#TexturesofMormonism

I am truly pleased to present to you one of the best kept secrets of the Mormon Instagram world.  Jon Bryner and Tallia Feltis are the mastermind couple behind the account @texturesofmormonism.   While very funny, they are equally thoughtful and deliberate.  They speak of both the humor and strange tenderness in this idea of shared nostalgia that Mormons literally all over the world can relate to.  My husband and I have spent more than one evening chuckling before bed as we scroll through the account.  Ah Mormons.  Something so strange and so funny about our collective aesthetic that somehow hasn’t changed in decades.

This is just a sampling of some of my favorites from the account.

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It’s Wednesday night! Hit like if you need a ride home from mutual. #foyerphone #texturesofmormonism

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Standing, or Something

Rumor has it that BYU-Idaho students are having a hard time with the unwritten order of things—particular the unwritten rules about when to stand and when to stay seated.  At last week’s devotional  the entire student body stood up when Sheri L. Dew—CEO of Deseret Book and a former second counselor in the General Relief Society Presidency—entered the room. This week Clark Gilbert, BYU-I President and recognized expert in Unwritten Orderology, gave the students a friendly reminder that only members of the First Presidency should be greeted by standing.  The students, fortunately, learned their lesson and remained seated. [Read more…]

Prayer: “The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth”

Part 7 in a series; see other parts here.

Being an adult means spending quite a bit of time metaphorically at sea, not quite sure whether we’re in or out of our depth. Certainly we only rarely see to the bottoms of things. Herbert’s claim that prayer can find the bottom and measure its depth thus seems like a stretch. After all, the mere fact of praying doesn’t exempt anybody from occasional or even systematic cluelessness. What’s the use, then?

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Refugee Relief Efforts

Erica Eastley is a friend and has been a BCC participant for many years.

The first time I visited a refugee camp was in college in 1995 in the West Bank. I’d gone with two women I’d just met to visit the family of a Palestinian BYU student and they took us to a refugee camp. They also gave us figs fresh off a tree. Since then I’ve been in more refugee camps in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip (where I ate one of the best and most memorable meals I’ve ever had before spending the night with a Palestinian family) and I’ve met refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan living in Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, and the US. I’ve seen teenagers working their way through Mexico from Central America to the US. I’ve moved overseas with my family with two suitcases each to new countries where I didn’t speak much of the language or know how to manage everyday life. Even though I can’t possibly imagine the terror that so many refugees have gone through, I have listened to their stories and experienced a few of the challenges of resettlement and I know that many need help. [Read more…]

A Note on Comments

I’ve used the analogy a bit — which I ripped off of Nate Oman — that corners of the Bloggernacle are sort of like cocktail parties being hosted by various sites. You’re in someone else’s house, enjoying various conversations as you mill around, Diet Coke in hand. You may not know everyone there, maybe you don’t know anyone there. But you’re among friends regardless and you all have a lot in common. Now, it’s pretty common to get into some lively discussions at some of these parties. You may not agree with what everyone says — in fact, some of the best conversations come from a sharing of ideas and challenging each other to improve. This much is clear, though: you’re a guest. [Read more…]

If Jane Austen Wrote the Book of Mormon

Where are our marriage prospects in this godforsaken wilderness?

I was considering a post on the Book of Mormon & the Bechdel test when it occurred to me that Gospel Doctrine class is kind of like a book club.[1]  Which got me thinking how much better, and perhaps with more vocal women in it (as well as a few more humorously identified human foibles), the Book of Mormon would be if Jane Austen had written it. [Read more…]

An Aunt’s Manifesto

Amy B. is a long-time reader and friend of the blog, where she comments as HH9.

I became an aunt a month before my twelfth birthday. I clearly remember a sister and I staring through the hospital nursery’s window at our new, tiny, Yoda-looking nephew. He was followed in succession by eleven additional, slightly less Yoda-looking, nieces and nephews. So, by the time I was twenty-seven – just as most of my friends were becoming parents – I had spent more than half my life as an aunt. I played with them, watched over them, joked with them, read with them, and talked to them about sports and literature and faith. They visited me when I lived far away for graduate school and I visited them when I circulated among their parents’ households for holidays. I sent birthday cards; they sent drawings, photographs, and postcards. I attended blessings and baptisms; they greeted me when I returned from my mission with posters and hugs. For me, being an aunt was just part of what it meant to have a family. [Read more…]

Prayer: “Heart in pilgrimage”

Part 6 in a series; see other parts here.

