Chariots of Fire

Jessica Moss is a Ph.D. student at Claremont Graduate University

And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do?

And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.

And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.

2 Kings 6:15-17

The few times that I have heard the story of Elisha and his servant, found in 2 Kings 6, the servant is likened unto us – the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or to Christians in general.  The narrative is often as follows: we are a small and oppressed group that is being persecuted by the big bad world, out there. I understand the draw of this position. It helps us build solidarity, it motivates faith in the divine, but it also sets us up as innocent.  We are not always innocent.

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What Can We Do About Gun Violence?

Like so many others right now, I’m numb with sadness and rage about the murder today of at least fifteen people (14 of whom were elementary school children) in Texas, following on the heels of the murder a week and a half ago of one in a California church, following the racist murder of ten in Buffalo. And that’s not to mention the mass shooting that killed two in Chicago (in fact, a block north of my office) last week, or countless other acts of gun violence and murder we and our neighbors endure on a far-too-regular basis.

So what can we, as Latter-day Saints and as U.S. citizens and residents[fn1] do?

We should advocate for better laws, laws that will make these deadly shooting less likely. And I use “should” deliberately; the church encourages us to “play a role as responsible citizens in their communities, including becoming informed about issues and voting in elections” and to otherwise engage in the political process. And while the church has taken no formal stand on gun regulation, Pres. Nelson said, in the wake of the Parkland shooting, that “men have passed laws that allow guns to go to people who shouldn’t have them.” As Saints and as humans, we should recoil at the idea that someone can march in and murder elementary school children, or Black Buffalo residents doing their grocery shopping, or a physician worshiping at church.

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No Words

I don’t have any more words. I used them all up.

I used to believe that my country was capable of solving problems big problems by having big discussions. As I read over posts that I have written over the last ten years, I can’t help but pity the naivete of someone who once thought that reasoned discourse mattered. Here are the last ten things that I tried to say:

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The Desert of Faith

It’s strange how deserts turn us into believers. I believe in walking in a landscape of mirages, because you learn humility. I believe in living in a land of little water because life is drawn together. And I believe in the gathering of bones as a testament to spirits that have moved on. If the desert is holy, it is because it is a forgotten place that allows us to remember the sacred. Perhaps that is why every pilgrimage to the desert is a pilgrimage to the self.—Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge

Somehow, I managed to make it through both an awkward teenage phase and a college wanna-be-intellectual phase without reading Frank Herbert’s Dune. I read all the other required books: The Lord of the Rings, Stranger in a Strange Land, Slaughterhouse-Five, Siddhartha. And I owned Dune–all three of the original trilogy. I displayed them proudly, and never got past a few pages. I knew it was about sand.

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When I Was a Child: Kids Believe the Darndest Things

“If you lack wisdom in some areas, have someone bring you a funnel from Nuremberg.” Source

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

1 Corinthians 13:11

In a recent post responding to a column in The Salt Lake Tribune in which the author rather unhelpfully suggests that instead of “faking it” you should “believe what you believe” and “not believe what you do not believe,” Sam rightly observes that “belief isn’t static” but waxes and wanes over time: “The idea that you have to be fully committed or fully uncommitted is just unfathomable.”

In addition to the weaknesses Sam points out, the Tribune column misses—somewhat inexplicably given the attention they attract from adults during Sunday services—the fact that a sizable population shows up to church every week as blank slates, with no particular beliefs or even a concept of belief to call their own: infants and young children.

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On Faking It

Earlier this week, the Salt Lake Tribune published a column entitled “If You’re Faking Your Latter-day Saint Faith … Why?” The basic gist is, the columnist is puzzled why people who don’t believe in the church still participate, rather than living authentically. He writes about these fakers (and, if he were a Salinger fan, I supposed he would have used “phonies“):

They go to church, they fulfill congregational callings, they pay tithing, they socialize with believers and participate with family members in every aspect of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, except for one.

They do not actually believe it to be the truth.

Call me naive, but this whole concept is tough to fit into my brain.

Why the heck would anyone pretend to believe in a religion that is as demanding, and often outright inconvenient, as the LDS Church is?

The column really got under my skin. In the first instance, it’s because I have no patience for people (inside and outside the church) who insist that, if you don’t buy into their conception of religion, you should leave. (I similarly have no patience for people who insist you have no choice but to stay—I’m equal opportunity impatient!)

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Movie Messiahs, Eschatological Events, and a Thesis on the Philosophy of History

Our image of happiness is indissolubly bound up with the image of redemption. The same applies to our view of the past, which is the concern of history. The past carries with it a temporal index by which it is referred to redemption. There is a secret agreement between past generations and the present one. Our coming was expected on earth. Like every generation that preceded us, we have been endowed with a weak Messianic power, a power to which the past has a claim.
                                                —Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History”

I have been impressed recently by how much of our culture’s touchstone literature operates from a messianic view of history. And I am not talking about explicitly religious texts like the Bible and the Qur’an. Nearly all of the great mythic sagas of our time—think about Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Dune, Percy Jackson, and hundreds more—reproduce a basic trope of messianic salvation borrowed from the Abrahamic religions. 

