Joy to the World, the World Is Come

My son learned his first Christmas song when he was four years old–“Joy to the World,” but he sang it wrong. Instead of “Joy to the world, the Lord has come” he sang “Joy to the world, the world has come.”  

When he was six, I decided to try to correct him. “You’re missing the point of the song,” I told him. And he replied, as only a six-year-old can, “no daddy, YOU’RE missing the point of the song.” It has taken me 15 years to realize that he was right and I was wrong. Joy, in its most essential form, is precisely the profound comfort that we take in the goodness of the world. 

[Read more…]

Age Changes for Youth Progression and Ordination

This morning The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent a digital letter to church members and leaders announcing changes in the advancement of youth through the ecclesiastical and ministry structures of the church. Before this announcement, children and youth graduated from Primary (the children’s ministry program) and their respective classes (young women) and ecclesiastical quorums (young men) on their twelfth, fourteenth, and sixteenth birthdays. Today’s announcement indicates that beginning in January 2019, youth will now graduate and advance through their organizations as cohorts at the new year, similar to a school class (you don’t go from sophomore to junior on your birthday). Moreover eleven-year-olds will begin to receive temple recommends for proxy baptisms in January as part of their advancements.
[Read more…]

Lesson 47: “Let us Rise Up and Build” #BCCSundaySchool2018

1280px-109.Ezra_Reads_the_Law_to_the_People

Gustave Doré’s Ezra reading the Torah to his people

Lesson Objective: To talk about the complications of what it means to build Zion.

Scriptures: Ezra, Nehemiah

Introduction: Ezra and Nehemiah came from a single scroll in early Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Bible; Christianity would separate the text into two books later on. [Read more…]

New Church Videos Explain the Temple to the General Public

joe-cook-780015-unsplashThe Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints just published a glossy series of 90-second explanations of our core temple practices.

I’m amazed at how much demystifying content these videos succeed in outlining in less than seven minutes of total video time.

Here are the highlights.

[Read more…]

The Word of God

When Joseph Smith was explaining our faith’s beliefs to John Wentworth, he wanted to point out that we believe in the Bible, but that he felt it had errors.  After all, he was working on a new translation of it.  He said:

8 We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.

Literal and historical

But what does this mean exactly?  Given that Mormonism teaches that Christianity has essentially been the same from the dawn of time including before Christ (although under the Law of Moses), there is an inherent historical literalness implied, a belief that the events of ancient Israel are essentially like modern Israel (Mormonism).  The loophole provided in the 8th Article of Faith is explicitly around translation errors.  It also doesn’t include the Book of Mormon, as if the possibility of translation errors (or abridgment errors) wasn’t considered. [Read more…]

Viral Marketing, Echo Chambers, and the People Who Used to Be Mormons

[Read more…]

In Whose Wisdom Do You Trust?

Would you trust this guy? (Source)

My mother went to the doctor with a stomachache. It was an admittedly vague symptom, and for months she received similarly vague diagnoses and remedies—could be ulcers, maybe gastric reflux; take some antacids and lose some weight. Finally, a visiting specialist ran a test and discovered that she had a cancer that had progressed to stage four. Thanks to this diagnosis and the care my mother subsequently received, she beat the odds for over a decade, each day a blessing. 

The author of an article in this month’s issue of the Ensign entitled The Book of Abraham, Revelation and You had a similar experience. At around the same time my mother’s body was being overtaken by cancer unbeknownst to the medical profession, he too was struggling with a medical mystery:

 

something in my knee started to cause me horrible pain. Deep within that knee I could feel a small particle grinding against other tissues. The doctors […] could not feel the lump themselves, so they took various kinds of X-rays and MRIs. Nothing showed up. As a result, none of the doctors believed there was anything inside my knee; they thought it must be some other problem, such as nerve damage. Some even tried to treat me for these other imagined problems.

Because I kept insisting that there really was something inside my knee, I was finally referred to the head of orthopedic medicine. He was willing to make an incision in my knee and see if he could find anything. Through this incision, he found a piece of cartilage that had been chipped off and had started to gouge the surrounding tissues. Its removal completely cured me.

[Read more…]

Mormon-splaining the Word of Wisdom

rawpixel-760074-unsplash

It’s holiday party season!  Which means your friends and coworkers, in joyful and relaxed environments, may foist upon you cocktails, wines, and dessert bar coffee.

You’re all experts now at saying “no thank you.”  You’ve read my summer guide for professional Mormons navigating “coffee breaks” and “happy hours.”  There I explained that in the vast majority of circumstances, no one will notice or care that you’re not imbibing coffee or alcohol.

Sometimes, though — especially with amiable colleagues and jokester friends who know you’re a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — the religious dimensions of your teetotaler ways might surface.  You can sidestep the topic if you want.  But you don’t have to!

