On Stumbling Blocks and Being Strong (Sometimes)

On Sunday, was reading Paul’s Letter to the Romans, and these verses jumped out at me:

Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. If your brother or sister is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died….

Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat; it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble….

We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor. (Romans 14:13-15, 19-21; 15:1-2 [NRSV]) [Read more…]

Prayer for the First Sunday in Lent

Blessed God, the bread of life,
who feeds us with the spiritual food of your Son:
grant that this our wilderness journey,
undertaken to remind us that our lives
draw nurture from more than bread alone,
may send our roots deep into the loam of your love,
that we, blossoming into abundant life
through the nourishment of the Holy Spirit,
might share the feast of love together,
one people as you are One God. Amen.

Cover-up: Third Wheel

This is the first of an occasional series of posts exploring my process for creating many of the covers for BCCPress’s amazing books. #CoverUp

I’ve been a lover of book covers since I was in diapers—my mom, may she rest in peace, knew the value of books and I was surrounded by them from a very young age. And it was always their covers, first and foremost, that grabbed my attention. To this day, I’m drawn to books whose publishers take the time to dress them properly.

That’s why I was so tickled when I was asked to head-up cover design for our publishing group. I already had big shoes to fill… the cover to Tracy McKay’s The Burning Point (review) is a truly exceptional example of the craft. So with my first cover, I really wanted to put my best foot forward.

[Read more…]

How do women spiritually override bad Priesthood leadership?

Wrestling with “Women Submit” Language in Personal Scripture Study

One night a decade ago, I sat in a college dorm conducting a Sunday-night Bible study with my boyfriend.  We’d been working our way through the letters of Paul, and now were on Ephesians 5.  In that passage Paul calls for unity among the saints, and reproves various “unfruitful works of darkness” before reaching a famous passage:

Giv[e] thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;  Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.  Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it. … Let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.

The passage didn’t strike me as odd; it seemed to exactly track everything I’d been taught in Young Women:  follow the Priesthood.  By divine design, men are the heads of households.  A husband should love and consult with his wife, but he ultimately presides as the Priesthood Holder in the home.  I had learned that even if the husband was falling short in some way, the wife should not undermine his authority, but instead “submit” and “reverence” him even more, in order to inspire him to step up and fulfill the mantle of his Priesthood responsibility. [Read more…]

Armageddon, Guns, and Walking Away from Omelas

They go on. They leave Omelas, they walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back. The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas. –Ursula Le Guin, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”

 

I’ve been to Armageddon, and it’s not as bad as they say. It’s actually called Har Megiddo, and it is a major archaeological site in Israel. It is the highest place for miles, so you can always see what is coming. It has an ingenious tunnel to its water source, which shows that its inhabitants were willing to do extraordinary things to keep its people safe. And it is in a country that strictly controls access to guns for non-military use. [Read more…]

My Short Valentines

It is strange to sit on a hard chair in a classroom
Reading a presentation called
“Can I love them enough?”
Foster Parent Training is not for 
Those with weak souls or hesitant hearts.

When I met you, I was determined to love you enough.
At first it was a conscious love,
A resolute love.
An act of will.
I loved you with stubbornness through tears and fright.
I commanded myself
Love!
And then I cried, exhausted.

I loved, but my soul ached from stretching.
I ran an obstacle course I could not finish,
Every muscle sore and seized.

And then we learned to laugh.
And I hug you and blow your hair from my face while we watch tv.

And, our feet intertwined, you tell me secrets.

I dance, and you are delighted.

Now I hold you.
You and me and blanky snuggling in the dark room.
I cannot hug you tightly enough.
Can you melt into my chest?
So tomorrow when you are away, my arms will not ache?

