Book Review Roundup

The purpose of these periodic book review posts is to provide a succinct layman’s (or in my case, dilettante’s) impression of recent works in Mormon Studies. The ultimate goal is to inform consumer buying choice, as the selection criteria for home libraries can be vastly different from professional or academic libraries. All of these books deserve far deeper examination and hopefully will be the object of further study. [Read more…]

Missionary Communication Rules: How Folk Theology Works (and Doesn’t Work).

 

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The church announced today that effective immediately, missionaries can text, call, instant message, and video chat with their families at home on their preparation day, repealing the old rule that missionaries were only allowed to call home twice a year (Christmas and Mother’s Day), and were otherwise only allowed to email (and before sometime in the early 2000s, only write letters).

I imagine that this change is motivated at least in part by a concern for the emotional and mental health of missionaries. As long-distance communication has become cheaper and more ubiquitous, the world has become more and more interconnected. This is a double-edged sword: it makes long-distance and online friendships easier, but a side effect of that is that many people find it easier to primarily make friends with people online which means that IRL connection and friendship get harder. It can also be even more isolating when you grow up using online communication to make and maintain friendships, and then the ability to have online and log-distance connection is suddenly taken away. I’m no expert, but I suspect that this has a lot to do with the fact that many missionaries today find the mission experience, as rewarding and fulfilling as it is, to be seriously challenging to their emotional and mental health. And at some point, we have to ask ourselves whether that challenge is a necessary or worthwhile one. The church has now decided that it’s not. I think this is a very good thing. [Read more…]

Book review: And It Was Very Good

I seem to recall an episode of All in the Family (or possibly Archie Bunker’s Place) where Archie states his disapproval of sex education in the schools. “Kids should learn about sex the same place I did—the streets!” My own sex education did not happen in school, for the most part. Nor did it happen in the home. When I was about 10, my mother told me about menstruation, but that was pretty much the last conversation we had about reproduction. (At least in the educational sense.) My first school-based sex ed was in 7th grade; my mother wouldn’t sign the paperwork to get me out of it. “You have to learn about it sometime,” she said. And I was like, are you kidding me with this?* (I mean, I didn’t say it aloud. I suspected she might not want to know that I’d cobbled together my own version of sex ed from third-grade gossip and The Thorn Birds.) Despite my initial reluctance, I was kind of hoping—since I was stuck in the class anyway—that school would fill in some gaps in my knowledge. I mean, I was only thirteen; I didn’t know what I didn’t know, but I was hoping that I didn’t know it all. [Read more…]

My Valentine to the Church

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It’s Valentine’s Day, and I’ve felt inspired to take a moment and write some reflections on my gratitude and love for the Church.

My last few weeks have sparked a renewed joy in the gospel.  Two years ago I left my cluster of friends in the one and only true ward (thanks California!).  Ever since, I’ve felt a little aloof from the heart of Mormonism.   Yet recently, my Sabbath experience has been refreshed as a delight.

The new two-hour block and Come Follow Me curriculum seems to have galvanized my ward — gospel doctrine discussions have increased in thoughtfulness; Relief Society lessons have increased in vulnerability.  I’ve heard raw and inspiring commentary from the pulpit during Sacrament Meeting; slightly shorter talks have focused the content on Christ.  My family created a listserv to discuss the Book of Mormon; my friend circle Mormon Studies book clubs are going strong.  An intimate discussion on the temple overflowed with wisdom and hope.  I love the emphasis on ministering and the ways I’ve begun connecting with every individual in my ministering circle.  Then last Sunday, I had a conversation with my Bishop that embodied the best of pastoral care.