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Living Our Values: FTSOY and Tucker Carlson

When I was a teenager, I, like so many of my cohort, had a copy of the church’s 1990 pamphlet For the Strength of Youth. The pamphlet has a section entitled “Media: Movies, Television, Radio, Videocassettes, Books, and Magazines.” It said, among other things:

Our Heavenly Father has counseled us as Latter-day Saints to “seek after anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy” . . . . Whatever you read, listen to, or watch makes an impression on you. Public entertainment and the media can provide you with much positive experience. They can uplift and inspire you, teach you good and moral principles, and bring you closer to the beauty this world offers. But they can also make what is wrong and evil look normal, exciting, and acceptable.

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Don’t attend or participate in any form of entertainment . . . that is vulgar, immoral, inappropriate, suggestive, or pornographic in any way. . . . Don’t be afraid to walk out of a movie, turn off a television set, or change a radio station if what’s being presented does not meet your Heavenly Father’s standards. And do not read books or magazines or look at pictures that are pornographic or that present immorality as acceptable.

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What’s New with the JST?

Kent P. Jackson, Understanding Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book, 2022)

Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible: The Joseph Smith Translation and the King James Translation in Parallel Columns (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book, 2021)

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Humility and the Revelatory Process

Richard Davis is the author of The Liberal Soul:  Applying the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Politics (Greg Kofford Books, 2014) and Fathers and Sons: Lessons from the Scriptures (Cedar Fort, 2005).  He also is editor of Spiritual Gems from the Imitation of Christ (Catholic Publishing, 2016)

When I was a full-time missionary, the mission president interviewed each of the missionaries about every six weeks at a zone conference.  At one such interview with him, I related that since I had been recently transferred to an area my companion and I had been having success working with several investigators.  He replied:  “Then putting you there must have been inspired.”  

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Resources for My Mixed Faith Marriage

Rachael lives in Arizona with her husband and three kiddos. They moved to the desert from the green hills of Virginia where she did a PhD in religious history and gender. 

Early in our marriage, my husband and I joined the growing ranks of mixed faith marriages when it became clear his spiritual path no longer tracked with the LDS church. Such marriages have risen from around 20% in the 1960s to around 40% or more today, but while we are in considerable company, that didn’t make me feel better about our prospects. Naomi Schaefer Riley’s survey of interfaith couples in Til Faith Do Us Part not only found these marriages were significantly more likely to end in divorce, but in those that remained intact, the families tended to be less religiously observant and parents were more likely to delegate their children’s religious instruction to institutions outside the family.

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Reflections on my first Mother’s Day

I’ve been absentee from the blog for a while, mostly because my family has been preparing for and welcoming our first child. Little baby David was born a month ago and has captured my heart, my sleep, and any remaining semblance of personal hobby time.

A few nights ago, David insisted on being wide-eyed and gurgly at midnight — despite being clean, warm, and fed. In an attempt to lull him to sleep I started signing. Now, I think most nursery tunes are trite. So I skipped “rock-a-bye-baby” and started crooning my favorite hymns about love, comfort, and joy.

When I got to the John Rutter version of For the Beauty of the Earth, I started crying. Tears of joy, yes, because I’m grateful for my precious baby and I want to give him all “the love which from our birth over and around us lies.”

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They’re Here! Sequels to two of BCC Press’s Most Popular Books

Two and a half years ago, BCC Press made the world a better place when we published the first volumes of The Book of Mormon for the Least of These and The Women’s Book of Mormon. You responded by buying them in massive quantities of these volumes and making them two of our bestselling books of all time. And now we are about to do it again with a pair of volume twos.

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On Getting to Church

My sister has lived her entire adult life sequentially in two houses in Utah, and in each location the church building she attended was an easy walk away. That’s not universal, of course; when my mother was alive and living in Ogden she had to drive to church, but in the Jello belt it’s not uncommon. In major metropolitan areas and certain foreign countries there may be suitable public transit options. But most of us get to and from church via car. I live in a suburb of Chicago, and owning or having access to a car is pretty much a necessity to orchestrate daily life. There is a rental house that is across the street and down a ways from my church building, and several LDS families have lived there over the years, so they can walk to church, but other than that if you want to go to church you drive there. Our building features an ample parking lot, which is only overwhelmed on Stake Conference Sundays; on those days we have overflow parking at the high school lot just two blocks away.

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White nationalism meets Mormonism on Twitter (again)

BYU Professor Hank Smith made some minor waves on Twitter this week when he approvingly retweeted a thread that connected Mormonism with white nationalist ideology and bizarre conspiracy theories.

Thankfully, a few hours later Smith retracted his endorsement of the thread, explaining he hadn’t read it all the way through. But it’s worth digging into because much of it will fly under the radar of people who aren’t familiar with alt-right theories in the United States, which are gaining a foothold among some Twitter-using church members.

