My Journey Back to God

Mette Ivie Harrison, a well-known mystery and young-adult novelist, is the author of The Book of Laman, which was published this week by BCC Press. Below, reproduced in its entirety, is the author’s afterword to this exciting new book. The Book of Laman can be purchased here in paperback form and here as a Kindle e-book.

 

BoLI lost faith in God completely in 2007 after the stillbirth of my sixth child and spent the next five years as an atheist. In 2012, I decided that I wanted to try to believe again. I’d felt very alone, in a spiritual way, despite the fact that I’d continued to attend the Mormon ward in my neighborhood.

And so began a full year of me trying to pray to God and ending up saying the only thing I found I could say with real conviction, which was, “I don’t believe in you.” I said it over and over again, night after night, because I was determined not to fall back on the old platitudes that I’d once used and that had ended up failing me. And then, one night, I prayed more than that. And a little more. And the journey had truly begun.

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Succession in the Presidency: A Feature, a Bug, or Both?

Most of you I’m sure are familiar with the 1844 succession crisis. When Joseph was killed in the Carthage jail, who would then lead the Church? If his brother Hyrum had survived, as Assistant President it surely would have been him. There is a good chance it would have been Joseph’s son Joseph III if he had been older, but at the time he was but a young boy. There were various claimants by special or secret appointment, such as James Strang, or by virtue of the Council of Fifty. At the time the main decision was between Sidney Rigdon (by virtue of being a counselor in the First Presidency), or the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, represented by Brigham Young. Had this happened a decade earlier it likely would have been Sidney, but he had long been out of the loop and so the majority of the Saints in Nauvoo chose to follow the Apostles.

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“What’s a nice Mormon girl like you doing writing plays like this?”

Melissa Leilani Larson is an award-winning playwright and screenwriter whose work has been seen on four continents. Her first book, Third Wheel: Peculiar Stories of Mormon Women in Love was released this week by By Common Consent Press. BCC Readers can purchase the book here for a 20% discount using the code QNTEGAHB. The Kindle version can also be purchased here.

 

cover-third_wheel-5,25x8in-coverFaith is a funny thing. It really shouldn’t work. Yet we’re always putting it to the test—even without thinking about it. We don’t doubt that a friend will pay back the money she owes; that a babysitter will show up when he said he will; that a new episode of our favorite show will air when expected. We assume that engines will start, that planes will land safely, that refrigerators will stay cold and that mangoes will be sweet.

Faith cannot exist without doubt. The two are sides of the same coin. One can outweigh the other and that balance can teeter back and forth, but the two are connected. They keep each other in check. [Read more…]

Trek Re-Enactments We’d Like to See, Ranked

It’s summer! It’s time to dust off the pioneer clothes! It’s time to walk some miles with carts! It’s time for well-intentioned stake leaders to pretend to be a mob and wake you up in the morning with gunfire! It’s time to explain in Sacrament meeting that you “get” your pioneer ancestors now! It’s TREK SEASON!

Steve and I were thinking about this and considered what sort of Trek Re-Enactments we’d really like to see.

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

Trump, Scouting, my Dad, and Me

[Cross-posted to In Media Res]

I don’t know why this makes me so angry, but it does.

Maybe anger’s not the right word; I’m not angry, I don’t think. (I rarely get angry; not in my make-up, I suppose.) But I am annoyed, chagrined, bothered, upset, pissed off. And I suppose I know why too, though it’s not easy to pull it all together. [Read more…]

How a Book About Heavenly Mother was Written (and illustrated).

Rachel on writing Mother’s Milk:

back coverHow did I write 246 poems on a divine being we ostensibly know little about? In short, I prayed, I listened, I looked, I read, I lived, and sometimes I found Her. In long, I prayed to God the Father, to know more of God the Mother, to be close to Her, to feel Her love, and to be guided as I thought and wrote. I listened to my daughter, Cora, and my son, Søren–their words and their cries. I looked to children’s games–Peek-A-Boo and Marco Polo. I looked to the important women in my life–my grandmothers, mother, sisters, mentors, friends, nieces, and again, my daughter. I looked at the natural world around me–the trees, wind, stars, sea, mountains, birds, everything. I believe the Mother, like the Father, is a designer and creator. I read children’s books, including The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Peter Pan, The Little Prince, Where the Wild Things Are, and Are You My Mother? I read philosophy books, including by my son’s namesake, Søren Kierkegaard. I read poetry books, including by Amiri Baraka, Li-Young Lee, and Mary Oliver. I read passages from church leaders, including Chieko Okazaki, Erastus Snow, Joseph Smith, Jeffrey R. Holland, and Harold B. Lee. I read scriptures. Lots and lots of scriptures. [Read more…]

If Gender is Essential, Why Are We Pushing It?

