Free Agency

The last speaker in yesterday’s F&T meeting talked about the concept of free agency. First, he explained that that terminology was very flawed, because agency isn’t free, but was bought at great cost by our savior’s atoning sacrifice. Second, he told how his seminary teacher insisted that free agency only existed to make righteous choices, not wicked ones. He had great trouble understanding that, but finally concluded she must be right. [Read more…]

Oh Say, What Is Sin?

I’m not sure I know what sin is.

Lately, I’ve come to recognize that the theory of sin I’ve held since my youth is … wrong.  Or if not wrong, at least woefully incomplete.

For most of my teenage and young adult life, sin meant willful rebellion against God.  Sin meant knowing an action was wrong, and intentionally choosing to do it anyway.  I viewed everyday sins as a microcosm of the way Mormons describe Outer Darkness. Under that belief, almost everyone on Earth will obtain some degree of heavenly glory; the only exception is those who have “sinned against the Holy Ghost” – who have had so powerful of a witness of God’s truth they effectively walk right up to a glorified Jesus Christ, look him in the eye, and say “I am choosing to not follow you.” [1]

I considered that level of willful sin difficult to achieve.  After all, we simultaneously learned in Mormon Sunday School that things which would be sins for us (like drinking alcohol) may not necessarily be a sin for other people; non-Mormons didn’t have the same knowledge, so they wouldn’t be held to the same standard. [Read more…]

A Love Song For William Tyndale

14121557592_6022a3811b_oIn my continuing celebration of Protestant Reformation October, its time to gush about William Tyndale (1494-1536).  I love Tyndale.  He is a muse and a personal hero.  For the last two years, I have engaged in a quest to convince my Catholic fiancé to name any future firstborn son of ours Tyndale.  (I think my persistence is working: when last we discussed it, he had conceded that perhaps Tyndale would make a fine middle name.)

My love for Tyndale started two years ago after reading Wide as the Waters, which devotes Chapter Two to Tyndale’s life.  For Christmas that year I requested Tyndale’s complete works, and for the next many months relied on them for my spiritual studies.  I craved Tyndale’s devotional insights and linguistic beauty, and he did not disappoint.  Now you can find me on Sundays, sprinkling talks and lessons with his extra-scriptural wisdom. [Read more…]

Stephen Greenblatt’s Great New Book—And What It Misses about the Mormon Adam and Eve

For reasons that are at once tantalizing and elusive, these few verses in an ancient book have served as a mirror in which we seem to glimpse the whole, long history of our fears and desires. It has been both liberating and destructive, a hymn to human responsibility and a dark fable about human wretchedness, a celebration of daring and an incitement to violent misogyny. The range of responses it has aroused over thousands of years in innumerable individuals and communities is astonishing.
—Stephen Greenblatt, The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve (pp. 5-6).

 

It would be difficult to overstate the impact of Stephen Greenblatt on literary culture. As the general editor of the Norton Anthology of English Literature, he shapes the textbooks used in about 90% of undergraduate British Literature survey and period courses. If literature is “what gets taught,” then Greenblatt is the guy who decides what literature is for the English-speaking world.

Fortunately for all of us, Greenblatt has excellent taste—and a whole lot of knowledge about the contexts in which literature is produced. His recent books for general audiences are the best examples that I know of literary criticism for real people. Will in the World, his context-heavy biography of William Shakespeare, was a surprise bestseller in 2004. And The Swerve, How the World Became Modern (2011)—a literary detective story about how Lucretius’s lost poem “On the Nature of Things” was discovered in the 15th century—won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. [Read more…]

Brigham Young, John P. Taggart, and the Federal Income Tax

On January 3, 1871, Brigham Young sent a telegram to  his counselor Daniel H. Wells. The LDS Church History Library only has the first page of the letter, but even the absence of subsequent pages can’t disguise the story lying under the surface. The first page of the telegram reads:

We think it will be wisdom for the Latter Day Saints to omit paying tithing Some of the Officers of the government seem determined to rob us of our hard earnings which are donated to sustain the poor and other charitable purposes We will carry on our public works and assist the poor by some other method If this agrees with your feelings have Bro Cannon[fn1]

I’m not sure I can emphasize enough how crazy this is: Brigham Young suggested doing away with tithing. While I don’t know the church’s revenue in 1870, in 1880, about $540,000 of the church’s $1 million in revenue came from tithing. And yet Brigham Young was willing to get rid of it in response to some kind of robbery. So what’s going on? [Read more…]

Call for Applications – 2018 Mormon Theology Seminar

The Fifth Annual Summer Seminar on Mormon Theology
“Are We Not All Beggars? Reading Mosiah 4”
Cittadella Ospitalità, Assisi, Italy
June 17–June 30, 2018

Sponsored by the Mormon Theology Seminar
in partnership with
The Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies,
The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship,
and the Wheatley Institution

In the summer of 2018, the Mormon Theology Seminar, in partnership with the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies, the Neal A. Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University, and the Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University, will sponsor a summer seminar for graduate students and faculty devoted to reading Mosiah 4.

