Preview/Review: The Cokeville Miracle. A New Film From T. C. Christensen.

Angels.
Angels have played a significant role in Christian thought through the centuries, and in recent years an important scholarly literature has developed around the subject. Books and articles treat many different genres and periods, from the apostolic, to the medieval, to the early modern era and beyond (our own Ben Park and Sam Brown have work in the area, among others). Such work is important for many reasons, among them the study of the function and nature of angels (as people considered them) as well how these beings link to epistemological, ontological, cosmological, and other areas of religious thought. Current work shows that ideas regarding angels have and do play fundamental roles in cultural, religious, social, and literary worlds with surprising cross-pollination. Mormons are certainly familiar with the role angels play in their religion, both in its founding and more subtly in its past and current lay devotional thought.

The idea of supernatural beings who carry messages from, and do the bidding of the gods is a very old one, and biblical stories of angels acting as divine agents often mark important theological turning points. The angelic experiences told by Joseph Smith seem to portray angels as dignified, somewhat impersonal extentions of divinity but angel stories are not restricted to this narrow vision. Just as the “cult” of angels replaced the cult of Saints in Reformation Europe, angelic ministers replaced in some sense the Protestant individualism of “personal savior” for Mormons. And Mormons found a somewhat unique angelology that allowed them to reinvent Saints and Angels, in effect as one and the same.
[Read more…]

Mother’s Day #biketochurch

imageMay is Bike to Church Month at By Common Consent, and Mother’s Day is no exception. Ride your bike to church this month and share your pics with us! Today we feature Kari Waters from Syracuse, NY, very on point for Mother’s Day rocking the toddler in rear seat! [Read more…]

A Letter from My Mother

On this Mother’s Day I thought I would let mine speak for herself. She kept all personal correspondence addressed to her and copies of a lot of letters she wrote to others. I found this one while getting ready for her funeral last year and felt like it reflects a sense of what it was like for a Mormon mother to raise eight children in a rural setting nearly forty years ago. Of course, the more things change, the more they stay the same, and I suspect today’s readers will be able to relate.  [Read more…]

Mother Jesus

Although Julian of Norwich (c. 1342-c. 1417) was the greatest of the medieval English mystics, we know little of her life. At about age 30 she was cured of mortal illness through a vision she experienced while gazing at a cross brought by the priest who had come to administer last rites. By the 1390s she was a well-known anchorite (a person bound by vow to sacred confinement) at the Church of St. Julian in Norwich.

We know her primarily through her book of Showings, which makes her the first identifiable female author in English literature. This book exists in two forms: a shorter one recording what she called “the revelations of divine love” and a longer one that expands and meditates upon these experiences.

Although, as with many of our own spiritual experiences, Julian’s first vision seems to have come unbidden, she was exemplary in showing us what riches can come of meditating upon what the Lord has taught us. In this way she provokes us to love and good deeds, giving us confidence to enter (and re-enter) the sanctuaries of our own hearts. [Read more…]

“Humanness” and “Brokenness” with a View to the Love of God

Jesus-walking-on-water-300x272I’ve been trying to figure out when “broken” became the new normal. I don’t remember the term “broken people” being thrown around much when I was a lad. We talked about broken homes, I remember, and sometimes an occasional broken family. But as far as I can tell, people didn’t get broken until sometime in the late 1990s. But now it seems that broken people are everywhere. And the phrase “we are all broken” seems to have become a favorite theme of Church talks from General Conference on down. [Read more…]

In favour of substitutionary atonement , sort of (1 of 2)

On Palm Sunday our direction turned to the Herodian temple and it is there where it must remain if we are to properly understand Jesus’ atonement. Jesus’ first act in Jerusalem was to visit the temple. With the cursing of the fig tree, the parable of the wicked tenants, and the violent cleansing of its precincts, his rejection of the temple was total and unambiguous. By driving out the money changers he was certainly making a statement about financial corruption in holy places, but more to the point was that by doing so, the rituals of the temple were disrupted. This seems to be the central purpose of Holy Week: Jesus’ acts are an apocalyptic rejection of the Jewish temple and its replacement in his own body. Here he goes beyond the Qumran community who had fled to the desert to await the new temple; Jesus does not wait for God to act, he is God. The temple is symbolically torn down. Note the tearing of the veil at his death.

[Read more…]

Mormon, History, Association?