Let’s take a common scenario.  Over brunch, a colleague might make an offhand remark while stirring her latte.  “Mormons aren’t allowed to have caffeine, right?  I don’t know how you survive.”

You could say “that’s essentially correct.”  Or you could dangle a half-answer as bait.

“Technically, the Mormon prohibition is not on caffeine.” [Read more…]

Building Zion. In Two Hours Per Week.

We’re weeks away from the end of the three-hour block. Implemented in 1980, the three-hour block was, in part, a response to the energy crisis, in part a recognition that as the church expanded, the time it took to get to church (over and over) could potentially be burdensome. And (in reasoning that reflects the current change), it was meant to reemphasize the importance of individual and family gospel study.

Now, I was super-young in 1980; I have vague memories of going to Primary on weekday nights, but, on the other hand, I was young enough that I’m pretty sure I didn’t know what a weekend was, so maybe I’m retroactively imposing memories on the shift. It’s fair to say, though, that I don’t remember what the reaction to the shift was, or how well it met its goals.

And I’m pretty much as happy as anybody about the change. (Okay, not as happy as anybody; my kids are past napping, so three hours doesn’t risk imposing on nap times and making everybody in the house grumpy.)

That said, I see some potential pitfalls in the new, shorter schedule. They’re avoidable, but it will take work to avoid them, so we need to recognize them. [Read more…]

There Are Many Ways to Come to Christ: A Review of Eric Huntsman’s Becoming the Beloved Disciple

“Some disciples came to Jesus through the witness of others, while others found him independently. Some immediately recognized and followed him, while others, like Nicodemus, questioned more and took longer to come to their faith. In a time and culture that privileged men and a particular ancestral lineage, the experience of the Samaritan woman shows that in Christ there are no outsiders: all can come to him, find salvation, and share that joy with others.” (Eric Huntsman, Becoming the Beloved Disciple, p.123)

For the last few years, my observation of the Advent season has been guided by Eric Huntsman’s excellent book Good Tidings of Great Joy–a feast of art, music, scriptural interpretation, and inspiration that celebrates the miracle of Christ’s birth. This year, my Christmas gift list will also be guided by an Eric Huntsman book: Becoming the Beloved Disciple, a reading of the Fourth Gospel by one of the best Latter-day Saint scholars around. 

[Read more…]

LDS Identity’s Effect on Mental Health

jaka-skrlep-366266-unsplash

Rebekah Perkins Crawford is a visiting professor in Social and Public Health at Ohio University. She has a PhD in Health Communication.

The recent tragic suicide of a BYU student has prompted conversations about the relationship between religiosity and mental health, about whether Latter-day Saints have a problem with suicide, and, if we do, what our response should be.

Experts (especially at BYU) have consistently claimed that LDS religious practice is positively associated with mental health.  Such claims are based on studies that average difference, homogenize experience, and oversimplify a complex issue.  [Read more…]

The Children Suffer

A child of god died this week.
[Read more…]

Where am I in belief?

ashley-batz-1298-unsplash

Today’s guest post comes from Christian Kimball, a longtime friend of By Common Consent.

There has been an unusual flurry of talk lately about “Middle Way Mormons.” The Salt Lake Tribune (Peggy Fletcher Stack); By Common Consent (Sam Brunson); Wheat and Tares (a series); and even Times and Seasons ran a piece.  I commented, I provided background, I was quoted, but I have resisted doing my own “how it is” counter-essay.  Until now.

I’m a “Middle Way Mormon” by everybody’s definition.  It’s not my label—I prefer “Christian who practices with Mormons.”  But it’s better than the alternatives on offer. This is not a to-be-wished-for designation—a high ranking Church leader sympathized with me about “living on a knife edge.”  It’s just a label for a modern reality. [Read more…]

And in His name all oppression shall cease

ben-white-170547-unsplash

This post started as a reaction to President Dallin H. Oaks’s commentary on religious freedom published Tuesday in the Deseret News.  It morphed into a Christmastime commentary on social justice.  It still dissects Oaks’s words, but that’s relegated to the very end. 

Born into humble circumstances.  Trained as a carpenter.  Rejected as a prophet.  Crucified as a rabble-rouser because he dared speak truth to both secular and religious oppressive power.  Jesus Christ is my model of an activist. [Read more…]

Our First Holiday Sale: Mormon Women for Ethical Government’s Little Purple Book

St. Nicholas MWEG Sale Day 1
Watch this space closely, BCC Press will be announcing some exciting Christmas deals on our ever-growing and supremely impressive list of titles. We start today with a special St. Nicholas Day sale on the Little Purple Book, the handbook and inspirational guidebook for the 6,000-member strong Mormon Women for Ethical Government. From December 6 through December 16, the Little Purple Book will be available for the almost-free price of $5.00 per copy. This is so that everyone who belongs to the organization, or who admires the work they are doing, can buy their very own copy. And those who really admire the work that MWEG is doing can buy their own truckload of copies to give to all of their friends.  [Read more…]

Nephi’s iron rod may not be what you think it is.