Image result for pushing genderI have often said that the gender roles described in the Proclamation are unnecessary because either they are descriptive (meaning people naturally behave this way, so who cares) or prescriptive (meaning, people should behave this way, but if it’s not natural to them, they won’t anyway and you can’t make them). This perspective neutralizes the power of gender roles whichever way you look at it. But what if gender roles can’t be neutral? What if telling a group of people that their kind behave a certain way actually changes behavior from its natural course? Is this influence ameliorative or detrimental? As a social experiment, what are its fruits? [Read more…]

Sister Wives Series #12: Mary Larsen (the 11th—and final—wife)

Mary Larsen

Sidsie Marie “Mary” Larsen Gardner (1850–1921)

Part 12 in a series; see the rest of the series here.

To commemorate Pioneer Day this year, I am returning to the Sister Wives Series I began to commemorate Pioneer Day last year. Today I am writing about Archibald Gardner’s 11th and final wife, Mary Larsen from Denmark, who married 55-year-old Archibald Gardner when she was 19 years old and would have 8 children with him. Archie was possibly her second husband. [Read more…]

These Are the Books!

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It’s July 24th. On this day 170 years ago, the Mormon pioneers entered Salt Lake Valley, Brigham Young said “this is the place,” and we have been celebrating ever since.

But you know what we will be celebrating 170 years from today? We don’t either. But there is a good chance that it will be the release of BCC Press’s Pioneer Day lineup: three pioneering creative works by Latter-day Saint women that are destined to change the landscape of Mormon literature forever.

Yeah, they are that good. And we can’t wait for you to read them. These are the books! [Read more…]

Airing My Dirty Laundry

[B]y love serve one another.  For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Galatians 5:12-13

Our Sacrament Meeting theme last week was on service.  The Primary President spoke about how her summer enrichment with her kids has been setting a goal to serve others every day.  She spoke about how opportunities appeared as they sought them, describing with amusement the giggles of her children as they concocted a plan to stealthily pay for the car behind them in a fast food drive-through.

The high counselor then related an old Clay Christensen story, where Clay had discovered one summer day that an elderly woman in his ward had an ancient iron fridge in her basement filled with rotting food.  So Clay, as a good home teacher, took it upon himself to dispose of the fridge – and invited a neighbor to help.  As they’re dying in the heat, halfway up the stairs, the neighbor asks, “Clay, could you tell me a little bit about the Mormon Church?” And Clay said, “Don, frankly, this is the Mormon Church, right here.” [Read more…]

Second Guessing the Call to Serve

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t thank the Lord for having the courage to second guess the call to serve. Let me explain.

When I turned 19 in the spring of aught-ninety-eight (a show of hands if you’ve never heard the expression), I joined the throngs of other nineteen-year-olds (there may have been three of us at my venerable undergraduate institution) and went to the university clinic for a physical, filled out the paperwork, and submitted my application to serve a mission. A few weeks later I received a call with a reporting date the next fall.

In light of the distance to the Missionary Training Center, missionaries in my stake were traditionally set apart on Sunday to allow them and their families plenty of time to travel to Provo by Wednesday. When the appointed hour came, my twin brother and I were set apart and on Monday we left for the MTC. We arrived in Provo that night, and on Tuesday morning we went shopping for a few last items. While walking through the parking lot to the store, I felt like it was going to be now or never and told my parents: “I’m not going.” [Read more…]

The Redemption of the Pharisee

Hope Harrison served a mission in Houston TX from 2013-2015. Since then Texas has been her favorite shape for waffles, cookies, and corn chips. She is currently a senior at MIT, studying Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. She loves sharing friendship and understanding with people of different religions and has participated in the Addir interfaith dialog group at MIT, as well as organized interfaith events there as an LDSSA officer. She spent last summer in Tel Aviv and is now studying Hebrew at Harvard (though the cross-registration program).
 

