Enoch and the Silmarillion Part 1: Context and Structure of the Tale of Enoch.

I’d like to do a series of posts on the tale of Enoch as it is found in the Pearl of Great Price. There is a lot of interesting stuff in there, and I’ll probably take note of a few interesting tangents along the way, but where I’m ultimately going with this is that I want to make a comparison between the weeping God of Enoch’s vision, and Nienna, the weeping goddess of Tolkien’s fictional epic, the Silmarillion, and see what insights I can draw out of such a comparison.

But first, I want to put the text of Enoch’s vision in its context as a part of Joseph Smith’s biblical revision project. None of what I write below is groundbreaking, but I think it helps to summarize it before getting into the text. [Read more…]

Time Travel: Christian Identity Loss

perros-2I recently returned from a trip back to the Canary Islands, where I served my mission over 27 years ago. I’ve been back a couple times before, but this was my first time back to the island of Gran Canaria where the mission home was, where I spent my first day, and where I spent about half my mission. As we went to various places in Las Palmas, I kept having flashbacks to the emotions I felt on my first day as a missionary as well as on subsequent pivotal occasions. It was weird.

When I started my mission, I had some strange ideas about the need to slough off my identity, to leave behind the identifiable parts of myself in favor of a new, bland, passive Christian identity that was really no identity at all. I had the idea that I was entering a monastic order, similar to an abbey. I envisioned myself as a sort of Mormon nun, having transcended or at least forsaken my own interests and personality and ready to just be an empty vessel for the word of God, a conduit for a will other than my own. There was no room for defensiveness or for my need to be understood or known. Being misunderstood by others gave me a chance to let go of my identity, to kill the natural (wo)man.

Obviously this lasted about 5 minutes.[1]  [Read more…]

Canon as Context: Insights from the Bible Wars

“By taking seriously the canon, one confesses along with the church to the unique function that these writings have had in its life and faith as Sacred Scriptures. Then each new generation of interpreters seeks to be faithful in searching these Scriptures for renewed illumination. . . . Ultimately, to stand within the tradition of the church is a stance not made in the spirit of dogmatic restriction of the revelation of God, but in joyful wonder and even surprise as the Scripture becomes the bread of life for another generation.”–Brevard Childs, Biblical Theology in Crisis

[Read more…]

Call for Papers: 1835-1839

From the good folks at the Joseph Smith Papers Project:

In 2017, the Joseph Smith Papers Project will release volumes five and six of the Documents Series, covering major events from the life of Joseph Smith during the years 1835-1839. To celebrate the publication of these volumes, the project invites paper proposals for a conference to be held on October 20, 2017 at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City. While paper proposals need not specifically be about Joseph Smith, they should draw from the corpus of his surviving documents from 1835-1839. We encourage proposals that explore the broad themes covered in these volumes, including missionaries; the role of women and gender in religious communities; religious gathering; communitarian land purchasing strategies and urban planning; frontier violence; religion and the law; and religious dissent. [Read more…]

Review: Garden of Enid: Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl, Part 2

Image result for garden of enid part 2For those of you who enjoy Hales’ web comic, Garden of Enid, it will come as no surprise that Enid in book form is a delight. For those who haven’t read any of these comics, it’s well worth your time to pick up a copy. Steve Evans capably reviewed Part One here. Part Two takes Enid further into her adolescence and through big changes in her life and character’s development. [Read more…]

The Restoration

I delivered something similar to this to my ward a couple of weeks ago.