Augustine famously wrote that our hearts are restless until they rest in God. (Herbert has a poem about that, too.) Our lives consist of so many cordial peregrinations as we seek to love and be loved, and while saying that all our loves are best founded in God’s love is easy, the practicalities tend to be messier. Devout Jews pray twice daily to love God with all their heart, soul, and might; so serious and difficult is the task of love that only that much prayer will do. In prayer we are pilgrims for love—a destination we never quite seem to understand.

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Rape Culture Is Real—-Let’s Lose the Scare Quotes

As a university administrator, I deal regularly with two serious problems. At first glance, they seem similar, but they are actually quite different. The first of these problems is rape culture. The second is “rape culture.” The scare quotes make all the difference. [Read more…]

Sometimes We Need–and Get–Help Getting It Right

One of the basic insights of pragmatics, a subfield of linguistics, is that “in attempting to express themselves, people do not only produce utterances containing grammatical structures and words, they perform actions via those utterance.”[1] That those speech acts can wield great power is hardly a new concept; consider the declaration recorded in Genesis: “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.”

Closer to our own experience, declarations of an ecclesiastical authority–perhaps a temple sealer, mission president or bishop–likewise have great influence over the course of our lives: We might be joyfully united for time and eternity with a dear loved one, assigned to a challenging companion in the mission field or, perhaps, suspended from a Church-affiliated school as a result of declarations made in a particular context by a speaker with an authorized institutional role.

In contrast to declarations made under the auspices of a divine being or an institution, individuals are at a relative disadvantage, which may be magnified or minimized according to the ways and means society has developed for stifling or amplifying individual voices.  [Read more…]

I Sang She

Tonight with my two tiny children before bed, one clutching my hand, the other flying wordlessly into sleep, I sang them the same primary songs I have sung them every night for the past five years.  My son sang some of the words with me and I had the
distinct feeling that these songs will be theirs forever, the melodies and words will be make up the threads of their spiritual lives long after I am singing them to sleep.maxwell bird

As I sang, I did something that I hadn’t done before, not because the idea hadn’t occurred to me, but more because my religious experience has been as much one of rules as it has been of freedom to move beyond those rules.  Even as a grown woman very comfortable with speaking, thinking, figuring out and experimenting with spirituality for myself, I had never out loud sang the words to those familiar primary songs with a female pronoun.  As I sang, I am a child of God, and She has sent me here, my children did not balk at the change.  If they noticed, they did not say, but it felt right to give it to them.  It felt warm, it felt calm singing those words out into the dark.  I sang the repertoire replacing the singular pronoun for the word “Parents” in some cases, and going back and forth between “She” and “He” in other cases. [Read more…]

Prayer: “The soul in paraphrase”

Part 5 in a series; see other parts here.

In Romans 8 Paul writes that we do not know how to pray as we ought. Our hearts teem with tangles and fullnesses that resist expression in words or even thoughts. Sometimes the only prayer we can manage is lifting the knot of feelings toward God and saying, “See!” I believe that God does see such prayers, and yet our minds, even below the realm of speech, operate through forms and concepts that give shape and meaning to our experience—an orderliness made possible only by leaving many, many things out. We inhabit the world in paraphrase, so how can we pray otherwise?

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Prayer: “God’s breath in man returning to his birth”

Part 4 in a series: see other parts here.

The second creation story in Genesis features the vivid image of God creating a human (ha’adam) from the dust and breathing into its nostrils the breath of life. Breath becomes one of scripture’s most potent images, as the Hebrew ruach shifts into the Greek pneuma and the Latin spiritus—words that all indicate a complex of meanings including breath, wind, and spirit. Only in that moment of inspiration (“breathing in”) did the first human become a living soul. Our life, lest we forget, consists in this breath, not in bread alone. Prayer, then, is the stuff of very life.