The seminar will be hosted by the Cittadella Ospitalità in Assisi, Italy, from June 17 through June 30, 2018. Travel arrangements, housing, and a $1000 stipend will be provided for admitted participants. The seminar will be led by Adam Miller and Joseph Spencer, directors of the Mormon Theology Seminar. [Read more…]

My Friend Katherine

Image result for toms river sand pitsWhen I was in 4th grade, we moved to Toms River, NJ. The summer between 4th and 5th grade, I was trying to find friends in the neighborhood since I hadn’t lived there very long, and none of the friends I had met in elementary school lived in my neighborhood.

Our neighborhood was a strange amalgam of ethnicities and religious beliefs with proximity being the only real glue that held us together. The French family across the street (fundamentalist-leaning Evangelicals) had daughters near my age. Their father was abusive, and the unmistakable yelling and crashing sounds were audible from the street. If they noticed a neighbor approaching while they were being beaten, everyone would lay on the ground and pretend nobody was home. On many occasions, I rang the bell repeatedly while listening to their mother’s hushed whispers to stay on the ground below sight of the window until I went away. Our next door neighbors were rowdy good-natured Italian Catholics who skinny-dipped in their above ground pool. Their 26-year old son had raped their daughter a few years earlier, and rather than press charges, they imprisoned him in their basement. He would sometimes order pizza to be delivered to his basement window. If I was really lonely, I could always talk to their son Carmine through his window. There was another girl a few years older than me who lived down the street, but she smoked pot and cigarettes and there were never any adults in the home, all of which made me nervous. Plus, she was post-puberty, and I was not; she mostly wanted to talk about boys. I wanted a friend who would ride bikes, go on adventures (but in the neighborhood), climb trees, or swing on the rope over the sandpits behind the school. The sandpits were a vast landscape of dunes, trees, discarded shopping carts, and other treasures. Later, when I read the Lovely Bones, I imagined the shifting sandpits as a great place to dump a body.

[Read more…]

Book Review Roundup

A series of quick reviews from the layman’s perspective to tell you whether you should get a book or not. If you don’t want to read what I say about each book: I have to say, this time, each of these books are worth reading and owning, though some are more specialized in subject matter. I review some outstanding offerings by George Handley, Tom Christofferson, Max Perry Mueller, the Joseph Smith Papers, Craig Harline, and Turley/Johnson/Carruth. [Read more…]

Pastors’ Housing Revisited (Again)

(Note: this is the fourth installment of a series (Part 1: Money for Nothing and the Housing for Free; Part 2: Pastors’ Housing, Take 2; Part 3: Pastors’ Housing Revisited) that spans four years and isn’t over yet.)

Today, a district court in the Western District of Wisconsin ruled that section 107(2) of the Internal Revenue Code is unconstitutional. Again.

So what’s section 107(2)? And what relevance could it possibly have for a Mormon blogging audience? I’m so glad you asked.

Background [Read more…]

What It Means to Sustain a Mormon Prophet

Mette Ivie Harrison is a regular guest here at BCC and author of many books, including The Book of Laman.

I’ve struggled a lot lately with what it means to sustain a prophet within Mormonism, and if that is possible when I disagree strongly with policies which are given the status of “revelation” within Mormonism, including, for instance, The Proclamation on the Family, or the new policy demanding excommunication of same-sex married couples who are Mormon and the exclusion of their children from saving ordinances including baptism. [Read more…]

Dementiadventures

My wife and I recently purchased long-term care insurance. I told my insurance guy that if he had suggested it to me even three years ago, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. But in very recent years we’ve had to deal with the effects of old age on our parents. My father-in-law had to move into a nursing home and eventually died. (The insurance we bought is pricey, but the annual cost is about equal to the one-month cost of keeping my FIL in a nursing home, so it’s all a matter of perspective.) That left my mother-in-law living alone in a big house on an almost two-acre lot outside of town by herself, and my wife worried herself sick over her being alone like that, so we sold the house and moved her into an assisted living facility (for now it’s basically an apartment with meals provided, but services can be added as needed). My own father died many years ago, but my mother recently had a health issue arise such that she could no longer live alone–she now lives with my oldest sister. [Read more…]

