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

(Shannon) Hope Harrison served a mission in Houston TX from 2013-2014. She is currently a senior at MIT and has been part of Adir, a group that encourages understanding and friendships across all religions. Studying Hebrew at Harvard University and coming to love Judaism has been part of her path toward understanding more about Mormonism. She spent last summer in Jerusalem.

 

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.

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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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Love Song of the Dandelion Mama

 

 

I was poor. I was divorced. I was a single mother. I was a welfare mother. I was heading back to college in my thirties. I was learning to love and accept myself for the first time. I was helping my children heal and grow after the trauma of losing their father. Everything I had feared, every stigma I had hoped to avoid, had become part of my life. In the prevailing narrative distilled down, my ex-husband was a drug addict, and I was an uneducated single mother on welfare.

So what? What are you going to do about it?

I’m going to reject the pre-written script and write my own story from here on out. All of it. I’m going to own it —The Burning Point, p. 168

By Common Consent Press is proud to announce the publication of our second book, Tracy McKay’s long-awaited memoir, The Burning Point: A Memoir of Addiction, Destruction, Love, Parenting, Survival, and Hope. The book is now available on Amazon and our online store—and the Kindle version will become available at midnight tonight (though it can be pre-ordered at any time). One way or another, you need to read this. It is the sort of book that changes lives. [Read more…]

Naming the Dead

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The site of the Ebensee concentration camp today

Several weeks ago I visited the site of the Ebensee concentration camp, part of the network of forced labor camps managed from the more notorious Mauthausen camp. In less than two years of operation, which ended when American troops liberated the camp, 8,412 known inmates were murdered or died in the course of digging tunnels into the nearby mountains to shield armaments production from Allied bombing.

Today little remains of the site. Walking through what has become a leafy neighborhood of single family dwellings nestled peacefully in a scenic alpine valley on a sunny morning, it’s hard to imagine the suffering the camp’s inmates once experienced—the present feels far from the past, even when standing upon the very place where the bones of those who perished rest—if one can say such a thing about the remains of the victims of such gross injustice. In fact, it would be easy to imagine that nothing out of the ordinary had ever happened here at all. But for those who venture off the beaten path and follow the signs to a parking lot that might fit ten vehicles in a pinch, a memorial reminds us that something did. [Read more…]

The Supreme Court and Religious Liberty: The Plot Thickens

The last day of the Supreme Court term never disappoints on drama.  And this morning, the drama related to the First Amendment and religious liberty.  Religious school funding, bakery objections to same-sex weddings, and President Trump’s Travel Ban — major action on all three fronts happened today.

SCOTUS

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Transfers

Mormon mission life has its own unique culture and a part of that culture is the “transfer.” Transfers happen for a variety of reasons, redistribution of man-woman power, training procedures, covering for departing missionaries, social issues between missionaries and/or members, etc. Transfers are sometimes fraught for various reasons but usually they don’t mean anything in particular beyond the mundane. But sometimes, they are unusual.
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Sunday Sermon: The Spirit Abides

d5651f961e6f3c93b4292c0cf150e715I gave this talk today in my ward in the D.C. Metro area.

When I joined the church in 2002, I came into this faith backwards. I was raised in a gently agnostic home by good parents in a melting pot of the west—San Francisco. Yes, you can be agnostic and value home life, children, your community, and country. My parents did a fine job raising conscientious, moral children—while they may not have believed, they tried to allow room in the margins of our lives for their children to discover their own beliefs.

When I approached the missionaries I was already a wife and mother, and had been church shopping for quite some time. I had visited dozens of churches of different denominations, some Christian, others not. When I found the missionaries and asked to be baptized (yes, I am that person) as a Mormon, I wasn’t even sure I believed in Jesus, but I had received a searingly powerful witness that God was real—that was it. That was all I had. That witness was my mustard seed, holding the tiny bits of faith I had collected over my lifetime. [Read more…]

What if they had a ward activity and nobody came?

On the last Sunday in April, one of the counselors in the bishopric asked to meet with both Brother J and me. Whatever could this be about, we wondered—for about three seconds before my husband figured out that it must be about the upcoming Fourth of July Breakfast.

“No,” I said. “NO.”

“But this could be our chance to restore it to its former glory,” my husband said.

“NO.”

As long as we’ve lived here—which I guess is thirteen years now—our ward has provided breakfast for the neighborhood’s annual Fourth of July celebration, which also includes a parade and a modest carnival with bouncy houses, snow cones, a dunking booth, a clown, etc. In the beginning, the ward provided a full breakfast, complete with pancakes, bacon, and eggs in addition to fruit and beverages. As attendance grew (much) higher, we had to jettison the bacon and eggs and just serve pancakes, fruit, and beverages. Then the parks and rec district stopped providing us with tables, so we replaced the pancakes with muffins, bagels, and donuts, making it a “grab-and-go” breakfast. Obviously, the baked goods were much more expensive than pancakes, but what else could they do without tables? But every year I think to myself, “Why the hell am I getting up this early for half a muffin and a Dixie cup of fruit?” Well, why the hell does anyone? But everyone does. Last year, I think, we served this paltry breakfast to 1,200 people. Or maybe it was 1,300. I don’t really remember, just that the number was astonishing. Because seriously, why the hell? [Read more…]

Reading Thucydides at 40,000 Feet

Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question, inaptness to act on any. Frantic violence became the attribute of manliness; cautious plotting, a justifiable means of self-defence. The advocate of extreme measures was always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected. . . . The cause of all these evils was the lust for power arising from greed and ambition; and from these passions proceeded the violence of parties once engaged in contention.

The History of the Peloponnesian War, Book III

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And There Was No Sick Among Them

“And remember in all things the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not my disciple.”  D&C 52:40

I remember the day – 10 years ago this month –  I first realized that government-sponsored healthcare might not be inherently evil.

A British friend and I were engaged in an impromptu debate on social policy.  I started lecturing him on the defects of British healthcare compared to true red-state and Mormon principles of self-reliance.  Any form of welfare, especially government-sponsored healthcare, perpetuated a cycle of dependence.  If an individual legitimately needed help, family, friends, and nonprofits should step in.  Government involvement was wasteful, anti-capitalistic, and coercive –  it could never heal society.

He offered a pithy response: “I can think of nothing more barbaric about America than that you let people die because they can’t afford healthcare.”

“Barbaric” hit me with a jolt. What an absurd word!  And yet, one with truth. [Read more…]

The Thermostat Wars

There’s one thing that’s driving a wedge between men and women in the church every single week, that creates discomfort and distrust for both. Is it polygamy? Gender roles in the proclamation? No. It’s the Gospel Doctrine Thermostat Wars. Every week the drama plays out again in my Arizona ward: the men want the AC cranked up, and the women are shivering under pashminas and cardigans. It’s largely because of the ridiculous dress code at church in which women (who are often colder anyway) have bare legs and feet in sandals and short sleeves while the men (who are often warmer anyway) are wearing socks, closed shoes, heavy pants, jackets, long sleeved shirts buttoned to the neck.

I would say this is a heated argument, but not from where I’m sitting. [Read more…]

Paul Bunyan and the Mormons

On Wednesday, we left the Paul Bunyan Logging Camp Museum[fn1] in Eau Claire, WI, and drove to the Goose Island Campground[fn2] in La Crosse, where we were going to spend the night. As we followed the GPS to our campsite, it suddenly gave us this direction:

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