As the MHA 50th Anniversary Conference draws closer, I’ve been thinking about various efforts and groups within Mormonism that attempt to make sense of our history. There have been lots of such groups, with varying levels of professionalism, success, and academic prowess, most of them the output of the sixties [1]. A partial list of groups and journals would include Dialogue, MHA, BYU Studies, the Maxwell Institute, EMSA, Sunstone, Interpreter, and the JMH. None of these organizations is perfect. If you were going to join or be part of a group that looked at Mormon history, what would it look like? What are the attributes of a good Mormon historical association, what would they be? Let me suggest a few. [Read more…]

The Spirit Made Me Do It

Some recent examples of the Spirit’s guidance on the web: [Read more…]

Book Review: Sarah Coakley, “God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity'”

Sarah Coakley, God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay “On the Trinity” (Cambridge University Press, 2013). Amazon Indiebound

Why should Mormons read (or even care about) a work of Anglican systematic theology about the Trinity, a doctrine in which we are prone to saying we do not believe? (But which we enjoy probing around here: see J. Stapley’s recent post, which links to several earlier Trinitarian BCC musings—get this—by three men, including me.)

Here’s why: some of the most urgent theological questions currently occupying Mormonism have to do with gender and the divine. Not only has the Ordain Women movement raised (once again) the issue of women’s ordination, but people are asking questions about Heavenly Mother (see the “Connecting to Heavenly Mother” series at FMH, or the Heavenly Mother category at the Exponent II blog), with some wondering whether she can be separated from earlier teachings about Adam-God and polygamy. A recent review of Terryl Givens’s Wrestling with the Angel drew attention to the ways that our theology (along with Givens’s account of it) struggles to make sense of gender or even to find a place for women. In sum, although many members of the Church (female and male) do seem satisfied with present teachings and practices around gender, a growing minority can’t help butting up uncomfortably against questions about how women fit into the economy of heaven. [Read more…]

The Spiritual Mission of the University

Two weeks ago, graduating BYU students and their families listened to a commencement address delivered by Professor Robert George of Princeton.

Loyola Logo

The Jesuit motto: For the greater glory of God.

In his address, Prof. George talks about the unique role that religious universities play in the world of academia; he also warned against giving up on that mission in slavish imitation of the best of secular institutions.

He’s absolutely right on the first point: religious universities have an essential role to play in the world of education and the world of scholarship. But he’s absolutely wrong in his diagnosis of following secular norms, and I want to push back against his view (which has, unfortunately, been adopted absent any nuance he may have painted with by others).  [Read more…]

Daniel, My Brother: The Case for Pastoral Training in the Church

Here is a story about when I tried to do everything right but ended up doing everything wrong.

I had just moved into the ward and been made Elders Quorum President. I got my first call from the Bishop while I was mowing my lawn. “There is a man named Daniel staying at the Scotsman Motel in Martinsburg,” he said. “He is a member of the Church who just got out of a group home in Hagerstown. You just need to drive him over to the homeless shelter on Washington.” [Read more…]

Broken Soil, Broken Hearts

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

This week, I prepared our small garden space, as I do every year, for the tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, cucumbers, and more than we’ll plant in the coming days. It starts with layering on top of the ground wheelbarrows full of freshly composted soil (filled this year, thankfully, with earthworms and grubs), then working it into the dirt, breaking apart the soil and mixing it in with a rototiller. It’s a violent process, but with the heavy clay content of our native dirt, it almost always needs to be done. [Read more…]

May is BCC Bike to Church Month: share your pics! #biketochurch

IMG_2386 I’m declaring May “Bike to Church” month at ByCommonConsent. May has good weather for biking to church in both the northern and southern hemispheres. I’d love to see photos of BCC readers biking to church. Email sisterblah2@gmail.com, or tweet them @bycommonconsent with hastag #biketochurch.
[Read more…]

Other Approaches to Assessing and Paying Tithes and Taxes

On the occasion of the announcement of the Church Online Donations website, which “will allow members in the United States an additional method to submit their contributions to the Church,” I thought I would share how such things can be handled (but aren’t necessarily by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, just to be clear) on the other side of the Atlantic. Depending on cultural and historical factors that inform how churches in Europe today finance their programs and activities–such as the strength of the relationship between church and state and who ended up with the temporal estates of ecclesiastical states back in ought-ninety-eight–the differences to practices common in the United States can be stark. [Read more…]