Some years ago I took [my son] with me while working in upstate New York. We visited Seneca Falls, Fayette, and Palmyra. I was delighted that some of the history nerdiness that saturates our household had permeated him as demonstrated by his cheerful responses to the missionaries and his piercing questions. I keep my favorite memory of those days from the Grandin printing office. After walking through the exhibits demonstrating the publication methods of the Book of Mormon, the missionaries directed us to a hanging copy of “Moroni’s Promise.” One sister earnestly explained it to [my son] and asked if he had ever followed its exhortation. “No,” he responded, and the missionary’s eyes flashed with the opportunity. “I don’t need to.” And I leaned over and whispered that I didn’t either. I was grateful at that moment that my son had learned that there is more than one story associated with that scripture.
[Read more…]

Witnesses of God

Adapted from a talk I gave recently:

In his talk last conference, Elder Anderson encouraged us to stop feeling guilty about our lack of past success in member missionary work and to instead seek to be motivated by a desire to stand as a witness of God, quoting from Alma’s famous baptismal sermon at the waters of Mormon.

As I read Elder Anderson’s talk, I wonder what is the difference between how we normally approach missionary work and the approach he asks us to take? How is standing as a witness of God different from what we normally do (and that makes us feel guilty)? [Read more…]

JS and the Fate of the Unevangelized

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If salvation comes through Jesus Christ, what happens to the billions of human beings who have lived on earth without a reasonable introduction to the Savior and his Gospel? There is an array of different theories on this question, which have been ably summarized in John Sanders, “Those Who Have Never Heard: A Survey of the Major Positions,” in Salvation in Christ: Comparative Christian Views, ed. Roger R. Keller and Robert L. Millet (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2005), 299–325 (link here). Those who are interested in this topic should read the entire article. [Read more…]

Reading the Book of Mormon in the Anthropocene: 1 Nephi 2:15, Part I

1 Nephi 2:15

And my father dwelt in a tent.

What does it mean he dwelt in a tent? I’ve never dwelt in a tent. I’ve stayed in tents many times while camping and once, while in the Army, I lived in a tent on the parade grounds of an Army base for six months while our barracks in Schweinfurt, Germany was being repaired. But ‘dwelt’ seems to carry more heft, more significance, than does ‘staying’ or ‘living’ in one. [Read more…]

On Hypocrisy: A Dialogue with Myself

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large — I contain multitudes.”—Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

 

 Me: Trump is a fascist. We have to do stuff

Other Me: Oh please. Listen to yourself. Remember when Bush was a fascist? Cheney? It’s not an alternate spelling for “Republican,” you know? Weren’t you the guy who said, “democracy means that approximately half of the time everybody is going to be governed by people that they really, really don’t like.” Of course, that was when Obama was president and you were telling people to get over it.

Me: But this time is different. He really is a fascist. Muslim bans? “My authority will not be questioned”? I mean, we’re one step away from sieg heiling when he walks in. [Read more…]

CFP: Book of Mormon Studies

Book of Mormon Studies: Toward a Conversation
 
Academic study of the Book of Mormon has never been more promising than at present. Royal Skousen’s work on producing a critical text is nearing completion, and the Joseph Smith Papers Project is making the manuscripts of the Book of Mormon widely available. Terryl Givens and Paul Gutjahr’s work has provided a basic outline on the reception history of the book. Brant Gardner has provided students of the Book of Mormon with a richly sourced and substantive commentary. Grant Hardy has introduced the content and the depth of the Book of Mormon into the larger academic world, and scholars associated with Community of Christ have recently made a case for renewed interest in the volume. The Journal of Book of Mormon Studies has begun to provide a space where various kinds of serious research on the book can be published. Book of Mormon Central has laid the foundation for a comprehensive archive of previous scholarly work. The Mormon Theology Seminar has begun assembling a body of close theological readings of specific texts. And promisingly, non-Mormon academic presses and journals have begun to publish important work on the Book of Mormon.

[Read more…]

The Elephant in the Bed: A Canadian Mormon Looks at Trump

Jennifer Quist is an award-winning novelist as well as an essayist and a youth Sunday school teacher (which is its own reward). She has five sons but studies comparative literature at the University of Alberta anyway, and her Chinese is terrible.

