Lent II

Psalm 121, BCP Psalter, Coverdale, 1662, St Paul’s Cathedral Choir

* * *

For the high born, whose name and social position — and wealth — often stems directly from his or her birth, the doctrine that “except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3) is a troubling proposition. This certainly seems to have been the case with the Pharisee Nicodemus, a “ruler of the Jews” (John 3:1) and a “master of Israel” (John 3:10), who flirted with Christian discipleship during Christ’s ministry. Will I lose my name, my status, my wealth if I am thus “born again”? These considerations perhaps reveal Nicodemus’ question to Jesus — “How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” (John 3:4) — as a sincere concern rather than the smart-alecky provocation visible in some popular versions of the story. [Read more…]

Family History Road Trip

We caught up with the wagon train at the California Trial interpretive center.

We caught up with the wagon train at the California Trail interpretive center.

I live in Vienna while the rest of my side of the family remains scattered across the western United States. Thanks to a confluence of favorable factors, we are able to make an annual visit to the old homestead each year for several weeks, which has led to a tradition of a trip within a trip–we fly home, spend about a week moving from couch to couch paying our respects, then take a week to be tourists and travel somewhere I never got around to visiting while growing up , and wrap things up by cooling our heels at the parental roost for a few days.

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From God to Garcia

My heart goes out to the man who . . . . when given a letter for Garcia, quietly takes the missive, without asking any idiotic questions. . . .Civilization is one long, anxious search for just such individuals. Anything such a man asks will be granted. He is wanted in every city, town and village—in every office, shop, store and factory. The world cries out for such: he is needed and needed badly—the man who can “Carry a Message to Garcia.”–Elbert Hubbard

The list of the world’s bestselling books over time (factoring out recent publishing phenomena like Harry Potter and The DaVinci Code) is a fascinating sociological study in its own right. It includes several books around which whole cultures have been organized (The Bible, Quotations from Chairman Mao), and others that changed the way people thought and learned (The McGuffey Readers, Dr. Spock’s Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care). And coming in at #6 is perhaps the most unlikely bestseller in the history of either unlikeness or bestsellers: Elbert Hubbard’s forgotten business classic, A Message to Garcia (1899) [Read more…]

George Herbert: Shepherd and Peacemaker

The 1630s—the decade of George Herbert’s death—were a tense period in the history of the English church. William Laud, bishop of London since 1628, became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633. He came to office with an ambitious program of reform designed to bring unity to a fracturing polity. The fault lines had begun to show in 1625 when Puritans began to turn the methods honed in the anti-Catholic pamphlet wars on the bishops of their own church. Laud hoped to bring unity by simmering down the conflict with Rome, but this of course only fostered further accusations that he was a crypto-papist. Instead of bringing peace, Laud’s program culminated in two disastrous wars with Scotland—events that helped precipitate the civil wars of the 1640s. [Read more…]

Religion of a Different Color

RoaDC

Review of W. Paul Reeve, Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 335 pages, with Notes and an Index. [Read more…]

Temple Prep for Daughters: Brace Yourself

This post is an honest and personal admission of my raw feelings about attending the temple as a woman and my budding concerns as the mother of a daughter. [Read more…]

Mormon Space Doctrine: A Necessary Embarrassment?

Kolob_CoverI was recently introduced to something called “the Kolob theorem.” It arose in an otherwise sensible Mormon discussion of astronomy and cosmology and was seamlessly introduced into the conversation alongside other theories such as the Big Bang and the multiverse. Its proponents are otherwise normal, well-educated Mormons who generally say sensible things. [Read more…]

Seeing the sites, II

I recently was in St. George with my family. We have been there before, but this time we went to some new spots.
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Historicity, Schmistoricity

There has been much internet controversy in the bloggernacle and on facebook of late regarding the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Julie Smith recently wrote an excellent summary of why it is (or, at least, probably should be) beside the point. But I’m going to go one further. I’m going to state that the debate is, in its heart, inherently silly and self-contradictory. Allow me to explain. [Read more…]

Word of Wisdom Violations, Ranked

Are we reaching the bottom of the barrel? Are we running out of things to rank? A day may come when the supply of things to rank fails, when Steve and I forsake our weekly foray into meaningless listicle nonsense and break all commitments to carrying on this ridiculous tradition, but it is not this day. No, today we rank violations of the Word of Wisdom, in order of least to most sinful.

cooking wine

As always, these rankings are authoritative.
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The Most Controversial Bloggernacle Post in the 6,000-Year History of the World. This Week, at Least.

