“Be Not Afraid” #BCCSundaySchool2019

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Ivan Aivazovsky’s “Jesus Walks on Water” (1888)

Readings: Matthew 14–15; Mark 6–7; and John 5–6.

The other night, my husband and I heard our 7-year-old daughter crying in her room, around 10:30pm. We knew she had fallen asleep a couple of hours earlier, so we went to her together, hoping that one or the other of us could help calm her down from a nightmare. “Why do I have bad dreams sometimes?” she asked us. Dave told her that when our brains are sleeping, they are still active and still creating stories for us, and even though it is no fun to have a scary dream, it’s comforting to know when we wake up that none of it was real. I added that sometimes if she wakes up from a dream and can’t shake the scared feeling, and Mom and Dad don’t immediately hear her and come to her, she can pray to feel strong and safe, too. [Read more…]

Glossopoeia: The Gift of (Invented) Tongues

 

“Atan lantanë tana atani ëuvar; ar atani ëar tana haryar olassë.”

– 2 Nephi 2:27, author’s translation in Quenya

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A calligraphic tengwar version of The Ataramma, the Lord’s Prayer in Quenya, by Danny Andries. Tengwar is one writing system that Tolkien invented for his invented languages. Source: http://www.ambar-eldaron.com/gwaith/andries.htm#aeadarnin.

 

Warning: this post is weird. It descends into depths of Tolkien nerdery previously unheard-of at BCC. Ye be warned.

Today is Tolkien Reading Day. Every March 25th the Tolkien Society chooses a theme and encourages readers to read their favorite passages from the professor’s work that relate to that theme, and read them on this day. This year’s theme is Tolkien and the Mysterious. That’s a topic with a lot of material, but one of the elements that contributes most to the sense of mystery—the sense that there is more to the story behind the story, is the presence of invented languages in Tolkien’s stories. Not just nonsense words with a “translation” in English, but full languages with internal rules of grammar, etymologies, and alphabets. This post will be an exploration of the idea of invented languages as it relates to the idea of the gift of tongues. [Read more…]

Why I’m So Bad at Not Using “Mormon”

Rebbie Brassfield is a copywriter living in Southern California. In 2012 she created the now-emeritus website Normons.com to try to prove how normal Mormons are (lol). Currently you’ll find her blogging here.     

It’s been almost 6 months since we were asked to ditch the term “Mormon.” I’ve been reflecting on it lately, I think because I’m anticipating some sort of follow-up at General Conference and I am keenly aware of how badly I’ve done at it.

With each reminder that “Mormon” is out, I’ve felt what I can only describe as a sense of mourning. It’s a strange reaction, given that I am fully on board with efforts to represent ours as a global, Christ-centered church.

But as I’ve gone about trying to scrub the word “Mormon” from my vocabulary, I’ve realized how deeply it is intertwined with my identity as a Latter-day Saint. I’ve attempted to simply swap out the old lingo for the new, but the correct name of the church is not a synonym for all that “Mormon” means. [Read more…]

The Kingdom of Hell Is Within You Too

Last night I dreamed about Hell. Here’s what it looked like.

It was a hilly region filled with big boulders that people were pushing, at great effort, in big circles. There were two groups of people in this version of hell–Mormons and ex-Mormons–and they were pushing the rocks in opposite, though circular, directions. Boulder pushing took most of their effort, but, when they passed each other on their circular paths, they summoned all of their remaining strength to shout accusations at each other in the form of two rhetorical questions. The Mormons shouted, “Why did you leave?” and the ex-Mormons shouted “Why do you stay?”

[Read more…]

Representation Matters: Naming Women in the Book of Mormon

This guest post is by Mette Harrison, whose many books include The Book of Abish, which was published this week by BCC Press.

A male friend of mine asked me a few years ago, when I complained about how few women spoke at General Conference, why it mattered to me. “If you believe the message is from God, then surely it’s the same message no matter who gives it.” This is, in a nutshell, what I think many men believe about male leadership within the Mormon church, and to be honest, about male leadership at work, in government, and in the media.