I was worried about my boy. He left our home and our country as the youngest missionary in my family’s sixty-years history with the Church to go to a foreign nation. It’s a place with an unstable government led by an authoritarian madman elected by a mob that sees themselves as beset by outsiders and their leader as justified in violating international treaties, denying residents’ rights, taunting foreign governments, and doing nothing as the sick poor suffer and die. My missionary wrote home about culture shock, glossing over it in his mass emails, telling me “no, but really” in our private letters. What could I do but remind him to thank God for his Canadian passport? Then six weeks into his mission, his time at the Provo Missionary Training Center was over and he could move on, leave the surreality of Donald Trump’s post-truth America, to serve his mission in countries we’re more comfortable with right now: Romania and Moldova.

[Read more…]

Lesson 8: The Restoration of the Priesthood #DandC2017

The restoration of the priesthood can be somewhat difficult to approach because there have been so many layers of re-reading. For example, we often say that John the Baptist restored the Aaronic Priesthood and later Peter, James, and John restored the Melchizedek Priesthood. The thing is, those terms and their meanings didn’t exist for another five or six years after the events occurred.
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Preaching in the Provinces: Lorenzo Barnes and Early Mormon Missions

Lorenzo Barnes (1812-1842)—early Mormon convert and perennial missionary—left some record of his preaching efforts in two small journals. Barnes was schooled in early Mormon ideas and mission work, and his methods probably mirrored what many lay-minister Mormons did to spread the word. I’ve been thinking more about Barnes lately and I’ve written a bit about him in something that appears in the most recent issue of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (though that piece is altogether different from this blog entry). Barnes ends out with a chapter in the sermon book (Every Word Seasoned with Grace: A Textual Study of the Funeral Sermons of Joseph Smith) since Joseph Smith preached a sermon in honor of Barnes in April 1843—Barnes died in mission service (December 1842, Idle, England). Here I’m just going to quote from one of Barnes’s journals about his 1835 preaching travels Barnes was in the Camp of Israel — Zion’s Camp — and subsequently was called as one of the original Seventy whose special duty was mission work. Spelling and punctuation as in the original.
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Risky Religion, or, The Terrors of Love

Keep the commandments; in this there is safety and peace.
—Barbara A. McConochie, Hymn 303

The world’s a tumultuous place, no doubt about it: roiling with uncertainty. No wonder, then, that we seek safety. Mormonism has a strong discursive bent toward treating the gospel as the means to safety in a perilous world. Get on board the Old Ship Zion, we say, and you’ll weather the storm. The watchmen on the tower will warn of impending danger, and, if we heed their precautions, we can sleep soundly at night.

On the cosmic level, I believe that this is right, and in some more proximate ways as well: trying to steer clear of sin is probably a good idea. Even so, I think that the safety the gospel affords turns out to be more painfully paradoxical than we usually like to let on.

[Read more…]

Kingdom Come

Adapted from a talk I gave recently.

“Thy kingdom come.” Let there come the full establishment of thy realm. This is the first thing Jesus teaches us to pray about after addressing God and honoring God’s name. There’s a Jewish saying used in the yeshivas, “a prayer where there is no mention of the Kingdom of God is not a prayer.”

Jesus puts it up front and center. Zion is not just something to pray for, it is the first thing to pray for. It is both a wish – because the arrival of God’s kingdom means rest and paradise – and a pledge of allegiance, submission to God as the real commander in chief. Whatever authorities and governments we have over us now, Jesus seems to ask us to look to God and say, “thy kingdom come.” [Read more…]

Letter to a Young Jihadist

About ten years ago, I led a group of students on an art-viewing tour through Morocco. On the last day of the trip, I went to the marketplace in Marrakesh, where I found a beautiful, hand-crafted writing journal with only the first few pages written on in a beautiful Arabic script. I was still unclear about the currency, so I ended up paying more than a hundred dollars for it, which, my guide later told me, was ridiculous. But I was satisfied because it was beautiful, and it has been on our mantle ever since.