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Alma at the Waters of Mormon: What it Meant to Belong to the World’s First Church #BOM2016

As the chronicle of a failed colony, the Record of Zeniff takes up way too much space in the Book of Mosiah. Readers of Mosiah must be forgiven, therefore, if they fail to recognize the magnitude of what happens in Chapter 18. To put it simply, Alma’s founding of a Church at the Waters of Mormon is the most significant thing that happens in the entire Book of Mormon, with the single exception of the appearance of Jesus Christ in 3 Nephi. If we accept this passage as historical, then we must see Alma’s actions in Mosiah 18 as creating thing in the world’s first “church” in any modern sense of the word. [Read more…]

Mother’s Day 2014 -2016

This post was written by long-time BCC friend and bloggernacle participant Theric.

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Mother’s Day is fraught. Just make a search right here at BCC and see. And it’s been rough for a long, long time. As part of my current calling, I’ve been in charge of planning sacrament meeting on Mother’s Day since 2014. I relished the opportunity. To me, Mother’s Day is an obvious opportunity to celebrate one of the most unique (for now) Mormon doctrines: our Mother in heaven. My thought was we start with women in the scriptures and, by year three, we straight-out do Heavenly Mother. It hasn’t quite worked that way. [Read more…]

Prayer: “Angels’ Age”

This is part 3 in a series; see previous parts here.

Prayer, Herbert says, brings us into the time of the angels. Our lives seem so simple, temporally: one thing succeeds another as the present recedes into the past and stretches into the future. Prayer complicates things, though, by interjecting this orderly succession with eternity. Eternity doesn’t just interrupt time or transcend it; eternity transforms time. Paul describes the effect in 1 Corinthians 7:

I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. (NRSV)

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Invisible Church, Immanent Community

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

In the liturgical calendar of the Christian tradition, today is Whitsunday, the Day of Pentecost, a day to commemorate a marvelous, mostly invisible miracle. As the story goes, the resurrected Lord had left His disciples 10 days earlier; as Ronan Head put it in a fine post just a week and a half ago, “Jesus was, in some profound way, with God and not, in bodily form at least, any longer on the earth.” But the disciples continued to meet has they had been commanded, and on Shavuot, as thousands of Jews from parts both far and near gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks, the miracle occurred. As the King James Version puts it (Acts 2:2-4):

And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.

And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.

And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. [Read more…]

#HerDay

Like many of you I’ve been really impressed with the Church’s renewed emphasis during this last year on Sabbath observance. It feels sometimes like we go in cycles in this Church of being really focused on Sundays and then not really mentioning it at all. I bet someome smart (maybe Ziff) could do an analysis of Sabbath/Sunday emphasis in General Conference talks and Church News articles, to see whether these cycles are real or imagined. Maybe we find ourselves in the middle of such a cycle now, though I somehow doubt that the Brethren have ever really been the sort for Sunday Brunch. The Church’s current campaign uses a hashtag, #HisDay, and invites members to share their experiences and thoughts on the Sabbath from around the world. The site is very well-done and has some excellent ideas on how to keep Sundays special and holy. I’d like to share some ideas of my own. [Read more…]

Those Wild, Ferocious, and Bloodthirsty Lamanites #BOM2016

Let’s return momentarily to one of the most narratively complex passages in the Book of Mormon: the Record of Zeniff contained in Mosiah 9-22. I call this passage complex, not because it’s subject matter is challenging, but because it is processed through so many levels of narration. The record originates with Zeniff (who dies in the middle of it, implying a second narrator), and is then filtered through the story of Ammon (who travelled to the Land of Nephi to find the people of Zeniff), the redactions of Mormon, and the translation of Joseph Smith. [Read more…]

Book Review: Adam Miller’s Future Mormon

Adam Miller’s new book Future Mormon:  Essays in Mormon Theology is laid out in a series of digestible-length short essays.  Reading his essays is like talking to a smarter, more esoteric friend or maybe sitting next to a chatty and interesting professor on a flight.  His essays generally follow a pattern for me:

  • Adam says something moderately profound but provocative that makes sense and that I totally agree with.  I think to myself, “This is going to be good.  Go, Adam!”
  • Adam follows that up by saying something that sounds really smart but is completely incomprehensible to me.  I re-read it several times, and then give up, shaking my head at how stupid I must be not to comprehend what he’s saying.
  • Adam patiently walks back from Adam-land to where he left me in confusion and patiently, even respectfully, takes me through the steps to get me to the newfound understanding that is the true thesis of his essay.
  • Along the way, like a dad walking on a beach with a small child, he points out interesting things, thoughts I can mull over at a later time, ideas I haven’t ever fully formed before, observations, and insights that have been hiding in plain sight and feel immediately familiar but newly articulated.
  • When each essay concludes, my inner world of ideas has become a bigger place.  My curiosity is awake.  I’d like nothing more than to sit and think my new thoughts, but there are more essays to discover, so I keep reading.

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Prayer: “Church’s banquet”

Part 2 in a series; see all posts here.

Why does Herbert call prayer—and not the Eucharist—the “Church’s banquet”? Christian worship seems to have involved communal meals (“love feasts”) from very early on; Paul talks about them in 1 Corinthians 11, among other places. I love the notion of the sacrament as a hearty feast rather than a nibble and a sip, although these suffice.

Herbert lived not so long after the fierce 16th-century debates about the sacrament, in which theologians lobbed words like transubstantiation and consubstantiation at each other with something like violence. Scholars have argued quite a bit over Herbert’s own allegiances in these arguments. Herbert was a pastor, though, before he was a theologian: does fighting over how exactly the sheep are fed actually feed the sheep? [Read more…]

Ronald W. Walker: Farewell, My Friend

Matthew Grow is director of publications for the Church History Department. In 2015, he and Ronald Walker co-edited The Prophet and the Reformer: The Letters of Brigham Young and Thomas L. Kane. We’re grateful for his thoughts.

The outlines of Ron Walker’s career are quickly sketched. A seminary teacher who joined Leonard Arrington’s group of historians at the History Division of the LDS Church in the 1970s, Ron joined the faculty at Brigham Young University in 1980 with many others from the History Division. He spent the rest of his career at BYU as a pillar in the “New Mormon History,” becoming known as a meticulous researcher, engaging writer, and deep thinker. Besides academic excellence, Ron was renowned for his kindness, openness, candor, and generosity. [Read more…]

The Joseph Smith Papers Project Releases Volume 4 in the Documents Series

Two of the General Editors[1] of The Joseph Smith Papers Project team were kind enough to invite us to the official release of the fourth entry in the Documents series of the Joseph Smith Papers. Matthew J. Grow and Matthew C. Godfrey were there to talk about the production of the volume (Godfrey was also lead editor for Documents 4) future plans for the papers series and of course, volume 4.

Matt Grow talks about the papers project future releases and plans.

Matt Grow talks about the papers project future releases and plans (Council of 50 minutes? September 15 or so). Yeah, my questions always puzzle him.

Documents 4 covers the period from April 1834 to September 1835. Major events in Joseph Smith’s life and for the Church included Zion’s Camp, the successful printing of Joseph Smith’s revelations as the Doctrine and Covenants, and the establishment of new church administration bodies, the Twelve Apostles, and the Seventy, the financial preparation for, and construction of, the Kirtland House of the Lord, and the Book of Abraham. Documents 4 contains critical foundational documents relating to all these events.

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Nothing New Under the Sun

NNUTSAn excerpt from the introduction to my recently released book Nothing New Under the Sun: A Blunt Paraphrase of Ecclesiastes:

You won’t like this book. Ecclesiastes is gloomy, skeptical, and irreverent. It is caustic and drolly splenetic. It is unapologetically human. It refuses to abet our hunger for clean narratives and happy endings. It is a hopeless book. Insisting on life’s futility, the world’s capriciousness, and God’s inscrutability, it deliberately cultivates despair. It sees such bone-deep hopelessness as the only cure for what ails us. Ecclesiastes is a hard book full of hard sayings. It is an anvil against which our hearts must be hammered.

No wonder we avoid it.