Oh generation of vipers,” (Matt 12:34) “full of dead men’s bones and of all uncleanness.” (Matt 23:27) “How can ye escape the damnation of hell?” (Matt 23:33)

Jesus said! Stay away from the Pharisees – they are evil! Or? Wait…

Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” (Luke 6:41)

It’s easy to find fault in others. And it’s good to make sure we don’t duplicate that fault in ourselves. But sometimes we must be reminded that we may have worse sins, and should learn from the good in those around us. [Read more…]

What Kind of Rules are Commandments?

“There are in nature neither rewards nor punishments — there are consequences.”— Robert G. Ingersoll

If I had to select one thing that sets my adult spiritual understanding apart from the one I had as a child (i.e. until my late 30s or so) it would be that the adult me has adopted of a religious version of the decidedly non-religious writer Robert Ingersoll’s perspective above: I no longer see God as a rewarder or punisher in the sky, but as a natural force that helps us understand natural consequences. [Read more…]

On Becoming a Liberal-Minded Mormon

I self-identify as a liberal-minded Mormon.[1] But I was just wondering, “How did I get this way?” I was pretty conservative as a kid, and it was not set in stone that I should grow up to become progressive in my religious views. So I thought I would think back over my life’s history and try to identify (at least some of) the influences that shaped my modern perspective on the faith.

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A Low, Quiet Calm

The following is an excerpt from Tracy McKay’s new book, The Burning Point. For the next three days, you can purchase the Kindle edition of The Burning Point for the surreally low price of $3.99–just because we love you. Don’t miss out on this phenomenal deal from BCC Press.

The_Burning_Point_Cover_for_KindleMy search for God started early, much to the bemusement of my multi-generational atheist family. My childhood was idyllic, just south of San Francisco on old orchard land. My hippie parents and I had happy, carefree days tending our chickens, picking fruit from our trees, and making jam. We even had a goat before having a goat was fashionable.  My memories are tinged with happiness and the scent of freshly tilled soil, the tang of salt spray on my lips, and the tingling feeling of sunlight breaking through thick banks of fog. [Read more…]

Using or abusing dystopian fiction

burnbookLike a lot of people, I spent some time leading up to and following the recent American presidential election reading some dystopian fiction in my spare time. I’ll recommend a few titles at the end of this post. But first, this morning I read K. E. Colombini’s provocative First Things post about dysfic. In a nutshell, Colombini raises the specter of technology and its corrupting influence on our lives, the way it crowds out classic literature and other influences that no longer refine our culture. [Read more…]

Coming Soon from BCC Press

Coming Soon

As you all know, BCC Press has unleashed a tide of awesomeness on the universe that cannot be contained. And we have given up all pretense of even trying. On July 24–that magic Mormon miracle day–we will have our biggest release yet, as three (count-em, THREE) new books will be released all at once.

And what books! Four of the most prominent women on the Mormon arts and letters scene have combined together to produce the kind of cognitive feast you usually only see when they award the Nobel Prizes. Here is a sneak preview: [Read more…]

Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness: Why a Temple? Why Sacraments?

Terryl Givens gave the following talk in my Provo ward yesterday. I couldn’t pass up the chance to ask Professor Givens if I could post it as part of our occasional “Sunday Sermons” series, and he graciously accepted.

I had a long conversation a few days ago with a much beloved daughter. We were talking about a family dear to us, of whom the last of the children just made an exit from the church. I asked what she thought the common thread to their stories might be. She said it wasn’t what I often hear to be the culprit: different accounts of the First vision, or Joseph’s seer stone, or horses in the Book of Mormon — or even polygamy or social policy. No, it was something much more fundamental. She said, the whole framework of the Restored Gospel — especially the emphasis on temples and ordinances — just doesn’t seem meaningful to many of her generation. So much structure, so many rules, so many seemingly empty rituals and ordinances. She then noted that as she was preparing her lesson for Young Women on sacraments and ordinances, she too struggled to find a convincing language, a resonant rationale. “Authority” and “obedience” don’t hold the same sway with generations who have not grown up with an almost innate deference to such concepts because, as Richard Rohr notes, they never experienced the framework of stable certainties and widely accepted verities. As the poet Robinson Jeffers noted wistfully, “O happy Homer! Taking the stars and the gods for granted.”[1] [Read more…]