When the body of Christ is healthy, it is truly divine. [Read more…]

“Ye must be born again” #BCCSundaySchool2019

Readings: John 2-4

We’re back in John for this week’s reading. And John moves really fast through Jesus’ life and early ministry. It’s almost like an anthology of snippets of Jesus’s greatest hits. And Jesus is travelling all over the place. In these chapters we get these episodes:

  • Jesus in Galilee: Jesus turns water into wine at the marriage in Cana, his first miracle, according to John (John 2:1-11).
  • Jesus back in Jerusalem: Jesus turns the money-changers out of the temple (John 2:12-17).
  • Jesus prophesies of his death and resurrection: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:18-22)
  • Jesus meets with Nicodemus: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:1-21).
  • John in the desert: John the baptizer testifies of Jesus (John 3:22-36).
  • Jesus in Samaria, on his way back to Galilee: Jesus speaks with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well and makes a lot of converts in Samaria (John 4:1-42).
  • Jesus back in Cana: Jesus remotely heals a nobleman’s son (his second miracle) (John 4:46-54).

John is so compact and dense, and Jesus and John both speak in such mystical, prophetic language in John, that you could have many weeks of discussion about these chapters. In this post, I’m going to look at just a couple of these episodes. [Read more…]

Infertility and Choosing Motherhood

When we first got married, my husband, Jon, and I figured we’d eventually have three children, but agreed to wait and enjoy life with just the two of us for a good long while. During those first couple years, my periods went from problematic to extremely painful, and then debilitating, culminating in an embarrassing incident in the mother’s room at church where an investigator found me writhing on the floor and throwing up from pain. Visitors welcome! This was a turning point for me though, because once I was recovered enough for Jon to walk me to the car, the Primary president (who was the first person the investigator found when she ran for help, whom Jon had to talk down from calling an ambulance) kindly insisted, “This isn’t normal; it doesn’t need to be like this,” and urged me to see the reproductive endocrinologist who had helped her daughter with similar symptoms. I made an appointment the next day.

He believed me. I cried in his office! (I am not a public crier.) I was just so grateful to be validated instead of having my pain be downplayed again. (I had been told by more than one doctor to just take Midol.) [Read more…]

From Gold Plates to Gold Plating: Reaching for the Highest and the Best and Beyond Since 1827

It seems fitting that the being who guided our founder to the Gold Plates be memorialized in gold leaf. (Source)

The current center-right/far-right governing coalition in Austria has a problem—a robust social welfare state. Even though the social welfare state is responsible for channeling the post-war economic recovery into a relatively high quality of life for everyone in the country, the current government has plans to weaken if not dismantle it entirely. Rather than admit that the center-right party—which has been in uninterrupted power for over thirty years but recently “re-invented” itself under Europe’s youngest chancellor—may have anything to do with the status quo, politicians have been busy painting the European Union and its directives that member states are obliged to incorporate into their national legislation (only after their approval by a qualified majority of the same members states, of course) as the obstacle to prosperity:

[Read more…]

Leaving Ray Comfortless

I am horrified. Apparently “religious freedom” is an empty phrase when it comes to Death Row.

Let’s recap the insane saga in the State of Alabama over the last week. Domineque Ray is a Muslim inmate on Death Row, with an execution scheduled for today. Late in January, as the State started walking him through execution procedures, Alabama informed him that a Christian chaplain was required to be in the room with him at death, but his Muslim Imam would be barred.

Ray sued within days, asking for access to an Imam. [Read more…]

Jesus Wants Me for a Skeptic

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There is a trend in Latter-day Saint rhetoric to argue that having questions or researching answers about the church are dangerous and misguided ventures. These arguments have good intentions—they are meant to help people avoid discomfort or cognitive dissonance by encouraging them to wear blinders or to place difficult questions on “shelves” to be ignored until all is revealed after death (this analogy is not quite as useful in the age of Marie Kondo, however!). I sympathize with the intentions behind these arguments, although I disagree with them. It’s true: questions can be painful. Questions can inspire disobedience to authority. Questions disrupt what is normal and familiar.

However, questions are also necessary tools for strengthening faith. God teaches us through questions, inspires us with questions, expects and even demands that we continue coming up with questions in order to have reasons to keep praying and researching and exploring and wondering. Questions keep us awake and curious. Questions are requisite for growth. [Read more…]

Research is not the answer?