Lesson 7: The Abrahamic Covenant #BCCSundaySchool2018

Readings

Genesis 12:1-8 (KJV, NRSV), 15 (KJV, NRSV), 17 (KJV, NRSV)

Romans 2:25-29 (KJV, NRSV), 4 (KJV, NRSV), 9:1-18 (KJV, NRSV) [fn1]

Learning Outcomes

I’d hope that class members come away from this lesson with circumcised hearts, believing God’s promises to all people so that they can have that belief reckoned to them for righteousness.

Introduction

For me, the tension animating this set of texts is one between exclusivity and inclusivity. The manual includes a quote from Joseph Fielding Smith conveying the idea that most (but, implicitly, not all) members of the Church have the literal blood of Abraham flowing through their veins. This gesture works to make us as Mormons genetically part of an exclusive club to whom particular promises are due, and the manual uses quotes from Pres. Benson and Elder Packer to emphasize the responsibility that people in the club have to evangelize the people outside. Taking this stuff literally, though, requires disregarding the probability that if a man who lived ca. 5000 years ago has any living descendants at all, then every person on earth is likely to be among their number. (It also has messed up racial implications; see fn1.) Whom shall we proselyte if everyone’s already in the club? [Read more…]

Valentine’s Day Surprise

Look, it might be the first day of Lent, but it’s also Valentine’s Day. How do you make sackcloth sexy? HAVE WE GOT THE BOOK FOR YOU. Today only as a Valentine’s Day present, Adam Miller’s excellent treatment of the Song of Solomon is HALF PRICE, and the Kindle version is only 99 cents. Tonight is the night to get Biblical.

The Joyful, and Mournful, Journey of Lent

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

This year my employer, Friends University, a non-denomination Christian liberal arts college in Wichita, KS, decided to develop, in conjunction with our regular chapel observances, a calendar of Lenten devotionals, and they asked for students, faculty, staff, and others to contribute. Some of those who contributed were Roman Catholic or from other high church Protestant traditions, and thus the language and rituals of Lent were familiar to them. For Mormons like me, obviously, that isn’t the case. Still, this is my contribution; hopefully it fits the spirit of the occasion well. [Read more…]

Prayer for Ash Wednesday

O God of abundance, Creator of all that nurtures us,
Giver of breath and Pulse of our hearts’-blood:
we come before you in a spirit of repentance
as we take the first steps of our Lenten journey,
not forsaking the things of life that you have given,
but leaving behind all that chokes your life in us.
Cleanse us, we pray, from whatever stops the flow of love
as it runs in eternal circuit from you to us and back again.
Fill, O Lord, these newly empty places in our lives
with the riches of the Holy Spirit,
that we may learn to love ourselves as you love us
and then learn to love others as you love them,
and, loving them, find that we at last love you.
May our fast so feed our souls with love for all people,
that we may be one as you also are one,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

The Baby Blessing I Wish I’d Given my Children

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 8.51.39 PM

. . . to give you a name and a blessing. The name you will be known throughout life and on the records of the church is Tardigrade Spellbinder Peck.

I bless you that you will be lucky. That you will have an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time. As you go through life, I bless you that people that can help you will be drawn to you, and feel a desire to assist you.

[Read more…]

Moral Choices Are Hard Because They Are Supposed to Be Hard

 

Witches can be right.
Giants can be good.
You decide what’s right.
You decide what’s good.
—”No One Is Alone” from Into the Woods

 

As I understand it, the main point of Stephen Sondheim’s magnificent musical, Into the Woods, is that moral decision making is hard. The scripts that our culture gives us are wrong. But they aren’t always wrong, or wrong in entirely predictable ways, so we can’t just reject them and do the opposite of what they say. We have to muddle through and make our own moral decisions, even though that means we will make mistakes.

This argument resonates with me a lot because, as a Latter-day Saint, I believe that this is also the main point of the founding myth of the Judeo-Christian world—the story of Adam and Eve—and a reasonably good description of the moral universe that we inhabit. [Read more…]

Book Review: Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved

I read Kate Bowler’s new book in one sitting while a gurgling, nocturnal eight week old breathed into my neck. I am not sure I recommend reading another mother’s account of dying while still squinting through the haze of postpartum depression. But I am not sure I don’t recommend it, either. Sometimes solitary communion is just the thing for a dimmed heart. Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved is many, many things.