Historicity.

Honest Prayer of a Nervous Home Seller

Dear Lord, help me sell this house before the snow melts, because a peaceful blanket of your winter moisture over my backyard will be the only acceptable camouflage for that neglected jungle.

Bless my eyes to open to new visions, and see the scuff marks upon the walls that have hidden in plain sight lo these many years.

Please send slightly unimaginative buyers to my door, that they may see the beautiful golf course next door, but not comprehend the possibility of a plague of mulligans that shatter the glass of house and auto and cause the sin of profanity.  And while you’re at it Lord, bless the untalented golfers to send their mulligans to the right—not to the direction of my vulnerable abode.  Send the balls to the right and the cash-buyers to the left.

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Lent I

That Lent should be a season of joy seems, well, not quite right. Why voluntarily enter a world of deprivation when life is usually hard enough as it is? We can hardly follow Jesus into the wilderness if that’s where we’re already living, having been cast out of Eden alongside Adam and Eve. Sin and death really do seem to have the dominion here.

Moreover, this privation is supposed to make us like God, knowing good and evil. Knowing as much about evil as we apparently do, might not some good usefully correct the balance? Meanwhile, we kvetch: our bones wither away, because of our groaning all day long. [Read more…]

Living Theology: Lowell L. Bennion

Where to start with Lowell Bennion, a man whose virtues almost defy enumeration? Best, perhaps, to follow his own example and cut to “the weightier matters.” [1] Although he was a theologian, teaching thousands of students in his decades as director of the Salt Lake City Institute that religion should involve the mind and the spirit (a message distilled into his classic book Religion and the Pursuit of Truth), Bennion’s greatest theological impact came from how he lived his life, inspired by these favorite words from Micah: “what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”
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Margaret’s Heart of Africa

DSCN2836We were staying at a nice tourist hotel in Arba Minch, Ethiopia near the Nechisar National Park that borders Lake Abaya in the great Rift Valley. High cinderblock walls topped with broken glass and concertina wire surrounded pleasant little duplex bungalows in which we stayed. It was a nice hotel. My room had a sit-down toilet in one corner and a large bucket beside a garden hose, which I could use to fill the bucket to flush the toilet. There was also a large dipper that I could use to ladle water from the bucket and pour over me in case I wanted to take a shower (and I did, because it was kind of hot). As I maneuvered the mosquito netting around my bed, I was pleased to catch the scent of pyrethroids that meant an added layer of protection from malaria-carrying mosquitos. Here people still die from diseases that for us no longer pose a problem—malaria, measles, typhoid, even polio, that we (until recently) had eradicated. [Read more…]

Shrove Tuesday/Ash Wednesday

MLP

MLP

Mormon Lectionary Project: Ash Wednesday

Joel 2:1-2,12-172 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10Matthew 6:1-6,16-21Psalm 103; 2 Nephi 4: 15-35

The Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Like Advent, Lent signals new life on the horizon. Shorn of all the secular trappings of Easter, the beginning of Lent is thus, along with First Advent, perhaps holier than the holiday it precedes. It is a day worth paying attention to, but in doing so, we admit our Anglo-Catholic tendencies. We Protestants (and Mormonism, whatever its doctrinal divergences, is culturally low church Protestant) have had an uneasy relationship with Lent, the 40 days (not counting Sundays) between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Henry VIII, for example, allowed the eating of dairy products, hitherto forbidden during Lent, in his new English church. The Puritans abolished Lent altogether before it was reinstated by Charles II in 1664. By Victorian times, it had almost disappeared from English custom as one Yorkshireman ruefully noted in 1865: [Read more…]

Mormon LGBT Outreach: Part I

In November of 2013, my stake president, Thomas Fairbanks, asked me to spearhead “gay and lesbian outreach” in the Seattle North Stake.  Seattle is the new San Francisco – our city has a large gay population, both inside and outside the Church.  But very few openly gay or lesbian church members attend services in our wards.  In President Fairbanks’ mind, this wasn’t an ideal state of affairs.  If the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is what it claims to be, if it contains a religious message and provides a spiritual environment that everyone can benefit from – regardless of their individual life paths and circumstances – then we should be a community that welcomes everyone into the communal life of the church.  “Everyone” includes our LGBT brothers and sisters. [Read more…]

Common Consent, A Comparative Glimpse

Archbishop of York John Sentamu ordains Right Reverend Libby Lane to the office of Bishop of Stockport, Jan. 26, 2015 (source: http://tinyurl.com/lvo4mam)