In the past couple of weeks the Church News reported on two different and prominent instances of church leaders teaching that researching church history is not the solution to questions about church history. My first thought after seeing the second was “retrenchment,” to invoke sociologist Armand Mauss’s piercing analysis. And as a researcher in church history, I must say I felt a twinge of disappointment. It may be that my impulse is correct, but after some reflection, it seems to me that there is more going on.
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“The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me” #BCCSundaySchool2019

Readings: Matthew 4, Luke 4-5.

In the chapters that immediately precede these chapters, Matthew and Luke have just shown us the moment where Jesus is baptized and as he comes up out of the water, the voice of the Father, speaking from heaven, declares that Jesus is his son (Matthew 3:17; Luke 3:22). This is an important reminder because the chapters for this lesson recount Satan’s immediate challenge to the Father’s declaration, Jesus rejecting that challenge, and then Jesus showing the signs that prove his messiahship–his status of having been anointed by the Spirit–to the people of Galilee. [Read more…]

Mormon. And Free. Forever. Introducing The New Dialogue

 

The Dialogue Board has today unveiled some new things. A new website. A new journal. And a new philosophy of how to be the cultural and intellectual center of the Mormon world. And the essence of this philosophy is “free.” Free as in speech. Free as in (root) beer. And free as in Dialogue.

[Read more…]

A Faithful Shift Toward Evolution

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Robert Lawrence was once a free-range kid in Utah. He spent a couple years learning from wonderful people in Guatemala and later moved to Arizona where he spent a lot of time in the lab with viruses. He is now a science writer and research developer living in Binghamton, New York, with his wife and toddler. You can connect with him and find more of his work at: www.robertlawrencephd.com

BYU students are more accepting of Darwin’s ideas than they used to be, according to a new study. [Read more…]

Loaves and Babies

Half a loaf is better than none. But half a baby is not. The secret to being Solomon is knowing the difference.

I have recently started dividing my work problems into loaves and babies based on whether or not half-solutions will work. Loaf problems are problems where a partial solution is better than no solution at all. Baby problems are problems where partial solutions are worse than no solution at all.

[Read more…]

Book of Mormon Geography

Recently the good folks at lds.org have been updating the “Gospel Topics” section, as well as rolling out a slew of “Church History Topics” in conjunction with Saints. The latter has some really remarkable content (see, for example, the entry on “Masonry“). Today, however, I wanted to share some historical bits relating to the new gospel topics entry on “Book of Mormon Geography” that people have been chatting about on the internets.
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Mormons and Showing Up

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Last night I attended a small interfaith dialogue dinner between Muslims and Mormons at Georgetown University.  It was lovely.  I made new friends.

One anecdote made me laugh.  Prior to the event, Georgetown’s imam told Georgetown’s Mormon interfaith coordinator to —not— post the flier to Latter-day Saint groups and listserves in DC.  Why?  “Because if you do, then too many Mormons will show up.” [Read more…]

Jung at Heart: Social Media and Self Knowledge

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“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”

–Carl Gustav Jung

 

Keira Shae is the author of How the Light Gets In, a BCC Press memoir.

 

I’m that Millennial. The one who took hundreds of thousands of pictures of my kids (pictures that all look the same), hundreds of my meals. The teen who grew up experiencing the Internet the way that other generations experienced oxygen. The original one who sincerely thought I should express political opinions on Facebook and had the debating capacity to change other’s minds. At nineteen.

The one who spent much of her adult life wondering how she could waste so much valuable time playing on social media. [Read more…]

“Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” #BCCSundaySchool2019 (Part 2)

Come Follow Me Manual Recommended Readings:  Matthew 3 (quoting Isaiah 40); Mark 1Luke 3John 1.

Upfront Note:  In preparing my BCC Sunday School lesson this week, I realized my content was divided into two major chunks — one whimsical about Godspell, and one academic about the history of baptism.  For ease of use and commentary, I’m publishing them as two separate back-to-back posts.

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“Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” #BCCSundaySchool2019 (Part 1)

Come Follow Me Manual Recommended Readings:  Matthew 3 (quoting Isaiah 40); Mark 1; Luke 3; John 1.