[Read more…]

Joseph Smith and Translation

On January 11th of this year (2019) Brian Hauglid and Robin Jensen gave a guest presentation at the Maxwell Institute titled “A Window into Joseph Smith’s Translation.” I watched the presentation at some point later after the video had been posted online (and enjoyed it). Jeff Lindsay at Mormanity [1] has recently taken exception to that presentation, both here and here, to the effect that the speakers were irresponsible not to balance their more naturalistic take on the production of the Book of Abraham (including a probable belief he was translating the Sensen Papyrus) with some of the more apologetic scholarship on the topic. But for my part, I actually appreciated their naturalistic take on the process. Let me try to explain why. [Read more…]

On Modesty

I hear it’s almost Spring, in parts of the world that are not New England. For young women in Mormondom, warm weather means (more) modesty lessons. When I criticize the ways that girls are instructed about modesty among Latter-day Saints, someone inevitably asks (accuses), “Well, how would you teach it, then?” My answer is simple:

I wouldn’t. [Read more…]

The Book of Abish Is Here


As BCC has already proved with math, the Book of Mormon does not pass the Bechdel Test. In fact, it doesn’t even qualify to sit for the Bechdel Test. It doesn’t have two named female characters who talk to each other about anything. It doesn’t even have two named female characters who are alive at the same time or part of the same story. Only three women in the book even have names at all, and these three never come near each other.

But do you know what does pass the Bechdel Test? Mette Harrison’s new Book-of-Mormon themed novel, The Book of Abish (Kindle edition here), that’s what. It passes it in the first chapter and then keeps on passing it, on almost every page, until the last chapter. That’s because the whole point of The Book of Abish is to give the women of the book of Mormon their own stories–and their own names. And it is available from BCC Press today. [Read more…]

Review: Thunder From The Right: Ezra Taft Benson in Mormonism and Politics

Matthew L. Harris, ed. Thunder From the Right: Ezra Taft Benson in Mormonism and Politics.
Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2019.
Hardcover, 260 pages.
Footnotes. Bibliography. Index.
Cloth: $99.00. Paper: $27.95. Kindle: $14.95. [Kindle not paginated.]
ISBN-10: 0252042255
ISBN-13: 978-0252042256

Ezra Taft Benson, whose life spanned most of the twentieth century, was an important figure in US politics and religion. Several times a candidate for president of the United States, he was a prominent anti-communist and John Birch Society supporter. An LDS apostle from 1943 until his death in 1994 (Benson became the 13th president of the church in 1985), he was a powerfully conservative voice on traditional roles of women at home rather than the workplace and was the founder of an influential thread of Mormon political philosophy. These themes and others are explored in a new volume edited by historian Matthew Harris (Colorada State Univ-Pueblo), from the University of Illinois Press. Harris recruited a number of familiar voices from the world of Mormon studies, including Gary Bergera, (noted Mormon author), our own Matthew Bowman (assoc. prof. of history, Henderson State Univ.), Newell Bringhurst (emeritus prof. of history), Brian Q. Cannon, (prof. of history, BYU), Robert Goldberg (prof. of history, Univ. of Utah), J. B. Haws (assistant prof. of history, BYU), Andrea G. Radke-Moss (prof. of history BYU-Idaho).

Each of the eight essays provides penetrating scholarship on various aspects of the career of one of the most important and influential Mormon figures of the last century.
[Read more…]

“Who Hath Ears to Hear, Let Him Hear” #BCCSundaySchool2019

Readings: Matthew 13; Luke 8-13


The Gospel writers, in their wisdom, left most of the parables as open narratives in order to invite us into engagement with them. Each reader will hear a distinct message and may find that the same parable leaves multiple impressions over time. . . . Reducing parables to a single meaning destroys their aesthetic as well as ethical potential. This surplus of meaning is how poetry and storytelling work, and it is all to the good.”

–Amy-Jill Levine, Short Stories by Jesus

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This week we launch into the Kingdom Parables–those brief narratives in which Jesus tries to eff the ineffable and give ordinary mortals some frame of reference for talking about the Kingdom of God. This is beyond a hard sell. The Kingdom that Jesus spent most of his ministry talking about is an earthly kingdom, but it is like no earthly kingdom that has ever existed, and its governing logic is absolutely foreign to natural humanity.

But we have to see it to be it, so Jesus tells us about the parts–much like the blind men describing the elephant in the famous poem by John Godfrey Saxe. Like a mustard seed, the Kingdom starts small and becomes a place of shelter; like a fishing net, it draws in everyone and throws back what it can’t keep; like a great treasure, a person who knows about it will be willing to sacrifice everything to get it. And so on. These are all imperfect and incomplete, but every one of them contributes something to the picture, and, if we add them all up, we might be able to imagine the whole elephant.

[Read more…]

Visit a Mosque, Read the Quran, Pray Together, Share a Meal

Carolyn Homer makes an exceptionally strong case that we have a religious duty, as Mormons and as Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (and these are two different things), to mourn with our Muslim brothers and sisters, to comfort them, and to share their burdens. I agree wholeheartedly.