Archbishop of York John Sentamu ordains Right Reverend Libby Lane to the office of Bishop of Stockport, Jan. 26, 2015 (source: http://tinyurl.com/lvo4mam)

A few weeks ago, we were given a fascinating glimpse of the scriptural principle of “common consent” as practiced in the Church of England when the Rt Rev Libby Lane was consecrated as eighth Bishop of Stockport on January 26, 2015. It was very moving to see an action taken “by common consent” as the congregation present all shouted in unison “It is!” when asked if it was their will that Rev. Lane be ordained to the office of Bishop. This also evoked images of King Benjamin’s speech in The Book of Mormon, in which all in attendance responded in unison at certain points. [Read more…]

A Home Teaching Visit

On Sunday afternoon I went to visit a woman I home teach. I went by myself. The guy who had been going with me couldn’t do it anymore. My actual companion isn’t anxious to do it, and the logistics of trying to organize a visit that way make it so it would hardly ever happen, and this woman very much wants and needs to be visited. So a couple of months ago I asked her if she would mind if I just came over myself, and she was perfectly fine with that. She’s 83 years old. At church in the morning she had asked me whether I was still her home teacher (because I had missed January), so I figured, oops, I had better get on it. We arranged a time after church to meet at her home. [Read more…]

Religious Art: Marine Iguana by Sebastião Salgado

Sebastião Salgado (1944 – ), Marine iguana. Galápagos. Ecuador., 2004. Photographs, Gelatin silver print.

Marine iguana. Galápagos. Ecuador., 2004

Humanity. Serenity. Tenderness. These are the first three words I associate with Salgado’s photograph of a marine Iguana. But the association is a little uncomfortable. Observing human-like (anthropomorphic) qualities in mammals is common but finding them in reptiles feels somewhat strange. The form of the hand is surprisingly familiar, even the scales have a skin-like quality. Perhaps most unsettling is the casual way the hand lies over the rocks. It is this destabilizing feeling that keeps me returning to this photograph.

By removing the teleological, evolution’s story refuses to acknowledge humanity’s desire to be a protagonist. After Darwin, humans are no longer the center of the universe. Yet, despite this radical shift in our place in the tree of life, we still tend to see other life forms in relation to ourselves. This tendency to anthropomorphize other creatures is a remnant of this anthropocentric worldview. [Read more…]

Review: Religion of a Different Color

Paul Reeve’s book, Religion of a Different Color, arrived in time for me to take on my trip and I finished before getting home. I wanted to write something up quickly; this is not meant to be an exhaustive review. Still, I think there is a lot worth saying. Paul opens and organizes the volume with a handy conceit, namely the cartoon from Life magazine that adorns the cover, and he uses the various children as sections to discuss the complex interplay between Mormons, Americans and race. From today’s perspective it does seem absurd that Americans denigrated Mormons as more black, or Native American, or Asian than white. Handy and tremendously perspicuous. Religion of a Different Color is the most sophisticated and penetrating treatment of Mormonism and race to date.
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Ministering to the un-ministerable

My oldest child is almost 17 and has hated church at least since she was a toddler. Possibly she hated it before then but lacked the verbal skills to express herself clearly. At any rate, for the last fifteen years she has expressed her hostility this way: yelling, screaming, blurting out insults and provocative comments, disrupting lessons (and singing), and generally making everyone else’s worship time miserable. This is not typical behavior, even for a teenager, so I should probably explain that in addition to having Asperger’s Syndrome and a mood disorder, she is kind of a brat. I think I can say that with love, since I’m her mom and she probably got it from me in the first place. [Read more…]

Williamses, Ranked

Two (2) authoritative rankings in one week? Events over the past few days (i.e., we both happened to have 20 minutes free) have mandated that we do so, even at risk of shark-jumping accusations from our colleague by john f. This time, Steve and I settle a controversial topic that has plagued society for years: Who are the best Williamses?

ash williams

As always, these rankings are authoritative.
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The Sacrament of Attention

We are pleased to feature another guest post from Michael Austin.