Upfront Note:  In preparing my BCC Sunday School lesson this week, I realized my content was divided into two major chunks — one whimsical about Godspell, and one academic about the history of baptism.  For ease of use and commentary, I’m publishing them as two separate back-to-back posts.  Part 2 is here.

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[Read more…]

The Church Is Going to Pay More In Taxes

In 1972, the church opened its new Church Office Building at 50 East North Temple Street. The 28-story building, built by Christiansen and Clyde Construction Company for $31.3 million, allowed scattered church employees to all work under one roof. Initially, about 1,500 employees, who had been at 16 different locations, moved into the building. It was originally slated to provide office space to over 2,000 employees. And so that those employees could make it, the Church Office Building had 1,250-spot underground parking garage.

And the existence of that 1,250-spot underground parking garage means that the church owes federal income taxes for 2018.

Because yes, the church owes taxes for last year. And, perhaps to church members’ surprise, those taxes aren’t the result of secular liberals who hate Mormons/religion/God. Those taxes are the result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the GOP’s late-2017 tax reform that was both conceived of and passed without any input or votes from Democrats.  [Read more…]

The God Who Stoops

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In discussing the advance of women’s rights, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has often remarked that when we set women on a pedestal, we actually lock them in a cage.

I’ve been wondering lately whether the same could be said about God.  (And even more so, Heavenly Mother.)  When we consign our Heavenly Parents to a throne of glory in the distant heavens, we’re actually locking them behind human constructs of divinity.  We’re building a wall of checkpoints and purity standards, then barring all we deem unholy or unclean from approaching their mercy.

Our all-to-common vision of God on a celestial pedestal gets it all backwards. To borrow a phrase from Rachel Held Evans’s latest book Inspired: our God stoops. [Read more…]

When the Primary President Doesn’t Love Kids

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Today’s guest post comes from Rebbie Brassfield, a copywriter in Los Angeles.  

I was 29 years old and just discovering our infertility when I got called as the Primary President.

This calling was so far from any natural ability I possess that I had not seen it coming. Not even when the Bishop invited us to his office on a Saturday.  Not even when the words came out of his mouth.

I sat there stunned, unable to hide my dismay.  It made no sense to call a childless woman to be in charge of a bunch of kids – what could I know about them? Not to mention that since growing up I’d always been self-conscious of the fact I wasn’t naturally “good with kids.” I worried over how I would fare as a mother when I seemed to be the only one of the Young Women who disliked babysitting.

I was currently serving as the Primary secretary, and the calling had been both a reminder of the children I yearned for and a potent birth control.  Each week I sat in the back, awed that such small people could wield so much power.  They rarely behaved or folded their arms or listened – some weeks it felt like they intentionally rallied to torch the whole lesson or bleed the teacher of all her candy.  They frankly terrified me, and that terror swirled in my mind as I sat looking up at my expectant Bishop. [Read more…]

John 1: “We Have Found the Messiah”#BCCSundaySchool2019

High Christology and Discipleship in the Gospel according to John

This week’s BCC Gospel Doctrine lesson was written by Eric Huntsman, Professor of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University. Eric has written multiple books on the New Testament, including Good Tidings of Great Joy, God So Loved the World, and The Miracles of Jesus. Last month, he published a book-length study of discipleship in the Gospel of John, Becoming the Beloved Disciple (see our review here). We are beyond thrilled (and a little bit verklempt) that Eric has agreed to share his expertise with us and our readers as we study the opening chapter of John’s gospel this week. Footnotes for this post are located on a separate page and can be accessed through the provided links or by clicking here.

The assignment for this week’s lesson is the first reading that we have had from the Fourth Gospel, the account of Jesus’ ministry and mission traditionally attributed to John the Son of Zebedee, one of the Twelve and one of Jesus’ closest disciples. Before discussing chapter 1, which comprises the Prologue of this Gospel, we will first consider a few points concerning the Gospel’s authorship, composition, audience, stated purpose, and structure.  Hopefully this background will be useful in future lessons that include passages from the Gospel of John.

[Read more…]

Restorationism in a Foreign Key

Grant Hardy is a Professor of History and Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Asheville.  He is the editor of the new Maxwell Institute study edition of the Book of Mormon.