God and Mammon in the Mormon Historical Novel

n46844Sacred history, like sacred scripture, has great power to legitimate non-sacred opinions. This is why pretty much everybody in the Christian world quotes the Bible to support whatever they happen to believe. And in the United States, it is why the voluminous writings of the Founding Fathers have been prooftexted and cherry picked down to skeletal bullet points capable of supporting just about anything. This has a lot to do with the way our species thinks: we tend not to use reason to arrive at positions, but to defend positions arrived at in completely unreasonable ways. [Read more…]

Orson Pratt and God: Emergence as Fundamental Mormonism

ON the pioneer trail west, you can get bored. The cure for this is to contemplate questions like, where is the edge of universe, or where did God come from, or if we have bodies in heaven, do we have sex there? Obviously, the last question is the most interesting one, if sex is still interesting for you. If not, how about chocolate ice cream in heaven? You get the picture. Wilford Woodruff cautiously reported this from our friend Orson:
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Grace and Friendship

Some of life’s best examples of grace come through friendship, in little moments of surprise that remind us of the whole world that exists beyond ourselves. Sure, there are the graces that happen when strangers are unexpectedly kind, but what makes grace in friendship interesting is that we expect goodness from the other person. What is grace when kindness and generosity are the rule (even if moments of prickliness do intrude, as they will)? [Read more…]

Mormon Jesus?

Some months ago, I sat with a close friend just outside of Heathrow airport. We shared the Chinese food that was apparently prepared by Malaysian chefs, but we also shared deep interests in religion and theology. It was just the most recent meal of dozens over the years, and as was common, our conversation drifted in and out of chemistry, scripture, and belief. Quite appropriate to the context of our discussion, my friend asked, “Now, Mormons believe that Jesus was not always God, right?” Without blinking I replied that while some Christians might reject our formulation of the Trinity, Jesus was most certainly God from all eternity to all eternity. It was only later—some hours after we separated ways—that I reflected back on my response and wondered if I had mischaracterized some Mormons’ beliefs.
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On Urgency and Elevator Buttons

“a world of made is not a world of born.”—e.e. cummings, “pity this busy monster, manunkind”

Want to hear something really depressing? elevatorThose buttons in an elevator that say “CLOSE DOOR” almost never really close the door. In most situations they aren’t even active because the doors are controlled by automatic settings; they are just there to make you think you are doing something. Same with most of the buttons at crosswalks that you push to make the light turn green. They don’t control the light. They just make you feel better.

These are examples of placebo buttons, or mechanisms that manufacturers build into their devices to manage one of the really annoying little quirks of the human species: we are spectacularly bad at telling the difference between “doing something” and “doing something that matters.”
[Read more…]

The Permutation Machine

Man, these books were the best.

Man, these books were the best.

For your birthday, a friend/enemy leaves a mysterious machine on your doorstep. It is a Permutation Machine, that will let you revisit every decision in your life and see the possible variations and the consequences. You cannot change the past, but the Machine lets you know, with specificity, what “could have been”.

Do you use the Machine? [Read more…]

Emmeline B. Wells

On this day we honor the example of Emmeline B. Wells, whose deep commitment to the gospel drove decades of devotion to the cause of women’s rights.

Her faith was tested severely at a young age. After joining the Church in Massachusetts and marrying while still a teenager, she came to Nauvoo, only to be abandoned by her husband. Then, when Joseph was killed, her in-laws decided to return to Massachusetts, but rather than leave the Church with them, Emmeline made Ruth’s choice:

Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die—
there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!

The Restored Gospel was her Naomi. [Read more…]

Houses, Ranked

Scott: some quality in here
Steve: it’s perhaps better than the ranking we have up now!
Scott: easily!
Steve: who cares, let’s post another one right now.
Scott: i’ll load it up

d&c109

As always, these rankings are authoritative.
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Reasons We Didn’t Rank Stuff This Week, Ranked

It’s been a busy week! So busy, in fact, that Steve and I realized we’d deprived the 27 people who still read this series of their guidance for maintaining order in their lives. We apologize, and offer this list of reasons we haven’t been ranking things like we should be.

ulrich von lichtenstein

As always, these rankings are authoritative.
[Read more…]

Called of God? Don’t Inhale.

In a 2010 General Conference address, President Uchtdorf told of when he, as a newly called General Authority, was riding in a car with President James E. Faust, who talked about how members of the Church would behave toward him because of his calling:

He said, “They will treat you very kindly. They will say nice things about you.” He laughed a little and then said, “Dieter, be thankful for this. But don’t you ever inhale it.”