And I am willing to go further still. I believe that we have a responsibility as both Latter-day Saints, and as citizens of a pluralistic democracy, to get to know our Muslim neighbors better, to understand them as we want them to understand us, and to love them as we want to be loved.

We have this responsibility with all of our neighbors, of course. It is basically what “the Gospel” means. But I believe that this responsibility is greater when it comes to those who practice Islam. There are several reasons for this. Here are three:

[Read more…]

Mourn, Comfort, Stand: How Mormons Can Respond to New Zealand

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The baptismal covenant in Mosiah 18 is why I call myself a “Mormon.”  There, by the Waters of Mormon, a beggarded group of refugees promised to “preach nothing save it were repentance and faith on the Lord” and to “knit their hearts together in unity and in love one towards another.”

These original members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Prior-day Saints expressed their desires to “bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;” to “mourn with those that mourn;” to “comfort those that stand in need of comfort;” and “to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things.”

I’ve spent the last day reflecting on how I, and my Mormon community, can live up to those same covenants in order to demonstrate love and unity towards our Muslim brothers and sisters in the wake of the white nationalist terrorist attack on Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. [Read more…]

11th Annual International Art Competition

One of my favorite art exhibitions is the International Art Competition run by the Church and exhibited at the Church History Museum. Run every three years, it’s a great opportunity to see some of the artistic talent of church members from around the world. This year, 151 works of art from over two dozen countries are on display, with the theme “Meditations on Belief”, taken from Psalm 77: “I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings.” [Read more…]

“I’m sort of rules oriented”: What one man’s involvement in the college cheating scandal can teach us about moral reasoning.

By now everybody has heard of the college fraud, bribery and cheating scandal. In case you haven’t: a bunch of rich folks paid a sketchy dude to find ways to cheat on college entrance exams and college applications, including lying and flat-out bribery to get their kids into high-ranked colleges that they would not have been able to get into on their academic or athletic merit.

We could say a lot about it, but one thing that really jumped out at me was a pair of statements made by Gordon Caplan, one of the parents caught cheating, and what they tell us about the nature of morality and rules. [Read more…]

Study hard, learn lots…and don’t slam the door!

When you grow up here, you need all the advice you can get.

I grew up in a rural area, so far away from the nearest bus stop that my dad would drop me and my brother off on his way to work. He would stop on the side of the highway, we would tumble out, and he would invariably holler after us, “Study hard, learn lots, be good, stay out of trouble, and don’t slam the door!” We would mumble, “Yeah, sure, Dad,” in reply, slam the door, and go find our friends. I guess his advice eventually rubbed off though, as I went on to at least study hard and stay out of trouble, even if I didn’t learn much or become very good.

Read moe

Making Visible the Invisible Kingdom #BCCSundaySchool2019

PhotobyJimChampionKDA

Karen D. Austin teaches composition courses at University of Evansville and gerontology courses at Southern Indiana University. She’s on staff at Segullah as a writer and social media maven.

 

Come Follow Me. March 11-17:

Matthew 10-12

Mark 2

Luke 7, 11

*Photo by Jim Champion

 

The text for this week focuses on Jesus calling the Twelve to assist him in the preaching of the gospel. Central to this task is an invitation for the Twelve and other followers of Jesus to enter the kingdom of heaven.

The kingdom of heaven can mean a number of things:

  1. A political structure, a theocracy, such as the one that which King David tried to establish, one that can be established prior to the Resurrection. A number of human utopias have sought to do this.
  2. A heavenly state of union with God, the Eternal Father, a place where worthy people dwell after death.
  3. The organization on the earth after the resurrection where the Kingdom of God will supplant the flawed political structures of mortality such as the one described in the book of Revelation.  or
  4. A parallel realm that takes place within the natural world where God has power that the uninitiated cannot perceive.  (See this post for a collection of several New Testament scriptures that support the 4th definition of the kingdom of heaven.)

When I read the New Testament, I see a lot of descriptions of the fourth definition. For about a decade, I’ve called this “The Invisible Kingdom.” [Read more…]

New Zealand, Missionaries, and Inland Revenue

Effective January 1, 1991, the church equalized the cost of missionary service. Before, a missionary had to pay the actual costs of his or her mission.[fn1] Now, a missionary pays a set amount to the church, and the church pays the costs of missionaries’ missions irrespective of where they go.

Why did the church make this change? A bunch of reasons, I suspect, but one was because of the tax law. I’ve blogged about Davis v. United States before, and I have a chapter in my book that goes into extensive detail about both the litigation and the thinking behind the case. The short of it, though, is that the Supreme Court held that payments from parents to their missionary children did not qualify for the charitable deduction. Donations from parents to a church-controlled fund (at least, as long as those payments weren’t earmarked particularly for their children) did qualify.