A week or so ago, Dr. Sid Hamete Benengeli, my colleague from the university, came to dinner. He was immediately taken with the journal, and he opened it up and said, “why do you have a book called “Letter to a Young Jihadist” on your mantel? I was shocked. I had no idea what was written in the journal, but I figured it was pretty ordinary. That night, Dr. Benengeli translated the whole text, which turns out to have been a letter from an uncle to his infant nephew. I am reproducing it here because of the potential interest in the topic and the author, though I have no way of knowing if it is a genuine letter or just the doodling of an idle child. 

September 10, 2001

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What If the Church Didn’t Remain Politically Neutral?

On Sunday, Carolyn Homer wrote a thoughtful post about why, even if Donald Trump manages to “totally destroy” the so-called Johnson Amendment, the church shouldn’t start publicly endorsing or opposing candidates for office. On almost every level, she is certainly right: anything else opens the door to real discomfort and mischief.

And yet, I want to propose that, if Trump succeeds, the church (or, rather, members of the Quorum of the Twelve) should start endorsing candidates.

Stay with me—this isn’t any kind of modest proposal, and I’m being completely serious. But my proposal requires some explanation and significant caveats. [Read more…]

Lesson 7: “The First Principles and Ordinances of the Gospel” #DandC2017

We believe that through the atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel. We believe that these ordinances are 1st, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; 2d, Repentance; 3d, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; 4th, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

– Joseph Smith, the Wentworth Letter, 1842

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On Getting New Garments

garments

So I’ve needed to buy some new garments. For, like, a long, long time. But I had been putting it off. Being a participant in the Bloggernacle had sort of freaked me out, because of all the conversations (dominated by women) about how horrible the fit is and all the money they’ve wasted on ill-fitting, uncomfortable garments. And I have to admit, all that talk worried me. But I finally screwed up my courage and decided I was gonna do it. [Read more…]

The Church Should Remain Politically Neutral

Today’s guest post is from Carolyn Homer. Carolyn Homer is an attorney and religion constitutional law enthusiast in Washington, D.C.

The silence is eerie.

Ever since Donald Trump became a serious presidential contender, Sunday meetings (at least in my wards) have been free of passing references to politics and thinly-veiled endorsements of the Republican platform. Instead there’s been a renewed focus on love, Christ, repentance, and refugees.

I love it. And I hope it stays that way. [Read more…]

Receiving Grace: Mozart’s Great Mass

51nbxoelzl-_ss500Becoming familiar with Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor (K.427) is a good way to both deepen one’s appreciation for WAM, especially his church music, but also to find a way into understanding the rich and ancient eucharistic liturgy of the western church. The Great Mass, composed in 1782/3, is unfinished* but the missing parts are often added for modern performances and recordings.

In the Great Mass we proceed in stages through music until we receive the grace of God in the Eucharist.

[Read more…]

Some Thoughts on National Security–Introduction

On, March 3, 2016, notable scholars and practitioners in the national security field (many of them republicans who had served in former administrations) released a foreign policy-based letter opposing the candidacy of Donald Trump.[1]  While it made headlines for a day or two, the move—which would have been game-changing in any previous “normal” election season—scarcely made waves in the tumultuous campaign season.  Privately, many of my friends who work in the field of foreign affairs were baffled.  Why aren’t people paying attention to this?  This was the wonkish equivalent of an 85 yard hail mary in the last seconds of the Super Bowl.  [Read more…]

Book Review: William Mackinnon’s Utah War

William P. MacKinnon, At Sword’s Point, Part II: A Documentary History of the Utah War, 1858-1859 (Arthur Clark, 2016). 

16521725_10103176001684139_1837689960_nFor such a small chronological scope, William MacKinnon’s documentary history of the Utah War covers a lot of ground. Though the armed confrontation in 1857-1858 was theoretically isolated to the Rocky Mountains, its tentacles touched far and wide. Soldiers were sent as far south as New Mexico to purchase supplies. Facing the threat of another Mormon relocation, the British government set to fortify their Pacific lands. Fearing an invasion, the Russian Tsar sought to sell the territory of Alaska. California appeared as both a boundary and a revolving door for either side of the conflict. And at the center of it all was American President James Buchanan, Mormon Prophet Brigham Young, and the very stakes of federal sovereignty in a country ready to go to war. This was no small, insignificant, nor parochial skirmish.  [Read more…]