[Read more…]

Liturgy, authority, and gender: Wasatch events the week of Feb 19

Next week I’ll be in Utah and in conjunction with the release of The Power of Godliness, with Oxford University Press, I’ll be participating in three public events hosted along the Wasatch Front. Come join us. Each event will cover different material in a different format, and each of the events is being sponsored by excellent groups that support Mormon scholarship.

First the publisher’s blurb:

The Power of Godliness is a key work to understand Mormon conceptions of priesthood, authority, and gender. With in-depth research and never previously used documents, Jonathan Stapley explores the rituals of ordination, temple “sealings,” baby blessings, healing, and cunning-folk traditions. In doing so, he demonstrates that Mormon liturgy includes a much larger and more complex set of ritualized acts of worship than the specific rites of initiation, instruction, and sealing that take place within the temple walls.

[Read more…]

Penance

I spent the night on an outdoor couch on the front stoop of a boy’s apt at BYU-Idaho in the summer of 2001. We had worked together at Hogi Yogi, and he was beautiful. I had only ever been kissed one other time (when I asked a friend of a friend to teach me how) but this boy was the first to hold my hand (at the Bar J Wranglers Chuckwagon in Jackson Hole). He fell asleep holding me, and I loved being in his arms so much that I decided to just fall asleep, too. The next morning, I woke up and slipped back to my own apartment, where I WAS WRACKED WITH ALL THE PANGS OF GUILT AND HELLFIRE AND SACKCLOTH. [Read more…]

Not a Tame Lion

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

I remember years ago a religious friend of mine talked to me about her view of God. She told me that she didn’t see why God couldn’t be a woman, or a bird, or a tree. She felt God in all of those different things, because to her, God had many different aspects. For her, feeling God in every part of the world was part of her practice of worship. It enabled her to widen her spirituality. It let her find the divine in herself, as well.

At the time, I thought that was kind of hippy-dippy and just plain wrong. I actually made that judgment in my head because I felt that as a Mormon, I was very clear on who God was and wasn’t. God was a white man with a beard who looked like he did in the temple film or in other paintings I’d seen of God. God was a physical being, not a bird or a tree. He was a man, and that was all there was to it. To have the wrong idea of God was to not understand anything about the “true gospel” and meant that basically anything else you told me about your religion or your worship practice was built on a false foundation.

How times have changed. [Read more…]

Lesson 6: Noah Prepared an Ark to the Saving of His House #BCCSundaySchool2018

Readings

Moses 8

Genesis 6-9, 11

Learning Outcomes

To understand the importance of the story of Noah and the flood.

To come away with an appreciation for the complexities of Godhood, prophethood, regularpersonhood.

Introduction

I know there are many spiritual lessons to be learned from the story of Noah and the flood, but what I really want to focus on is exactly how large the ark was, how many cubits deep the water would have been, and how the animals managed to not eat each other. [Read more…]

We Must Do Better On Violence Against Women

I am sick of Mormon women not being believed about abuse.

I can’t even count the number of first-hand accounts I’ve heard at this point, and I only started paying attention a few years ago.  Easily dozens.  Probably hundreds.

But they all go the same way.  A Mormon woman is a chaste, obedient, temple-worthy, nurturing woman.  She gets married in the temple, moves in with her brand-new husband, and desires to start her eternal family. Within mere weeks or months, it becomes obvious her husband is angry, controlling, and abusive.  He usually quotes Church authority about men presiding and women hearkening to justify the behavior.

She doesn’t like it, but she tries to accept it.  She has been taught that she must protect her temple marriage above all else.  She has been taught that her husband is the leader of the home, and she needs to respect his authority.  She has been taught that if she just prays harder, submits harder, follows traditional gender roles harder, the problems will go away.  