Almost thirty years after the Supreme Court decided Davis, the question of the deductibility of missionary payments is back. Kind of. [Read more…]

A note on presiding

I was recently reading one locality’s Stake Relief Society minutes of a bygone era, and noticed that, as we do in our weekly ward bulletins today, the various secretaries often noted who presided and who conducted the various meetings. Entirely unsurprisingly, these individuals were women, even if priesthood officers were present. I’ve read a lot of Relief Society minutes, but don’t know that I had ever previously asked myself about this practice. In fact, not having attended Stake Relief Society Conference (except as an occasional workshop presenter), I didn’t know whether this was still the case. A quick check with my wife suggests that it is no longer.
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The Keys of the Beard

I got a call a week ago from a woman asking me to meet with a member of the temple presidency about possibly becoming an ordinance worker. My Bishop and SP had both suggested my name. I was honored that they had confidence in me, but I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the idea; I’m already Executive Secretary, which isn’t a bad gig but it does mean meetings starting at 6:30 a.m. on Sundays, so I wasn’t exactly sure about the possibility of adding another substantial calling on top of that. But I have always enjoyed spending time in the temple, and I have friends from around the stake who serve there, so I resolved to approach this possibility with an open mind.  [Read more…]

Being Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

Perhaps the most important single moment in my spiritual development was the moment that I realized that grown-ups aren’t supposed to be comfortable all, or even most of the time. We all need to be more comfortable being uncomfortable.
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Exhausted Heaven

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Mette Ivie Harrison is a well-known mystery and young-adult novelist and frequent BCC guest.  She is the author of The Book of Laman, and the forthcoming The Book of Abish, published by BCC Press.

Sometimes Mormons joke about the reality of what heaven looks like, especially for women.  I suspect this is doctrine that the institutional church may be turning away from (like the doctrine of ruling planets that makes us just look really weird to other Christians), but the idea that heaven will just be a continuation of all the work women do now is, well, exhausting.  In heaven, women will have billions and billions of children, as if gestation happens there as it does here on earth.  Women will continue to do visiting teaching (at least that’s what my last Relief Society President said).  They will continue to make a lovely home for their husbands and their already birthed children, grandchildren, and so on.  There will be no rest or respite in heaven, at least not for women. [Read more…]

NT Translation and Mormon-bait

I’ve been reading Hart’s recent translation of the New Testament this year, and have found it really quite illuminating. He concludes his volume with a “Scientific Postscript on Translation” that explains some of his more non-traditional renderings. Frankly, it seems like it is Mormon-bait, though it clearly isn’t. Hart generally renders things literally, and happily sloughs off post-Augustinian (and really, post-Reformation) theological tropes. The scholarly shade he casts is fun to read, even if it is tempered by his affiliation (he is Eastern Orthodox). I thought I would share some of my thoughts on the intersection of his translation and our tradition, with the caveat that I have no particular expertise in ancient languages or biblical criticism.
[Read more…]

Happy Pączki Day!

Today is Fat Tuesday (or Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras). Today marks the last day of the Carnival season and the day before Ash Wednesday kicks off Lent.

Unfortunately, in Mormonism, we don’t really do any of those things. In part, I suspect that it’s because of their Catholic roots, and the fact that Catholics were basically non-existent in the milieu from which Mormonism emerged. Or maybe it’s because of our impoverished liturgical calendar. Or maybe it’s because we hate costumes, masks and parties. Whatever the reason, though, there is no distinctive Mormon Fat Tuesday celebration.

Which is why my family and I have whole-heartedly adopted Chicago’s version of Fat Tuesday: Pączki Day.[fn1] [Read more…]

“Thy Faith Hath Made Thee Whole” #BCCSundaySchool2019

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Readings:   Matthew 8-9; Mark 2-5

Whenever I read the Gospels, I’m amazed all over again by the layers of wisdom in each and every 3-verse vignette of Christ’s teachings, parables, and actions.  This week the Come Follow Me manual asks us to cover 6 chapters worth of them.  That’s difficult to do in a single blog post.  But after reading everything repeatedly, I’ve chosen to focus this week’s discussion on two patterns: how Christ heals, and how Christ responds to criticism.

These six chapters cover a core segment of Christ’s miracles and ministry – healing illnesses, forgiving sins, casting out devils, condemning hypocrites, preaching goodness.  This is the mission Christ called us, as Christians, to continue.  I hope we all can use this lesson to reflect, perhaps somewhat uncomfortably, on how our actions align with Christ’s injunction to believers. [Read more…]

50 Minute Primary: Friend or Fiend?

I have one thing to say about two-hour church, and it’s this: I approve.