On Human Evil

“No man’s really any good till he knows how bad he is, or might be; till he’s realized exactly how much right he has to all this snobbery, and sneering, and talking about ‘criminals,’ as if they were apes in a forest ten thousand miles away; till he’s got rid of all the dirty self-deception of talking about low types and deficient skulls; till he’s squeezed out of his soul the last drop of the oil of the Pharisees; till his only hope is somehow or other to have captured one criminal, and kept him safe and sane under his own hat.”–G.K. Chesterton, The Secret of Father Brown

 

I hold two literary opinions that I rarely discuss with friends, because they are the sorts of opinions that make one unpopular. The first is that CS Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series is better than JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The second is that GK Chesterton’s Father Brown is a better detective than Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. In both cases, my reasoning is the same: there are far more serious and profound ideas at stake in Lewis and Chesterton’s work than there are in Tolkien’s and Doyle’s. The latter works are entertaining. The former are important. [Read more…]

Snippets from Martin Luther’s Treatise On Christian Liberty

Years ago, I stumbled upon Martin Luther’s Treatise On Christian LibertyI still turn to it often, marveling at the insights regarding the intersection of faith and works.  Here are just a few of my favorite passages.

“Since, therefore, this faith can rule only in the inward man, as Romans X says, With the heart we believe unto righteousness; and since faith alone justifies, it is clear that the inward man cannot be justified, made free and be saved by any outward work or dealing whatsoever.”

“Although it is good to preach and write about penitence, confession, and satisfaction, our teaching is unquestionably deceitful and diabolical if we stop with that and do not go on to teach about faith.” [Read more…]

To Mourn with Gay Friends that Mourn

When Alma baptizes at the waters of Mormon in Mosiah 18, he preaches to these covenant-makers exactly what they will be promising to each other as a community. In his instructions, Alma says that in order to “come into the fold of God” and “be called his people,” they must also be “willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light, “to mourn with those that mourn,” and to “comfort those that stand in need of comfort.” We love to share these scriptures in Sunday School, particularly when we are aware of fellow ward members suffering from a death in the family, from sickness or unemployment, or if we have a family that needs help moving into or out of a home. One of the things I most love and value about my LDS church family is how we are there for one another.

I have noticed, though, that it is harder for us to be there for the LGBTQ members of our congregations, who are many of them hurting and not understanding what their life inside in the Church should look like. [Read more…]

1309-1417: Avignon and the Papal Schism

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For two centuries before the official launch of the Protestant Reformation, corruption and strife in the papacy prompted calls for reform within the Catholic Church.  Back in the early 14th century, the Pope had fled Rome and set up the offices of the church in Avignon, France.  There, over the next 100 years, a series of Popes created ways to increase religious taxes and fiscal intakes, funding construction of a grand palace of opulence (pictured).  As one Italian poet described Avignon, it is “a receptacle of all that is most wicked and abominable…In this city there is no piety, no reverence or fear of God, no faith or charity, nothing that is holy, just, equitable, or humane.”

Two women, later canonized by the Catholic church, led the calls to repentance.  St. Bridget implored Pope Gregory XI to show humility — “Why in thy Court dost thou suffer unchecked the foulest pride, insatiable avarice, execrable wantonness, and all-devouring simony? … Arise and seek bravely to reform the Church which I have purchased with my blood, and it shall be restored to its former state, though now a brothel is more respected than it.”  [Read more…]

“For I created all things spiritually…”

Animism is the belief that “gods” and “spirits” — and the anima that imbue them with their god and spiritliness — inhabit things both living and inert. Eurocentric anthropologists originally used the term negatively, believing animism to be a stage in the evolution of religion from primitive belief to more “advanced” monotheism. This view should be rejected.

I am definitely an animist. I don’t mean that as some kind of poetic characterisation of my love for nature. No, I definitely believe nature — rock, animal, and tree — is animated by more than just the material sum of its parts. Crazy stuff.

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These are the hills and trees near my home. Should I get a good death, they may be the last thing I see as I lay dying at home as an old man. The hill is North Hill in Malvern and it looms both over the house I was born into and the house in which I now live. I believe that this hill is more than its granite and grass. It is “North Hill,” the animation of that granite and grass. It — and the things that live in it and around it — has, to borrow a Japanese idea, kami-nature (more on kami below). [Read more…]

Memories. Mysteries Solved. Mysteries Made. Wilford Woodruff’s “Book of Revelations.”

