the Good Mail and loving tearing open the thick red, blue, green, and cream paper envelopes, hand addressed, calligraphied, stamped, labeled, whatevered… bringing the faces and tidings of loved ones the world over. Everyone picks their best faces for their cards— and every last one of them was perfect. Utterly perfect in all their beautiful, glorious imperfections. [Read more…]
The Mormon Lectionary Project: Holy Innocents
The Collect: We remember today, Heavenly Father, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
Let us not deceive ourselves: The collect is wholly at odds with the narrative in Matthew 2:13-18. We pray, of course, that “innocent victims” be received into God’s eternal love, but we sadly wonder why God’s “great might” does not actually seem to turn very often to the “designs of evil tyrants” despite our prayers. As I write this I am thinking of the recent slaughter of the innocents in a school in Pakistan. No doubt if the Christ child had been born in Peshawar, an angel would have warned his parents to flee before the bullets started to fly. No matter that the murder of so many children in Bethlehem by Herod is historically questionable; the fact remains that innocents do die “among wailing and loud lamentation” every single day. Could not God have saved all of the children of Bethlehem, helped them all “escape . . . the snare of the fowler” (Psalm 124)? [Read more…]
Every year the same thing happens. Once Christmas week arrives, the profane calendar stops. No more Wednesday or Thursday, just Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Yesterday was Sunday but didn’t feel like it, just Christmas + 3. The effect lasts until about New Year before we return again to the rhythms of the sun and the times and seasons bequeathed to us by the Romans. This is why marking sacred time is so important, not because we are fundamentalists who despise the secular calendar but because we are Christians who need to find some way to extricate ourselves from its utter dominance. Christmastime offers a glimpse of how this works. [Read more…]
Way back in the day, in blog time, I wrote about James Adams, and Joseph Smith’s funeral sermon on his behalf. James Adams was a father figure to Joseph Smith, important to him especially with the death of Joseph Smith Sr in 1840. Adams befriended Joseph Jr in 1839 when the latter set out for Washington to plead the case of Latter-day Saint claims for redress of damages in Missouri. Adams rapidly became privy to the deep secrets of Nauvoo: polygamy/sealings, endowments, and politics. Joseph’s innermost spiritual and confidential circle did not necessarily coincide with church leadership. When Adams died, it was a blow to Joseph. Since I previewed the Funeral Sermon book a bit a few weeks ago, I thought some of you may be interested in specifics. I mentioned that each chapter centers around a particular sermon, studied in different ways, but each methodology orbiting around a particular text (pivot text), one derived ca. 1855 (well after Joseph Smith’s death) by the church’s history clerks. Below there are some pages from a draft of chapter 5, the chapter that studies Adams’s sermon. The pages come from section 3 of that chapter. This section shows how the various editions of the sermon compare with the pivotal manuscript. [Read more…]
[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]
A few months ago, I began reading the Old Testament, a book of scripture which I have never before been able to read all the way through (the closest I ever came was 25 years ago while on my mission in South Korea; reading from Joseph Smith’s Inspired Version of the Bible, I made it all the way through Jeremiah, at which point I simply couldn’t take it any more and gave up). This reading, once I determined that I was going to do it right, involved my trusty Revised English Bible (my favorite translation out of the four or so I own) and Robert Alter’s wonderful translations and commentary. Just before Christmas I finished working through his largest chunk of the Old Testament, The Five Books of Moses, and I figured I ought to be able to come with at five statements of gratitude for my reading of this, the oldest and most foundational text of the whole Western religious and philosophical tradition. [Read more…]
The Collect: Heavenly Father, as we celebrate thy Son’s birth of the virgin Mary this day, we thank thee that thou hast sent him as a beacon in the gathering darkness, and we ask thee to lead us to this light, granting us power through thy Spirit to overcome the natural man as we learn to trust the Grace available to us through the Atonement of thy Son in our effort to create a Zion based on the teachings of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, to whom we give honor and glory, together with thee and thy Spirit, One God, now and for ever. Amen. [Read more…]
From Luke’s account of the shepherds we get the idea that Jesus was born at night. In telling us of a people walking in darkness, the reading from Isaiah invites us to see this circumstance of Jesus’ birth as symbolic of our lives without him. If the babe in the manger is Isaiah’s “great light,” though, why does such darkness persist in our lives, even for us who believe? Should not the holy event have wiped forever the tears from our eyes?