Intercessory Prayer

Anglo-Mormon that I am, I subscribe to the Society of St. John the Evangelist‘s daily “Brother, Give Us a Word” email. A few weeks back, the word was “Intercede,” and this is what Br. Geoffrey Tristram had to say about it:

Intercessory prayer is hard work, but it is a work of love. It is carrying those we love and long to be healed in our hearts, and taking them wonderfully and mysteriously into the very heart of God.

[Read more…]

Virtue and Self-Reliance

One summer, my parents’ ward held a special Sunday School class for the kids who had come back from college for the summer.[fn1] The Sunday School class was essentially a basic financial life skills class, the kind of thing that every college student (and most of the rest of us) needs, but that is woefully undertaught. The teacher, a member of the bishopric iirc, was a financial planner. He talked to us about budgeting, about saving, and other simple, practical skills.

I haven’t thought about that class in years, but my memory was jogged as I read (on Twitter) about a combined priesthood-Relief Society lesson on self-reliance. [Read more…]

Working Backwards From Zion

Some good discussions this week about Zion, a perennial favorite topic of my own. Most Mormons can probably agree that we should be seeking Zion, working towards Zion, consecrating ourselves to the establishment of Zion. But the next steps can seem a little ambiguous at times. We LDS no longer called to a literal gathering, we don’t talk anymore of Jackson County, and the temple lot is not ours (it belongs to other Mormons). At times it feels like we’re in a sort of holding pattern when it comes to Zion. We go to church, we do our callings, we pay tithing. Is that all there is? If we’re not gathering or building (aside from donations and regular callings), what are we doing? Where is our utopia?

Maybe part of what’s missing is some sort of sustaining vision of where we’re headed, the ultimate goal. So here are all the relevant scriptures on Zion that I could find, the ones that tell us what that utopian society is like. [Read more…]

Conference Notice: Leonard Arrington Centennial Conference

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July 12, 13, 2017, Utah State University, Logan, Utah. Leonard J. Arrington centennial conference. See the attached program for more information. Speakers include Marlin K. Jensen, former Church Historian of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Greg Prince, Arrington’s biographer, Gary Bergera, editor of the forthcoming Arrington diaries, Matt Grow, Director of Publications, Church History Department, Matthew Godfrey, Managing Historian for the Joseph Smith Papers Project.

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich will be addressing attendees at 7:00pm, July 12, 2017 in the L. Tom Perry Pavilion, Huntsman Hall 470, USU Campus.

Conference Sessions will address the Arrington Collection at the USU library and consider Arrington’s influence among students, colleagues, the state of Idaho, LDS history, and the Historical Department of the LDS Church. The conference is free and open to all. Say hi if you decide to come up and breathe some of the clear aggie air.

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How would Jesus play board games?

I love board games.  I have for my entire life.  The more strategic, the better.  I’m not sure whether it’s because my family and friends consist of nerds, boring adults in their 30s, or Mormons, but they all play along with my obsession.

(Pictured: my game shelves as of 2 months ago.  They’ve grown since then.)

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Death by (Correlation) Committee

Image result for primary teacher ldsA topic that often comes up in online discussion groups among Mormons is the teaching manuals. As most of us know, these are written by a committee called the Curriculum Committee (under the oversight of the Correlation Committee). [3] “Correlation” was a byproduct of decades-long efforts to standardize materials, culminating in the 1960s, a huge effort to amass all leadership, budgets, publications, and teaching materials under one hierarchical, priesthood-overseen umbrella rather than separate auxilliary heads as it had been in the past. (See footnote 3 for a much more thorough explanation of the history.) This was to quash rogue teaching that might occur when these things were being done under separate oversight. As with anything where uniformity is the goal, blandness and groupthink is often the result (whereas rogue teaching, inequity, and folklore is often the result of the other approach). Because teachers in the church are average church members using these manuals to the best of their ability, lesson quality varies greatly. Additionally, everyone who has held a teaching calling (and that’s most active members) has an opinion on the materials they are provided and how effective they are.