The often-used phrase “pay attention” is apt: you dispose of a limited budget of attention that you can allocate to activities, and if you try to go beyond your budget, you will fail. It is the mark of effortful activities that they interfere with each other, which is why it is difficult or impossible to conduct several at once.
​​​​​—Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow

The key to a Christian conception of studies is the realization that prayer consists of attention. It is the orientation of all the attention of which the soul is capable toward God. The quality of the attention counts for much in the quality of the prayer. Warmth of heart cannot make up for it.
​​​​—Simone Weil, “Reflections on the Right Use of
​​​​ School Studies with a View to the Love of God”

A few weeks ago, I was stuck in the Denver Airport because I missed my flight. I was sitting at the gate when the boarding calls were issued, but I didn’t hear them, nor did I even notice when the plane left the runway. That’s because I was completely engrossed in a marvelous book called Thinking Fast and Slow by the Nobel prizewinning psychologist/economist Daniel Kahneman. This book’s description of attention as a limited resource, optimized by two separate mental systems, fascinated me so much that I proved Kahneman’s thesis empirically—by failing to notice the large jet airliner fifty feet away taking off without me.
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When the Mormons met Darwin’s Origin of the Species

brighamyoungdarwin

A copy of Darwin’s Descent of Man from Brigham Young’s collection. Courtesy of Ardis Parshall.

Are science and religion mutually combative foes? The question’s not a new one, nor is it necessarily more pressing today than it’s been in the past. The turn of the twentieth century marked another period of intense cultural shifts, not least of all regarding widespread views about the relationship between the natural sciences and religion. [Read more…]

My Belief

Apparently, in an interview today on Radio West with Doug Fabrizio, John Dehlin claimed that “people who blog at BCC” don’t believe in the historicity of The Book of Mormon. As far as I’m aware, John Dehlin does not have any special insight into the religious convictions of people who blog at BCC. In fact, as a result of his unsubstantiated comment, I feel it necessary to issue the following statement: “Dear Internet, I believe in the historicity of The Book of Mormon as part of the foundation of my Christian faith, which faith nevertheless rests exclusively on my belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and Savior of the World — and therefore also my personal Savior — as witnessed in the New Testament, prophesied in the Old Testament as interpreted and finally understood through the New Testament realization of the Atonement, and as separately attested in The Book of Mormon, in the historicity of which I firmly believe based on personal spiritual confirmation of the truthfulness of the book’s message that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who is truly One God with the Father and the Holy Spirit, reigning forever, and based on fascinating and consistent evidences that have been studied and discussed extensively by Mormon scholars who are friends and family and whose sincerity and honesty and good faith I do not doubt in the slightest.”

Help thou my unbelief

And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.

I had a conversation over email the other day with a good friend, who is concerned that we continue to lack the individual and organizational tools to talk about serious faith issues at church. What’s the best way to react and help others when they are at a low point in their testimonies? [Read more…]

Does Open Stories Foundation Qualify As Tax-Exempt?

Last week, Peggy Fletcher Stack wrote an article about John Delhin’s finances. A couple things leaped out at me, particularly salient, perhaps, because of research I’ve been doing recently, and because they raise difficult-to-see red flags, both for the Open Stories Foundation (“OSF”) and for other Mormons (or, more generally, Americans) who want to start a tax-exempt organization.[fn1]

Tl;dr: OSF looks like it is violating the prohibition against private inurement, which would compromise its tax-exempt status; it should at the very least get a tax practitioner with experience in the tax-exempt area to look closely. Also, anybody who wants to operate a tax-exempt entity needs to get competent legal advice upfront: the tax-exempt area is a minefield of compliance traps. [Read more…]

Things Anonymous Will Reveal, Ranked

So did you all hear that Anonymous has threatened to take over LDS.org if the big JD gets the axe? I don’t want to play spoiler or anything, but the truth is, Steve and I have been running LDS.org ourselves for the past 3 years, and we can already tell you the dirtiest-dirt there is. Brace yourselves, folks–Shiz is about to get real.

lds.org anonymous

As always, these rankings are authoritative.
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The Necessity and Complexity of Editing the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church Manuals

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 2.55.12 PMThe third lesson of the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson manual, “Freedom of Choice, an Eternal Principle,” focuses on the importance of one’s moral conscience. It addresses a primary conundrum of modern democracy: today’s liberty allows both the ability to freely practice religion according to your own belief as well as the freedom to practice immorality and disbelief. The potential for a righteous life, then, is tethered to the potential for sin. This makes the stakes all the more fraught. “Life is a testing time in man’s eternal existence,” Benson preached in an excerpt included in the lesson, “during which he is given…the right to choose between right and wrong.” The absence of a strong federal government that dictates moral values both enables religious agency but also accelerates religious dissent. This makes it all the more crucial, he argued, to teach our children how to use their freedom wisely, especially in an age when there are so many corrupting choices and potential evils at every corner.
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