But the cost of avoidance is high. As Paul insists, in order to become Christian, we must first learn to be hopeless. Hopelessness is the door to Zion. Hopelessness is crucial to a consecrated life. Before we can find hope in Christ, we must give up hope in everything else. Nothing can save us from the cross. Abraham, Paul claims, learned how to trust God by learning how to hope against hope. Abraham, “against hope, believed in hope” (Romans 4:18). Or, as Joseph Spencer more clearly renders it, Abraham was “hopeless but hoping.”[1]

Life in Christ doesn’t overcome this hopelessness. It doesn’t replace it with hope, trading one for the other. Rather, life in Christ baptizes hopelessness and then draws strength from it. It practices a rare kind of messianic hope that is rooted in futility and grows only in that bleak soil. [Read more…]

Poetry as Theology: Reading George Herbert’s “Prayer [I]”

See all posts in this series here.

Readers of this blog (and people who know me) will be aware that devotional poetry is close to my heart. (See this post on George Herbert, in which it was all I could do not to include at least twenty poems, or this one on Gerard Manley Hopkins, or any of the Sunday Morning Poems I’ve posted.) It would be very hard for me to have a spiritual life without poetry—and why should I have to? Yet if all God-talk is theology, what are the implications of having that theology take poetic form? Some time ago I read a book arguing that poetry in the Early Modern period handled the realities of conversion more effectively and accurately than did prose theological treatises. At stake here is nothing less than Pilate’s famous question: “What is truth?” Is truth contained in rigorous arguments moving logically from proposition to proposition, or is there something more evasive about it, something toward which we can only hint through images and metaphors? Or, conversely, are images and metaphors a cheat, deceiving us into the belief that there’s an easy way around working carefully and patiently to reason out the truth? [Read more…]

The Mormon Church in the @PanamaPapers?!? [Updated]

[Update below]

Yesterday, the ICIJ released its searchable Panama Papers database. (For some background on the Panama Papers, you can look my BCC post or my Surly Subgroup post. Or the ICIJ’s site.) Some enterprising individual appears to have plugged Mormon-related words into the search bar, and came up with at least two hits: Bonneville International and Deseret Investment.

Now, this is exactly what we’re supposed to be doing with this database: searching for those who think they can use tax havens to avoid meeting their obligations. So should you be outraged that the church is doing this?

Short answer: no. But I’m a law professor, so the short answer is never enough.   [Read more…]

On the Sweetness of Mormon (Studies) Life

We just heard the news that historian Ronald Walker has passed away after a long illness. Later this week, we’ll post a proper tribute to his life’s work and his wonderful contributions to our understanding of our shared faith. But today, I’m crying because his daughter is my friend and lives down the street from me, and his grandson was in my Primary class. And through my tears, I’m glad for all the ways Mormonism makes the world small enough for us to know each other, to have a right sense of the scale of things–we are all small, and we all matter infinitely.

May is #BikeToChurch Month–even on Mother’s Day!

Bike to Church Month continues here at By Common Consent blog. This week we feature the completely car-free Farley family of Oakland, CA, @maryaagard of Boise, ID rocking her Mother’s Day corsage, and BCC’s own Sam Brunson of Chicago, IL. Keep biking to church all month long in May (and beyond!), and send us your pics on Twitter @bycommonconsent #BikeToChurch, Instagram (I’m sisterblah2), or email sisterblah2@gmail.com.

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MSSJ Swiss Pilgrimage, 2016: Update

Back in January the The Mormon Society of St. James announced its fourth annual pilgrimage in August 2016, this time along the Swiss Road of the Via Francigena (St. Francis’s Way), the ancient trading and pilgrimage route from Canterbury to Rome.

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Via Francigena marker on the way to Dover.

Since plans have solidified somewhat since the initial announcement, I’m posting this update to encourage those who may be on the fence to consider joining us. [Read more…]

The Logic of Job’s Comforters: Why We Keep Blaming Victims, Even When We Say We Don’t

Let’s start with the Job, the archetypal tale of the phenomenon I want to discuss. After Job loses his property, his family, and his heath, his three best friends travel long distances to comfort him. And by “comfort,” I mean, “do everything within their power to convince Job that he is responsible for his own misfortunes.” Job’s comforters are the world’s first and most famous victim-blamers. [Read more…]

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