This post might be a little oddly timed because we’re not doing the Book of Mormon Sunday School curriculum this year. But it’s a passage that we frequently refer to in talks and lessons, in my experience, and it’s on my mind lately because I’ve heard people invoke the old iron rod / liahona dichotomy. I confess I don’t like that distinction, because I think it distorts the meaning of the iron rod to place it in contrast with the liahona. This post, written as a sort of dialogue with myself, explains why.

rod-of-iron

I. The Iron Rod in Nephi’s Vision

Thesis: The iron rod from Nephi’s vision of his father’s vision of the tree of life does not represent the scriptures. [Read more…]

Lesson 46: “A Kingdom, Which Shall Never Be Destroyed”

Reading: Daniel 2

In the interest of full disclosure, I should say right up front that my approach to this lesson is fundamentally at odds with the manual. That’s because I think that nothing good ever came of apocalyptic scriptural interpretation. On the tamer end of the spectrum are episodes like the Millerite “Great Disappointment” of 1844, when whatever math someone did with the book of Daniel or the book of Revelation turned out to be wrong, but it basically just resulted in people feeling kind of bummed on the day after Jesus was supposed to come. More dangerous are episodes like the Fifth Monarchist rebellion of 1662, which culminated in its leader, Thomas Venner, being hanged, drawn, and quartered, after he’d already been shot 19 times by Royalist forces in the climactic battle. “No King but King Jesus” was their cry; King Charles II was not impressed. If Daniel 2 does predict the downfall of political/religious movements, they ironically tend to be political/religious movements with particular investments in interpreting Daniel 2. Ok, so it was Daniel 8 for the Millerites, but still… [Read more…]

Mormons in the 2018 Congressional Election

Back in 2012, BCC ran a series of blog posts by Bob and Kay King, Latter-day Saints who have decades of experience in government. We’re thrilled that they’ve written an update after the 2018 midterms. In a break with current Twitter-inspired norms of political reporting, Kay and Bob have been methodical and thorough in their discussion, and their piece is longer than a typical blog post. It’s attached below as a pdf, and we have great confidence that our readers are up to the task of reading a few pages before commenting! Mormons in the 2018 Congressional Election (Updated)

Here are just a few of the important points Bob and Kay highlight (but do read the attached document–these are much more interesting in context!):

–Bottom Line: Fewer Mormons will serve in Congress in 2019 than at any time since
1981—that is over 38 years. [Read more…]

Hope Is the Thing With Oxen

Hope is the Jan Brady of the theological virtues–the sober, responsible middle-child stuck between the mountain moving urgency of Faith and the flashy  never-failething of Charity. Hope does its essential work much more quietly. But it is nonetheless essential work.

If we aren’t careful, we can confuse hope for a sort of lesser faith. Some people know that certain things are true, and the rest of us just hope they are. If we nourish this seed of hope carefully, we are told, it will eventually grow into faith and we will know things too.

Well, I’m not there, and I don’t think that I will ever be. Hope is as much as I can muster, even on a good day. I hope that there is a God. I hope that there is some kind of existence after this life. I hope that my Redeemer lives. And I hope that the universe is organized around principles of goodness and meaningful justice far superior to those I have seen on earth. [Read more…]

The Bundys and Immigration

Recently, Ammon Bundy has made some remarks about immigration policy. These remarks have been made on public radio as well as on Ammon Bundy’s Facebook page. Criticizing the Trump policy as one that is “fear-based”, Bundy said “These are people, the majority of them need help…There is a possibility of danger with some of them, they need to be vetted. And then they need to be brought in here and added to this great, wonderful country.” The reactions have been somewhat amusing. Some right-wing folks consider Bundy’s remarks a serious betrayal. Other people saw this as Bundy trending towards a liberal stance.

Fools, all of you! I shall explain this puzzle. [Read more…]

“Matron” and other ecclesiastical offices held by women

A couple of weeks ago I received an email with a question from an individual living in Italy. She had observed that “temple matron” had been rendered quite differently between languages, and she wondered what the history of that term was. She was quite correct, and the history is interesting.
[Read more…]

Repent Ye, for Climate Change is at Hand?

robert-nyman-442994-unsplash.jpg

I’ve always accepted the scientific consensus surrounding carbon emissions, greenhouse gasses, the ozone layer, and climate change.  But for a long time I elected to not care.