In practical terms, a worldwide Church needs General Authorities to administer it, and yet such “high” callings bring the risk, as President Faust pointed out, of going to the heads of those who hold them. [Read more…]

A Primary lesson on the priesthood

I was asked to substitute teach my nine-year-old daughter’s Primary class last Sunday. Coincidentally, my 9-year-old was also supposed to give a talk in Primary that day. Saturday evening, I remembered that I had still not prepared my lesson, which was supposed to be “Jesus Christ Used His Priesthood Power to Bless Others.” I had been putting it off, mainly because I am lazy, but also because I don’t like giving lessons on the priesthood, as it is a topic fraught with…problems, I guess–for me, not necessarily for anyone else. And probably especially not for children. I never worry about how the children are going to react to a particular lesson, at least not since I realized they forget everything that happened in class as soon as they leave the room. I only worry about my ability to not be completely uncomfortable for 45 minutes while I attempt to teach things I don’t understand or believe. That sounds a bit dramatic. It’s probably less provocative to say that I have a great deal of ambivalence about the priesthood. Anyway, that’s what was on my brain while I was procrastinating. Also procrastinating was my daughter, who does not like giving talks or preparing them. I don’t like giving talks or preparing them either, but what I like even less is helping children prepare talks. [Read more…]

Guest Post: Rough Stone Rolling Book Club

A guest post from J Stuart, of Juvenile Instructor (The BCC Farm Team)

Summer Book Club: Read Rough Stone Rolling with Historians of Mormonism

As a Mormon and historian of American religion, I’ve had a lot of people ask me what book they should read to begin their study of Mormon history. Unequivocally, my answer is Richard Bushman’s Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. Weighing in at 561 pages, it is longer than the Book of Mormon—which is perhaps why so few have read Bushman’s tome from cover to cover. The book itself can be physically and intellectually intimidating to historians and non-historians alike. Many Mormons and non-Mormons have read and digested the book in order to see Joseph Smith’s place in the history of antebellum America, American religious history, or just to learn more about Mormonism’s founder. [Read more…]

“Turtle Soup and Venison with a Gold Spoon”: God and Bounderby in a Christian Nation

“There’s not a Hand in this town, sir, man, woman, or child, but has one ultimate object in life. That object is, to be fed on turtle soup and venison with a gold spoon. Now, they’re not a-going—none of ’em—ever to be fed on turtle soup and venison with a gold spoon. And now you know the place.”–Josiah Bounderby in Charles Dickens’  Hard Times

GIF-CD-HT-HJosiah Bounderby of Coketown, the wealthy industrialist in Charles Dickens’ Hard Times, holds two mutually exclusive opinions that govern nearly all of his thoughts. First, he believes that poverty is a choice, and that anyone who wants a better life can do what he did and become a factory owner. Second, he believes that people who want to improve their lives are greedy agitators trying to pick his pocket. To all such people, he attributes the single motive of wanting “to to be fed on turtle and soup and venison with a gold spoon.” Who could support such extravagant choices in cuisine and cutlery?  [Read more…]

The Future of Mormon Thinking – Part 3, “The Subjective”

Photo: Petr Kratochvil

Photo: Petr Kratochvil

Say we grant that Mormonism is profoundly threatened by the claim that our religion is just in our heads.

Say we grant that Mormonism is threatened by the claim that, at best, Mormonism is a subjective pastiche of wishful thinking, soggy reasoning, willful self-deception, DIY clichés, middle management kitsch, and rose-tinted history that, as a whole, not only lacks objective reality but actively suppresses it.

What follows? What follows is that fearless Mormon thinking ought to occupy this position. It ought to adopt this critique as God’s own truth and find out how much water it can actually hold.

This enemy is too big a threat for fearless Mormon thinking to do anything other than love it with a whole heart. [Read more…]

Defending the family by exploring changing gender roles

Recently, at the General Women’s Session of April Conference, several talks where given on the theme of “defending the family.” There have been a number of responses to this session already (including two very good ones here at BCC), so we can safely say that this is a topic that has been covered. So, why bother talking about it some more? Because I think that I have found, hiding inside President Bonnie Oscarson’s talk, a message regarding marriage and family that is practically progressive in its outlook. [Read more…]

You Missed the Teenagers!

Two vignettes illustrating what is arguably our best shot to keep our youth actively engaged in the faith: [Read more…]

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