There is really no better feeling than getting out of your second church meeting of the day and realizing that you can just go home right now. I love two-hour church. It is literally the best.

I have heard a handful of not-exactly-complaints from younger parents saying they “kind of miss” that third hour where someone else had charge of their children, and I try to be sympathetic, but it’s hard. I think I remember what it’s like to have little kids—I mean, I’m taking all due precautions to prevent myself from having any again—but I just don’t understand missing, kind of or otherwise, that third hour. Maybe because no hour of church ever felt anything like a respite for me during the eighteen years I dragged my oldest child along. Having to deal with the constant threat of her disrupting other people’s worship and class discussions made that third hour at church more exhausting than an extra hour at home would have been. I don’t know. In any case, I acknowledge that some folks have different experiences. Whether it’s the extra hour of free babysitting or the extra hour of social interaction that you miss, I am sorry for your loss. But I’m afraid nothing can mar the joy of my Sunday afternoon nap. [Read more…]

Women with Minor Children can now Serve as Temple Ordinance Workers

A year and a half ago, I wrote about changes to the weird restrictions on temple ordinance workers.   Specifically, I explained that longstanding church policy forbade divorcees within five years, single men over 31, and women with minor children from serving as ordinance workers.   (The same individuals were permitted to “volunteer” for temple shifts, just not perform ordinances.)

In August 2017 the Church removed the restrictions on divorcees and single adult men.  Today, the Church removed the restrictions on mothers.  I am thrilled for the thousands upon thousands of women this blesses.

Equity and Justice in Church Courts

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Seminary students are currently studying lesson 107, which covers D&C 102 as an exploration of the church courts.  D&C 102 provides the handbook for our actual Church Handbooks.  It outlines the whys and hows church courts are set up (at least for men) and declares “In the Church of Jesus Christ, disciplinary councils are to be conducted according to equity and justice.”

Equity and justice.

Yet the church’s spiritual judiciary system does not involve women at any level, unless they are on trial.  [Read more…]

#MutualNight: Lomax, Smith, and Black History Month

(Quick reminder: if you’re curious why I’m writing about music on a Mormon blog, this post will summarize what #MutualNight posts are.)

Confession: I’ve been putting off writing this post for a long time now. But as Black History Month ends tomorrow, I’m at kind of a deadline. Because there are two recent music releases that are ambitious, virtuosic, and critically important, while, at the same time, they’re intensely listenable. And I want to do them justice, but I just can’t. Still, I’m going to try.

400: An Afrikan Epic

In early January, my family and I spent a few days in New Orleans. As we were headed home, we stopped by the Whitney Plantation. Touring the Whitney Plantation is an incredible experience, because it’s focused almost exclusively on the experiences of the enslaved persons who lived and worked there. It has several monuments, monuments listing the names and origins of the enslaved persons, monuments to the enslaved children on the plantation, sculptures and statues memorializing those who were enslaved. In fact, unlike any other plantation tour I’ve been on, the big house was an afterthought—we went in it for literally the last three or four minutes of an hour-and-a-half tour. [Read more…]

From Broken Hearts to Expansive Love

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[BCC Editorial Note: this guest post contains raw and personal details of sexual assault, ecclesiastical abuse, and grace.  The content may not be advised for all readers.]

PAR has degrees from places warm and sunny, cold and cloudy, and hot and sticky. None of those degrees led to work he enjoyed.  He then realized having a job was the problem and now does his own thing for clients he mostly likes.

I’d like to share a little bit of my journey with you, friend.  Because I feel like maybe you don’t see me.  Not just me, but people like me.  I grew up in the Church.  I served a mission.  I went to school.  I worked.  I went to more school.  I worked.  Then I went to more school.  In school round three, I met my now-wife.  Through that point I probably voted like you.  I knew the prescribed answers at church really well.  You probably saw me as a model Mormon.  Sometimes, though, life happens.   [Read more…]

Matthew 6–7: “He Taught Them as One Having Authority” #BCCSundaySchool2019

The last temptation is the greatest treason
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.
  –TS Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral

We are now on week two of the Sermon on the Mount, and, like week one, there is no way that we could cover everything that needs to be covered in one blog post. But one blog post is all we (read: I) have time for this week, so we will have to make do. We must make choices–difficult choices–to make sure that all of the highlights get hit. So I am going to trace one theme and one rhetorical style through the two chapters, with an emphasis on Chapter 6, which I think is the more important.

[Read more…]