You can listen to a podcast describing the curriculum process here. Just reading the overview of it on that same page is very interesting. You can read the transcript of an interview with Dan Peterson about his time on the Curriculum Writing committee here.
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A helpful guide to understanding the source of inspiration

As we all know, true revelation comes to both the heart and mind and teaches of Christ. And yet, our ability to rationalize frequently renders us incapable or unwilling to discern such revelation. On occasion, people ask how to know the difference between divine revelation or inspiration and the wayward desires of our own heart. It is no easy task. Or, at least, it wasn’t prior to today. [Read more…]

Zion and the State

Like many Americans, I traveled last weekend. It wasn’t a horrible trip—about six hundred miles each way, all but about three blocks of it on big four- and six-lane highways. It was around 18 hours of driving and two and a half days of visiting friends and family. It was a good trip, and I will probably do it again. Family is important.

I can only do this, of course, because the federal government spent 35 years and hundreds of billions of dollars to create the most extensive and impressive engineering project of the 20th century: the US Interstate Highway System. Most of us take this system for granted these days, but there was plenty of opposition to it in 1956. Without the strong endorsement of a popular president—Dwight Eisenhower, who saw it as a national defense imperative—it would likely have never received the funding required to make it happen.

This is pretty much how democracy is supposed to work. The Founders gave us a Constitution designed to make it possible for us to have the society we want—as long as enough of us want it for a long enough period of time. Limits on taxation and spending are, and were designed to be political, not structural. Read Federalist 30-35. It’s all there. [Read more…]

Wednesday Night: BCC Press Book Event

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Hey folks! Happy 4th! If you’re looking for something fun to do tomorrow night, July 5th, join us at Writ & Vision in beautiful downtown Provo for a release party for the new BCC Press memoir, The Burning Point. We’d love to see you, and we’ll have cookies!

“Beautifully Covered”: What it’s Like to Live in a Country with Socialized Health Care

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Vienna General Hospital in 1784 (source)

While the Grand Old Party kicks the can down the road—and seemingly ever farther from the then President-elect’s promise of “insurance for everybody“—amid turmoil about how much health care to strip from relatively many Americans to pay for a tax break for relatively few Americans, I figured there would be no better way to honor the 4th of July than to celebrate the freedom of living in a country where no political party opposes the goal of universal health care.

That probably sounds obnoxious on this tender occasion, but I’m actually not trying to gloat. Instead, I offer the following in the spirit of expanding horizons and to provide food for thought for what I hope will be a continuing and constructive debate about health care reform in the United States. I should also note that my experience hardly makes me a policy expert, and I don’t have the foggiest idea about what would and wouldn’t work given the lay of the land in the US. That will be for you to decide! [Read more…]

Failure and God’s Love

“All religions start with the cry, help.” I’ve looked for the original source of this quote since I heard it on a podcast and can’t locate it, but regardless, it is a line that spoke to me this week.

Today after I’d dropped my two older children at preschool for the afternoon and my six-week old baby slept in the back of the car, I said aloud the word, “help.” Nothing in particular was or is wrong, in fact, most is right, most is perfectly right, but I was overwhelmed, tired, full of doubt about my own abilities. I’ve learned to validate the difficulties that accompany parenthood, particularly motherhood, because for far too long I glossed over them as if they weren’t real (a topic for another post). My “cry” today was one of deep humility stemmed from my own insufficiencies, “please help,” spoken aloud and with a hope that someone might be listening.  That “cry” often seems to be the beginning of something useful in my life.one019 [Read more…]

Your Sunday Brunch Special. Time.

Sitting in an upstairs room.
It is still winter as I write this, and dawn takes her time. Everyone else is asleep, wandering in dreams where I’m the blind observer.

I’ve been thinking about my parents lately. Both have been gone more than a decade. My memories of them are fragmented and naturally limited by the way most of us store such things. I’ve been wondering about their thoughts, something I’ll never be able to access, but nevertheless still wondering. How did they experience their own memories? Looking into their lives lately, I’ve realized that most of their experience was hidden from me. It differed greatly from the seeming uniformity that I watched as a teen and young adult. Oh sure, I had a glimpse now and then. But it quickly submerged below the surface of present attitudes and behavior.
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