ReviewMelissa Wei-Tsing Inouye, China and the True Jesus: Charisma and Organization in a Chinese Christian Church (Oxford, 2018).

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Why I Stay

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Lily Darais is a mother of four living in Orem, UT.  She earned a B.A. from Michigan State University, a Masters of Education from Harvard, and has earned a diploma in culinary arts.  She currently spends most of her time trying to keep her toddler and baby alive and begging her older kids to practice their instruments.  She previously wrote a BCC guest post on Heavenly Mother.

Over the better half of this past decade, I have returned to the same question over and over: Why stay in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints? [Read more…]

The Seed of Joseph

This seems to be blacks and the priesthood weekend. First we have Paul Reeve’s guest post at Keepa on Joseph F. Smith’s notes from his 1879 interview of Elijah Abel (the coolest thing I’ve seen in quite a while!). Then I just received the latest Dialogue (51/3 2018), which is devoted largely to material on blacks and the priesthood in honor of 40 years since the revelation. I’ve started reading it, and I just finished Matthew L. Harris, “Mormons and Lineage: The Complicated History of Blacks and Patriarchal Blessings, 1830-2018.” (I’ve seen Matt present a number of times at history conferences, and he always does a great job.) [Read more…]

Part II – Environmental Supports for Your Classroom #TeachingPrimaryCFM

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L. Williams holds a Masters Degree in Speech-Language Pathology, and is currently completing work towards a PhD. For the last 7 years she has provided speech therapy to children in private clinics, public schools, and research settings. Her background includes training in applied behavioral analysis (ABA), and she specializes in supporting children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) who are minimally verbal. This post is the second of a two-part series.

The previous post outlined how you can begin to thoughtfully consider the challenging behaviors you see in your classroom. Many challenging behaviors can be addressed simply through environmental supports.  In other words, how you physically structure your classroom can make a big difference in how your kids behave. If you spend time in the schools and special education, you won’t be surprised by anything on this list.  For everyone else, I hope you find these suggestions helpful. [Read more…]

Call for Syllabi on Latter-day Saint Arts

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The Center for Latter-day Saint Arts is offering awards for the preparation of syllabi for college courses on any aspect of Latter-day Saint arts including visual art, music, theater, literature, and film, as well as architecture, design, dance, animation, and so forth.  The award for a fully developed syllabus is $2,000, and for segments of a course from $500 to $1,000, depending on length and complexity.

The full course syllabi should include all aspects of a one-quarter or one-semester course: [Read more…]

Part I: Challenging Classroom Behaviors #TeachingPrimaryCFM

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L. Williams holds a Masters Degree in Speech-Language Pathology, and is currently completing work towards a PhD. For the last 7 years she has provided speech therapy to children in private clinics, public schools, and research settings. Her background includes training in applied behavioral analysis (ABA), and she specializes in supporting children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) who are minimally verbal. She previously guest-posted about using developmentally-appropriate language. This post is the first of a two-part series.

The goal of this post is to provide background information about challenging behaviors you might encounter in your classroom. [Read more…]

When saw we thee a minister, and let thee in?

I’ve been thinking a lot about ministering lately, or maybe I should call it “the ministering program formerly known as visiting/home teaching.” Until a couple years ago, I was a visiting teaching supervisor for about twelve years. I noticed that a lot of women didn’t believe they had done their visiting teaching unless they’d done a home visit and delivered the monthly message as printed in the Ensign. This was why our Relief Society president asked us supervisors to change the way we asked the women in our districts about visiting teaching to “what sort of contact (or attempted contact) did you have with your ladies this month?” It didn’t seem to relieve any sisters of their guilt about not doing their visiting teaching the “proper” way. So I welcomed the changes to the program. I even approved of the awkward new label, “ministering,” because it clarified that you were there to meet the individual’s needs, not to teach them a lesson (or to deliver a message from headquarters, as it were). I especially liked the part where VT supervisors became obsolete, as I’d been ready for that since forever. [Read more…]