Sloughs: of Despond or otherwise

This is a relatively good path in the swamp

This is a relatively good path in the swamp

A slough is a bog or mire, a great, sucking, sticky, consuming pool of mud, muck, or worse. As such, it is a handy metaphor. It can stand in for addiction, sin, bad habits, anything that we feel sucks us in and that we find hard to move beyond. Every step in a slough is a drudgery. Every motion requires far too much energy. It’s all just such a drag, man. A drag.
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Religious freedom under attack!

swedish chefTell me the truth. Was the exclamation point too much? Or just enough?

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…]

Listicle: Bathtub Hymns

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…]

“Wrestling the Angel.” Terryl Givens’ Illuminated Tour of Mormon Thought

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)
[Read more…]

Challenges of Vocation in Mormonism

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…]

Transfiguration

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Umm Qais, Jordan, looking out over the Galilee, the Golan Heights, and Mt Tabor. A military bunker can be seen in the foreground.

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…]

Sunday Morning Poem: “There is a gold light in certain old paintings,” by Donald Justice

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!

Olav’s Way Liveblog

Global-bilder-Gora-Sommar-stolavsleden_stolpe_Leif_Arne_HolmeWithin 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)

Olav

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Last Minute Reminder: Mormon Women’s History Initiative Conference Saturday August 9, 2014

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
SB 134
9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Honoring the Life and Work of Claudia L. Bushman
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Temple and Observatory Group Meeting

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.

Book Review: Re-reading Job, by Michael Austin

Austin_Job_largeRe-reading Job: Understanding the Ancient World’s Greatest Poem
Michael Austin
Greg Kofford Books, 2014
$20.95

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.

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Do Mormons do theology?

mcginn coverDepending 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

Soon, Terryl Givens will publish his ambitious overview of “the foundations of Mormon thought.”5 [Read more…]

My patron saint: St. James

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…]

William Wilberforce

MLP

MLP

Mormon Lectionary Project

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…]

Defending God’s Sovereignty (Who is God?, Part 2)

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…]

Review: Joseph M. Spencer, For Zion: A Mormon Theology of Hope

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…]

Mormon Lectionary Project: Martha and Mary————Service and Discipleship

mormon_lectionary-100x100px-rgba

Mormon Lectionary Project

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…]

Primary effects

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…]

Who is God? (part 1)

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.

[Read more…]

Sunday Sermon: Faith in the Lord’s Timing

trustI gave this talk today in my ward in the DC Metro area.

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…]

Sunstone at 40

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…]

Work We Must

ChildlabourcoalIn 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…]

Mormon Jargon 2

Now in a slightly less abridged form!

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. [1]  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.

[Read more…]

Pioneer Day

MLP

MLP

Mormon Lectionary Project

Pioneer Day

Genesis 26:3-5 (KJV), Psalm 95 (KJV), Isaiah 35 (KJV), Matthew 8:11 (KJV), Romans 6:3-10 (NRSV), 1 Nephi 2:4, 2 Nephi 9:23, Jacob 7:26, Doctrine & Covenants 64:41-42

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…]

Police Beat Roundtable XXVI

To protect or whatever

The 26th 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, here and here.

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…]

The challenge of ‘hastening the work’ in the UK

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.

UK 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Baptisms 2059 2533 1951 1738 1411
Units 336 336 333 332 333
Members 183,672 186,082 186,814 188,029 188,462

All of this is worrying but there is something else that, for me at least, is of greater concern. [Read more…]

Are More Missionaries Returning Early?

earlyreturnOver the past year, I’ve become aware of something which I wonder might be a new trend, or at least a new understanding, abroad in the American church. Specifically, I have seen missionaries (invariably elders; none of my examples involve sisters) returning from their missions early, never (or at least never explicitly) for reasons of disobedience or financial obligations or sin, but rather for reasons of stress, or stomach-aches, or homesickness, or a fear of losing their testimony, or anxiety, or anger management issues arising from conflicts with companions, or depression, or headaches, or some combination of all of the above. I am not in any way disparaging any of those reasons for returning from one’s mission; every one of the half-dozen or so cases I know of personally–and all of those I’ve learned about from others, of which there seem to be many–involve genuine struggle and legitimate concerns, and I have a lot of sympathy for the hard choices these former missionaries (a few of whom being young men I’ve known for years) have had to make. But still, I’ve seen these boys return, and attend church and receive callings and make plans for college or finding jobs or going on dates or returning to the mission field (though that option, while always spoken of, has never actually been taken by any of the ex-elders I’m thinking of), all without dealing with any church discipline or any kind of medical supervision or really from any real social costs that I’m able to see, and I think to myself: man, times have changed. [Read more…]

Standing Apart

Miranda Wilcox is an associate professor of English at Brigham Young University where she teaches medieval literature and researches the religious culture of Anglo-Saxon England. She is co-editor, along with John D. Young, of the recent compilation Standing Apart: Mormon Historical Consciousness and the Concept of Apostasy.

This interdisciplinary collection brings together fourteen essays that explore the relationship between the development of Mormon historical consciousness and one of the central tenets of Mormonism—the concept of a universal Christian apostasy from its apostolic origins. [Read more…]

Come see the symposium on “The History of the Mormon Family”

summerseminarclaudiaEach summer for the past seventeen years or so Richard Bushman and Terryl Givens have gathered a number of young scholars together to take part in a research seminar on Mormon culture. Bushman and Givens have both benefited greatly from the gatherings—Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling and Givens’s forthcoming Wrestling the Angel were informed by seminar research—but I think the primary beneficiaries have been the participants (myself among them). Now that I work at the Maxwell Institute where the annual gatherings are currently held it’s been a real treat to get to know some of the participants and to reflect back on the great time I had in 2010.

This year the seminar is being directed by Claudia and Richard Bushman. The theme is “The History of the Mormon Family,” which they outlined here. A symposium featuring papers written by this year’s participants is being held this week on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday at BYU. (More info is available here.)

If you happen to be in Provo you might stop in and say hello.

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