On not correcting mistakes

I don’t think I believe in bibliomancy but when I randomly opened my Essential Dogen today, I opened to a teaching that spoke directly to a problem I have been mulling over for a while now, viz., how one should, in this new world of fake news, best respond to misinformation and its amplification via social media. I would like to know what the BCC community thinks:

Even when you are clearly correct and others are mistaken, it is harmful to argue and defeat them. On the other hand, if you admit fault when you are right, you are a coward. It is best to step back, neither trying to correct others nor conceding to mistaken views. If you don’t act competitively, and let go of the conflict, others will also let go of it without harboring ill will.

My whole soul rebels against this. If you are clearly wrong, and if the wrongness matters, I have this overwhelming urge to correct you. The thing is it generally seems to be a futile exercise and has this unwelcome outcome of tieing knots in my own wellbeing. Maybe Dogen is right . . . ? (#zen)

On Totally Destroying the Johnson Amendment

Yesterday at the National Prayer Breakfast, Donald Trump (among other things) reiterated his campaign promise to “get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment.”

The phrase “Johnson Amendment” may well be meaningless to you. It’s kind of a stupid name for a broadly-misunderstood provision of the tax law. So, to get us all on the same page, a quick explainer: [Read more…]

More Thoughts on Mormons and Muslims

Paul Reeve is a professor of History at the University of Utah and author of Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness.

Much of the negative reactions to my Mormons and Muslims op-ed seem to come from Mormons who, if I understand them correctly, make this point: Mormons were peaceful settlers in the 19th century and Muslims are suicide bombing terrorists in the 21st century ergo Mormons did not deserve the labels of “murderers, traitors, fanatics, and whores” in the 19th century, but Muslims do deserve to be banned from the United States in the 21st century. The problem with that reasoning is a common misconception among 21st century Latter-day Saints–that their pioneer ancestors never did anything to raise even the slightest whiff of violence or threat to the surrounding host society. [Read more…]

Things We’re Doing to Avoid Thinking About Donald Trump, Ranked

Are you tired of Donald Trump? Tired of hearing about him? Tired of reading about him? Tired of arguing about him with your weird Uncle Rick? Yeah, same goes for me. And Steve, too. But also tired of coming to the realization that being tired of it isn’t an option, because it’s important? Yeah, us too.

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

Left the Church? 25 Things Not to Say to a Believing Loved One (& what to say instead)

We’re grateful that Dr. Julie de Azevedo Hanks has shared this followup with us, cross-posted to drjuliehanks.com.

canstockphoto9791318A week and a half ago I published a guest post here titled 25 things NOT to say to a loved one leaving the faith (and what to say instead). The post sparked some great discussion among commenters on the blog and on social media. [Read more…]

Lesson 6: “I Will Tell You in Your Mind and in Your Heart” #DandC2017

This week’s lesson is a continuation of the aborted Oliver Cowdery translation attempt. Bummer for you teachers who rotate weeks with another teacher; there’s a BIG overlap in chapters here with both this week and last week’s lesson focusing on the same three sections of the Doctrine & Covenants: 6, 8, and 9. This one throws section 11 in the cart, but really, the majority of the lesson is still focused on the same material as last week. You’re the loser who drew the short straw because your rotating cohort got first dibs on the good stuff.

The first “attention activity” is the suggestion to bring a radio to class. Apparently, a radio is an old-timey electronic device that was used to receive transmitted sound waves from the air. People used to use these devices to listen to talk show programs as well as music, all interspersed with housewives gushing about the newest dish washing soap and doctors recommending their favorite brand of cigarette “for your health.” Radios were also used in the Netflix series Stranger Things to communicate with the Upside Down. Since it’s probably impractical to drive your car into the classroom, perhaps there are some functional portable radios at the Desert Industries or in your grandfather’s attic you could pick up for your object lesson. [1] [Read more…]