Why?  Because I bought into the folk doctrines that God created the Earth’s resources to be used, that a global temperature rise of 1-2 degrees over 100 years isn’t material,  and in any event, Christ’s imminent Second Coming would renew the Earth and fix everything before disaster struck.

As a religious studies student in college, I once wrote a paper on Isaac Newton’s eschatological prediction that the Second Coming would happen in 2060.  Thereafter in casual conversation, I used the 2060 date to support my religious opinion that climate change would never matter.   (“The worst predictions don’t even start until 2100 — Jesus will have come back well before then!”)  One afternoon at the Indiana University LDS Institute, I tried that line on a Ph.D. student studying ecology.  Our resulting discussion did not end well for me. [Read more…]

Elegy on a Maiden Name

“You blushed, and now you are white, Jane: What is that for?”
“Because you gave me a new name—Jane Rochester; and it seems so strange.”

—Charlotte Brontë

scan0018 copy

Lil’ Emily Gilliland with her Grover doll

I’ve been thinking a lot about Carolyn’s post a couple of weeks ago in which she listed reasons for why she didn’t change her name when she got married. I’d like to respond to her post with some reasons of why I did change my name as well as reasons why this change was a lot harder than I expected it to be. [Read more…]

Lesson 45: “If I Perish, I Perish”–The Superheroes of Non-Assimilation #BCCSundaySchool2016

Daniel 1, 3, 5; Esther 3-5, 7-8

Picture1

Let’s start with Superman.

America’s quintessential cultural hero is an icon of assimilation. He is a refugee whose home has been destroyed by an environmental disaster. He immigrates, not only to the United States, but to the American Heartland and grows up on a farm in Kansas, moves to the big city, and becomes a metaphor for the way that America saw itself in the 20th century. He is amazingly powerful, eternally good, and completely assimilated. So assimilated, in fact, that the only thing that can hurt him is a piece of the world he left behind. A small pebble from the Old World reduces America’s greatest hero to a simpering weenie. To be powerful, Superman must leave his old life behind.

[Read more…]

I Am a Christian Boy

When President Nelson urged us to no longer use the word “Mormon,” I could see where he was coming from and sympathize with the intention. The official name of our Church focuses on our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, information the nickname “Mormon” does not by itself communicate. But I could also see a serious difficulty in bringing such a vision to fruition. Whatever we might try to do in-house, externally no one is going to use a nine-word substitute (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) for a single word (Mormon). [Read more…]

2018 Christmas Gift Book Guide

2019 may be the start of a golden age of home learning for Latter-day Saints. Or in a couple of decades we will look back on three hour church with reverent fondness for all that structured pedagogy. Regardless of whether you will read them or simply adorn your shelves with them, here are this year’s recommendations for Christmas gift books.
[Read more…]

Thanksgiving Discussions that Won’t End in Bloodshed

Image result for samantha or jeannieLast weekend, we were in Salem, Massachusetts taking a two hour walking tour with a local guide. The focus was on overall history of Salem, not just the witch trials, but we did talk about those because it’s kind of the elephant in the room. But our guide was not one of the occultist ones, although my SIL had some good reasons to believe he was secretly a Witch. [1]

Toward the end of the tour, we passed a statue to that most famous of Witches: Samantha Stevens. This reminded me of a simpler time, when the most heated discussion around the Thanksgiving table was Samantha or Jeannie. [Read more…]

The Common Table: Thanksgiving Thoughts on Inclusive Gratitude

In Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt famously examines the “banality of evil.” If I understand her correctly, what she means by this is something like the ordinariness of evil. The horrific evil of the Holocaust was not perpetrated by inhuman monsters with horns and talons, but by ordinary people (like Adolf Eichmann) just doing their jobs.

I take her point, and I agree. Evil is ordinary. But goodness is ordinary too. Most of the time, ordinary people doing ordinary things results in something rare and wonderful. Speaking religiously, the word ordinary comes from the same root as the word ordain. An ordinary life is the kind of existence that God has ordained for human beings. It is a life where everything is in order–the way that things are supposed to be.

[Read more…]

People at BCC Who Should Not Rank Things, Ranked

Steve woke me up with an early-morning text message yesterday. He was in a state of shock and panic because someone–some “Carolyn“–had apparently ranked something at BCC. I didn’t take his message seriously at the time, because I didn’t believe anyone would dare trespass on my intellectual property. I was wrong!

[Read more…]

Lesson 43: “The Shepherds of Israel” #BCCSundaySchool2018

Readings: Ezekiel 18:21-32; 34; 37

This lesson brings together diverse texts from Ezekiel, where the only through-line might be the wisdom of turning to God when everything else lets you down. Ezekiel is a prophet from the time of the Babylonian captivity, so he knew something about being let down by everything else. [Read more…]