They don’t go away.  They get worse. [Read more…]

Two Great Events for Black History Month

Next week are two extremely promising events, both of which I really wish I could attend. [Read more…]

The Sabbath as a Celebration of Freedom

The Old Testament contains two versions of the ten commandments: the version in Exodus when Moses receives the commandments, and the version in Deuteronomy at the end of Israel’s wandering, just as the people are about to enter the promised land. But from Exodus to Deuteronomy, the reason for the Sabbath day shifts. The Sabbath goes from being a celebration of creation in Exodus to a celebration of freedom in Deuteronomy. Two weeks ago our teacher in a priesthood lesson pointed out this difference between the Exodus version and the Deuteronomy version. I had never noticed it before. It’s been on my mind since then. [Read more…]

Men, what will you do when my daughter asks about her place in this church?

Two years ago, when I was writing a book about my own life as a Mormon, of which I am an authority, I was filled with anxieties about not being good enough, not smart enough, and on and on.  My wise editor, Blair Hodges, was patient and listened for many weeks and then one day he said a line that has changed everything for me.  He said, “Listen, no one else is going to take you seriously until you take yourself seriously.” The doors swung wide open. Thea with Net

I have looked back on that experience so often and wondered why it was that I felt so much insecurity about asserting my voice.  Not my voice as part of a chorus of other voices, or one that had offered ideas to someone else, not my voice as an influence, but my voice, as a stand alone entity.  In the two years since, I’ve realized that my panic was much in part because my voice had never been taken seriously up to that point in my life.  In church spaces I had never been in charge.  I had never had a platform that was solely and authoritatively mine in which to speak. Particularly one in which both genders recognized that a female was in charge.  Even though in theory I had been given freedom and power to use my voice within the church, in practice, I had not. [Read more…]

Announcement: Church History Symposium 2018

This semester, I’m teaching a course on not-for-profit corporations. Today’s class deals with the duties of charitable trustees and board members to invest the organization’s money responsibly.

The class is at least tangentially related to this year’s Church History Symposium, to be held on March 1 at the Conference Center at BYU and March 2 at the LDS Conference Center in Salt Lake. This year’s symposium is entitled “Business, Wealth, Enterprise, and Debt: The Economic Side of Mormon History, 1830–1930.” [Read more…]

A New Era

Today marks the beginning of a new era of sorts — as of today, the Berlin Wall has now been down longer than it was up. This is truly astounding for me as a GenXer. [Read more…]

Thoughts on Friendship

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

Friendship is one of the grand fundamental principles of ‘Mormonism’; [it is designed] to revolutionize and civilize the world, and cause wars and contentions to cease and men to become friends and brothers….Friendship is like Brother [Theodore] Turley in his blacksmith shop welding iron to iron; it unites the human family with its happy influence.

Or so Joseph Smith was recorded as saying on July 23, 1843. To my mind, it’s heavy doctrine–and the fact that I take his claims about friendship so seriously has been on my mind lately, for a variety of reasons. [Read more…]

Supporting Single Adults

Rose E. Hadden is a Minnesota native, transplanted to Utah in high school and transplanted back to Minnesota as soon as she could swing it.  She has a B.A. and an M.A. in British Literature from BYU, and served in the Korea Pusan mission.  She now works as a teacher and grantwriter, and happily serves as the assistant librarian in the Fargo, North Dakota 1st Ward.  She is single and considers herself officially over the hill at age 32.

What shall we do with the single members?

When I ask this, I mean it quite literally.  I do not, as many often do, mean “How shall we get the single members married?”  I understand that on a church-wide level, getting singles married is the most desirable outcome, both from a doctrinal and a demographic perspective. Mormons who marry young, to other Mormons, tend to stay Mormon over the long term at much higher rates than those who don’t. Plus there’s that whole “exaltation” thing.