How can we love God in our hours of darkness, when we feel that God’s presence is nowhere near? To have Jesus born at night means that God chose to become present precisely when the world was dark. His coming, though, divides the night into before and after, absence and presence—and yet many of us still await him, as though he were absent, the manger everlastingly empty in anticipation. The world, which should be light, taunts us with its continuing darkness. Although the Book of Mormon peoples were treated to an exception, the very moment of Jesus’ birth did not bring the dawn. Night persisted still. [Read more…]
[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]
This year our youngest daughter turned eight, and as her older sisters are busy with other things and her mother has been working, it’s been mostly me who has spent time with her, reading Christmas books (J.R.R. Tolkien’s Letters From Father Christmas is the new favorite this year) and watching all the essentials. A few days ago she told me about a friend at school who told her “Santa Claus is fake,” and wanted to know what I thought. I told her the truth, of course: Santa Claus is real. She wanted assurance, and wrote him a letter, asking if he was real or not. I happen to have an advance copy of what Santa wrote back, which I share with his permission with you all here: [Read more…]
Twenty-five years ago, Michael Hicks published one of the most enjoyable books about Mormon history I’ve ever read. Mormonism and Music still flies under the radar when people compile lists of their favorite Mormon history books, but his analysis of LDS music as influenced by nineteenth and twentieth century culture holds up as a must-read study of Mormon religiosity to this day. He also contributed the entry on Music to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Hicks is adding upon that solid foundation with a new book: The Mormon Tabernacle Choir: A Biography. And it’s just as fun, lucid, and intriguing as his earlier effort. [Read more…]
Mormon Lectionary Project: Fourth Sunday of Advent
The Collect: Heavenly Father, purify us through the Spirit, that thy Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; and if not a mansion, then a manger, for there is room for him with us.
All of us, as Paul said to the Romans, sometimes do the very things we hate. We measure with wicked scales and bags of dishonest weights, and the consequences are just as Micah predicted: we eat and are not satisfied. The thing about injustice is that it harms everybody involved—both oppressor and oppressed—and yet the power dynamics of this relationship serve to perpetuate it. Oppressors enjoy the profits of deception, while the oppressed often lack means to improve their situation, no matter their personal qualities.
Such situations call for advocates to serve as mediators. What makes a good advocate? While Jesus is the model advocate, I believe that the life of Esther Eggertsen Peterson usefully illuminates what Jesus did for us all—both oppressors and oppressed. [Read more…]
[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]
Despite recent (and ongoing) changes to the Mormon missionary program, the majority of those charged with traveling the world and evangelizing on behalf of the LDS Church are (and will likely remain for a good while yet) young white men from supportive Mormon families in the western United States. Being young, usually not very worldly-wise, usually not very experienced in dealing with foreign cultures or differing sensibilities, and usually carrying around with them expectations shaped by growing up in a family- and tradition-centered church, the Christmas holidays can be a rough time. Twenty-five years ago I was one of them, going through my second Christmas as a Mormon missionary in South Korea. My second Christmas in the country was better than my first. Why? Well, let me explain. [Read more…]
For the past several years at Christmastime I have given family members a calendar featuring photographs taken over the past year. The reception has been mixed—some enjoy them, others cloak their views in silence and one respondent reported irritation at the perceived “hey, look at me!” nature of the gift—but even if all the recipients were to recycle them with the wrapping paper on Christmas day, I would still continue to put one together. Not out of a misplaced sense of my own artistic greatness but because in reviewing a year’s worth of photographs, forgotten moments are rediscovered, then-unnoticed details take on new significance in light of later developments and a sense of perspective is restored that sometimes even strengthens the ties that bind, which may slacken over the course of everyday life. [Read more…]
Today we celebrate the life’s work of the Persian jurist and mystic al-Ghazali (d. 18 December 1111), one of the most important intellects in the history of Islam. In his autobiography, Deliverance from Error,1 he describes what we would today call a faith crisis during his youth. Like many who have had such an experience, he began early with a “thirst for grasping the real meaning of things.” He was devout, inquisitive, and quick to observe. He says, “I saw that the children of Christians always grew up embracing Christianity, and the children of Jews always grew up adhering to Judaism, and the children of Muslims always grew up following the religion of Islam.” Al-Ghazali figured that this was because each generation in each different community was basically following in the footsteps of their parents without really questioning. So, he decided to question everything. He wanted to know the truth for himself. But the more he questioned, the less certain he became of everything he thought he knew, eventually reaching a point of doubt so deep that he lost confidence that he could know anything—even the nature of his own existence—with any certainty. He continued to write and speak as always, but inwardly, he wrote, “I was a skeptic.”2
I was asked a lot of questions on John’s Trinity post and will answer some of them here. Let me state from the outset that I do not claim certainties in matters of theology, and would have no authority to proclaim them anyway. I think my beliefs are genuinely Mormon but perhaps expressed in unusual ways; we can certainly disagree and remain fellows. Systematic theologies are impossible to fully attain, especially in Mormonism. Thankfully, we are not judged by what we know but by what we do.
Q: Are you a monotheist? [Read more…]