When Charles W. Nibley[1] was eleven he came to Utah and settled with his family in the Cache Valley. From the start, Nibley had a knack for business and became successful in retail, lumber, and land. When he was a teenager, Nibley met Ira Ames, an early 1830s convert to Mormonism and he loved to listen to Ames tell stories about the early days of Mormonism. Late in life, Nibley related a incident where Ames told the story of being out on the streets of Kirtland, Ohio one night when he saw Sidney Rigdon walking by. Rigdon stopped and spoke to Ames and told him he had just come from witnessing a long and glorious vision (D&C 76). He told Ames of the beautiful vision. Nibley carried this experience to his grave as one of the more memorable scenes of his youth. There was a problem though. Ames was not in Ohio in February 1832 when the vision occurred, he wasn’t even a Mormon—and Rigdon was living in Hiram, Ohio when he experienced the shattering vision. Nibley felt humbled and strengthened by a fiction.
[Read more…]

#MutualNight: Matt Wilson’s Honey and Salt

[For a quick refresher on what #MutualNight posts entail and how they relate to Mormonism, read this.]

Full disclosure before I  get started: Matt Wilson is one of my favorite jazz drummers and musicians. I’d put his last two albums (2016’s Beginning of a Memory and 2014’s Gathering Call) in my top 5 albums of their respective years, and his Christmas album is my favorite Christmas album.

And yet I’ve put off talking about Honey and Salt. And that’s for one major reason: Carl Sandburg. [Read more…]

Protestant Oktoberfest 

Germany has a major celebration every October — but this year is special.  500 years ago, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the doors of Wittenberg Church.  This symbolically launched what later historians would dub the Protestant Reformation.

As a lover of religious history — and appreciator of the LDS Church’s indebtedness to many things Protestant — I hereby proclaim October to be Protestant Reformation month at By Common Consent.  I hope you will enjoy and contribute to our celebration of Protestant hymns, quotes, churches, leaders, theologies, and other snippets of history.  I pray that through this celebration, we can all rediscover a love of scripture and delight in faith.

[Read more…]

Ten Axioms towards the Academic Study of the Book of Mormon as Scripture

 

(1)   The Book of Mormon is neither history nor literature; it is scripture. It makes historical claims and uses literary devices. The academic study of both history and literature can aid in its interpretation, but employing such tools comes with a price. The price is treating the text like something that it isn’t, which often leads to bad readings of the text itself.

(2) The Book of Mormon is unlike any ancient history that we know anything about. It is also unlike any 19th century work of fiction that we know anything about. It is a lot like other scriptures that we know about, but the textual record that we have access to does not permit the same kind of analyses that are possible with other scriptures. For the purposes of textual interpretation, comparing the Book of Mormon to anything else is full of peril. It is in a genre of one. [Read more…]

The end of an era

So it has been our family tradition, since our oldest child was a toddler, to go to Saturday morning session at the church building and go out for hamburgers afterward. Even after internet streaming at home became the norm and we didn’t even go to church for Sunday session, we still went to church and out for hamburgers on Saturday because THIS IS OUR TRADITION. For the last couple years, it’s pretty much been just us and the missionaries. And our friend who’s the stake A/V guy says they’re going to stop showing it at the building after this conference. Which makes sense, frankly, but it’s kind of a shame because a) without making the kids sit through two hours of boring talks at the church, I feel like we won’t have earned any hamburgers, and b) even though we play all the other sessions at home, the session I’m forced to sit through at the church is basically the only one I pay attention to (because there’s nothing else to do). Which I guess isn’t really a shame, except it’s hard to watch traditions die.

On Listing Grievances and Emotional Labor #ldsconf

In his talk on Sunday Morning, Elder W. Craig Zwick, now an emeritus Seventy, told of a woman who kept an electronic list of things her husband said or did that irritated her. He relates that later, while taking the sacrament and reflecting on the Atonement, she realized that this practice was driving the Spirit from her life, so she deleted the list. The emotion with which he said “Let it all go!” suggests that he found this story a powerful example of forgiveness, and he offered it as an example of overcoming spiritual shortsightedness. [Read more…]

Sisters on Bikes in Chicago

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As usual on a Thursday, on the commuter train home I crack open my copy of the Reader, an alternative weekly in Chicago. And there is a full page article by John Greenfield, who concentrates on transportation issues for the City Life section. This article is all about sister missionaries using bicycles for transportation in Chicago. It was a fun piece, so I wanted to share it with my blog friends. [Read more…]

Getting rid of the Ensign, New Era, and Friend!