I hate to be the bearer of brutal reality, but . . . no matter what, irrespective of lessons, talks, activities, YSA congregations, church schools, conferences, social pressure, prayers, fasting, shouting or tears . . . some single Mormons will stay single for their entire lives. [Read more…]

Seven Theses on Eternal Perspective

  1. Eternal perspective isn’t seeing the world through some transcendental eye, unfettered by human limitations; rather, our limited perspectives have eternal value because they ground our our struggles to see the transcendental in each other, and those are what teach us to see as God sees.
  2. We often talk as though an eternal perspective will clear everything up, but what if an eternal perspective means perceiving people in their full messiness and finding beauty and glory in that?
  3. The idea of eternal perspective as clearing everything up depends on the wrong concept of justice, as one in which everything that seemed wrong in this life has now been brought in line with the ideal, but maybe justice means instead that everything painful has finally been met with overabundant kindness.
  4. This kind of justice is not at odds with mercy; rather, it suggests that injustice is a deficit of mercy.
  5. An eternal perspective means learning to see how badly the world thirsts for kindness and mercy.
  6. An eternal perspective means trying to sate that thirst, however and whenever you can—including when your failures to have parched your own mouth. Be kind to everyone, especially yourself.
  7. An eternal perspective is quiet, because kindness and mercy are manifest in silent presence at least as often as they are in speech.

Trek the Movie

So a new Mormon film is coming out in April titled “Trek the Movie.” You can watch the trailer here [Read more…]

On Flatterers and Friends

 

I have no need of a friend who changes places when I do and nods in agreement when I do; my shadow is better at that. I need a friend who helps me by telling the truth and having discrimination. —Plutarch, Moralia

I agree with Steve Evans’ most recent post on arguing with people you love. But even if I didn’t, I would still consider Steve to be a good friend. And that, I think, is the point of the post. Friendship doesn’t preclude disagreement, but it does structure how we choose to disagree. I would go even further and say that, in some very tangible ways, friendship requires disagreement. I’m going to quote some Greeks here, so hear me out. [Read more…]

On Translation

Rachel Hunt Steenblik is a scholar and author, most recently of Mother’s Milk: Poems in Search of Heavenly Mother. The French translation of Mother’s Milk, “Lait maternel : poèmes à la recherche de la Mère Céleste” is now available. It is the first non-English language version of a BCC Press book, and joins the very rare group of LDS fiction available in a language other than English. Thank you to Amanda Rafidiarimanda for her exquisite, stunningly beautiful translation. She has carried over the powerful spirit of Rachel’s work. We’re very, very proud of the result.

I. On the first day of August, I tweeted an Amazon review for my Mother’s Milk book that said: “I have steeped myself in these tiny poems for several days. I am ready to buy my second copy, because I’m giving away my first. I’ll probably give away my second too.” I shared that the book I do this with is The Little Prince, and that I was humbled, and honored, and grateful that someone was doing it with mine. Someone else responded that, “When the first non-English Mother’s Milk is released, then we can have the full-on Le Petit Prince gifting experience.” [Read more…]

Leonard Arrington’s Nine Points

Image resultI recently ordered a copy of Gregory Prince’s biography of Church historian and founder of the Church History Library, Leonard Arrington. If you aren’t familiar with Arrington, here’s a brief blurb from Wikipedia:
Leonard James Arrington (July 2, 1917 – February 11, 1999) was an American author, academic and the founder of the Mormon History Association. He is known as the “Dean of Mormon History”[1] and “the Father of Mormon History”[2] because of his many influential contributions to the field. He was the first Church Historian for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) from 1972 to 1982, and was director of the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Church History from 1982 until 1986.

From a diary entry dated August 17, 1992, Arrington expressed his frustration with several organizational aspects of the church. He titled this entry “Things I don’t like about the church.” This was his list: [Read more…]