So, the Church magazines have had their present names since 1971. That’s going on 50 years. “Ensign” is ok, has some scriptural backing I guess. New Era is clearly borrowed from the old Improvement Era, and the Friend inherited its name from its predecessor, The Children’s Friend (which stole the name of some other rag, I think). Liahona came from the old Liahona The Elders’ Journal. So now you’re faced with a problem. What about new magazines? Should there be hard copy mags? How many? One for all adults world-wide? Or ten or fifteen regional mags? BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY, WE HAVE TO GIVE THEM NEW AND BETTER NAMES! Get with it and tell me what to do.

Positive Virtue, Pornography, and the Buttonmoulder

If the maxim ‘He who does
No ill does good” is valid—then
I can be sure, more than most people,
That my past mistakes will be overlooked
And my virtues be seen to outweigh my sins.

—Henrik Ibsen, Peer Gynt,  Act IV

 

Ibsen’s Peer Gynt operates from the maxim that “he who does no ill does good.” He is quite wrong. His life is a mashup of good and evil—but he is generally good natured and usually tries to avoid doing harm. When he comes to the end of his life, he finds that simply not doing evil won’t count as doing good. In the end, he faces neither God or the devil, but the “Buttonmoulder”–a soul recycler who takes the essences of those who qualify for neither heaven nor hell and melts them down to make brand new souls.

When he discovers that his ultimate fate will be to cease existing, he approaches the devil and begs to be admitted into hell. He gives a catalog of his sins, but he is rebuffed because, as the Buttonmoulder says, “it takes more than paddling in the dirt; It takes strength and a serious mind to sin.” [Read more…]

JSPP, Documents, Volume 6: Initial Thoughts

I got a copy of D6 this weekend, and burned through it. Basically a solid reading of all the intros, careful readings of all the minutes, and documents not in the JS Letterbooks, and skimming everything else.  Special emphasis on the sermons.  And honestly superlatives fail.
  [Read more…]

Conversations Among the Trees

Near Fish Lake in Central Utah is an living thing called Pando, arguably the largest living organism on Earth. It is an aspen clone over a 100 acres large and composed of nearly 50,000 individual units (what naively we might call ’trees’, and which I will call, ‘trees#’ to mark the distinction). Aspens send runners out from a rootball which then shoot up into a new aspen tree#, and although they look like individuals, they are a single organism. In the picture below the Pando can be seen as the darker leaved aspens—all part of the same clone. While the discrete trees# can last 150 years, the clone itself can last for thousands. Estimates of Pando’s age range from 80,000 years (unlikely) to several thousand, with likely estimates ranging from 10,000 to 30,000 years.
[Read more…]

Thoughts on Perfect Love

Richard “Papa” Ostler lives in the Salt Lake City area. He spoke recently at a gathering of LGBTQ allies including Affirmation, Mormons Building Bridges, and others, in Salt Lake City. He agreed to let us share his remarks here, and we encourage the reader to learn more about some of these wonderful support groups.

My name is Richard Ostler. My dear wife Sheila and I are the parents of six children and two grandchildren and live near Cottonwood High.
In the fall of 2015, while serving as a YSA Bishop, I felt a deep impression to – using a computer term – ‘wipe my hard drive clean’ of everything I had concluded about my LGBTQ friends and start from scratch and rebuild my hard drive by meeting with LGBTQ people. I realized straight voices had defined my LGBTQ beliefs and my few interactions were not enough to fully understand and I risked making broad conclusions. Unlike a cholesterol test where I can get a specific number, I have no way to measure the degree of bias – or homophobia – innocently present in my beliefs. Over the past two years, I’ve met with hundreds of my LGBTQ friends – listening to them in one-one-one interviews – given many priesthood blessings and have felt God’s programming me the way He sees His LGBTQ children.

Our scriptures reference the ‘mysteries of God’. I believe one of the ‘mysteries of God’ is His LGBTQ children and as I ‘diligently seeketh’ my eyes have been further opened. [Read more…]

Shame and the Gospel

Amber Haslam is a friend of the blog and wrote this recently. We asked if she would mind sharing it here at BCC.

Recently, I have had lots of questions regarding the gospel. They vary in topic and most I keep to myself. But about a month and a half ago, I got the nerve to throw some of these questions into the strange void that is twitter.com. Here is a screengrab of part of that thread: [Read more…]

The BoM and the Aeneid

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Today we tend to lump the Greeks and Romans together as “classical civilization.” But at the time, one can argue that Romans had a bit of an inferiority complex vis-a-vis Greece. Certainly not with respect to militarism, but as to things like philosophy and literature. The Greek stuff was considered the state of the art; wealthy Roman parents would often hire Greek tutors for their children, that sort of thing. [Read more…]