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Sunday Sermon: The Kingdom of God Is Within You (Some Assembly Required)

The difference between the Christian doctrine and those which preceded it is that the social doctrine said: “Live in opposition to your nature [understanding by this only the animal nature], make it subject to the external law of family, society, and state.” Christianity says: “Live according to your nature [understanding by this the divine nature]; do not make it subject to anything—neither you (an animal self) nor that of others—and you will attain the very aim to which you are striving when you subject your external self.”

—Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God Is Within You

There is a vigorous debate among New Testament scholars about what Jesus meant by “the Kingdom of God.” Unlike most debates within the rarefied realms of academia, this one is actually fairly important, at least for Christians, because the different sides represent two very different ways of being Christian in the world.

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Michael Austin, Vardis Fisher, and the Death of the Mormo-American

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

Michael Austin, a fellow blogger and old friend, wrote an essay nearly 30 years ago that accomplished what most of us intellectual scribblers can only aspire towards: putting into a words a framework for understanding a problem or question which endures, even if the problem or question does not. This is definitely the case for Michael’s “The Function of Mormon Literary Criticism at the Present Time.” Most of the specific examples and engagements in that essay are probably inextricable from the intellectual debates of American Mormonism during the 1980s and 1990s, but his general observations–that “embedded in the assertion that there is such a thing as ‘Mormon literature’ is the claim that we, as Mormons, and particularly as American Mormons, represent a cultural entity whose traditions, heritage, and experience deserve to be considered a vital part of the American mosaic,” and “we are [not just] Mormons, but…are “Mormo-Americans”–remain provocative and vital. In fact, the deepest importance of his latest book cannot, I think, be fully appreciated without them. [Read more…]

Lafferty, Posse Comitatus and Mormon Remix Culture

Yesterday, Hulu released the first two episodes of Under the Banner of Heaven, an Andrew Garfield-led adaptation of Krakauer’s book by the same name.

And honestly, I don’t have anything to say about it. I haven’t had time to watch it and, in any event, I’m not a television critic. (If you want a set of insightful and sophisticated responses, Juvenile Instructor has you covered!)

But its renewed salience brings up something that I think Krakauer gets wrong about Mormonism. But the thing is, it’s also something most Mormons get wrong about Mormonism: there’s a sense that Mormonism exceptionalism. For critics of the church, that can mean that the bad things about Mormonism are unique to Mormon beliefs and culture. For members, it can mean that the good things are revelatory and unique to us, the result of direct revelation.

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An Entirely Inappropriate, Unseemly, and Unnecessary Personal and Biased Ranking of Mormon U.S. Senators

Seeing as how Senator Orrin Hatch, a man who for over 40 years served in the U.S. Senate as both pillar of and a lightning rod for Utah (and thus American Mormon) politics, passed away yesterday, and seeing as how I’ve used By Common Consent to honor and reflect upon Mormon senators in the past, and also seeing as how no one has posted anything in a while, I hereby submit a ranking, based solely upon my own entirely personal and idiosyncratic judgments, of all the Mormons who have served in the U.S. Senate in my lifetime. Enjoy! [Read more…]

The Hope of Easter

Day One: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Day Two: “Verily, I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
Day Three: “Woman, behold thy son! Behold, thy Mother!” (John 19:26-27)
Day Four: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
Day Five: “I Thirst.” (John 19:28)
Day Six: “It Is Finished,” (John 19:30)
Day Seven: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 26:46)

The central message of Easter is hope—hope that death is not the end of us, hope that our separation from God is not permanent, hope that a human being is more than just a random collection of subatomic particles that can do a little math. Doubt and fear seem to inhere in the human condition because we can only inhabit the middle of our own stories. We weren’t here for the beginning, we can’t see clearly to the end, and almost everything about the parts that we can see seems calculated to increase our anxiety, our depression, and our despair.

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Good Friday: “It Is Finished”

Day One: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Day Two: “Verily, I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
Day Three: “Woman, behold thy son! Behold, thy Mother!” (John 19:26-27)
Day Four: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
Day Five: “I Thirst.” (John 19:28)
Day Six: “It Is Finished” (John 19:30)
Day Seven: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 26:46)


There are two mutually exclusive ways that we can read Christ’s sixth statement from the Cross. “It is finished.” We might read it as “it’s over,” the way that one might react after a grueling day or a long trip. In such cases, we celebrate the mere fact of overness. It doesn’t matter if we did well or poorly, or if we won or lost. The important thing is that it’s finished. When you get paid by the hour, your day is finished when the clock strikes 5.

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The Last Words from the Cross: Day Five

Day One: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Day Two: “Verily, I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
Day Three: “Woman, behold thy son! Behold, thy Mother!” (John 19:26-27)
Day Four: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
Day Five: “I Thirst.” (John 19:28)
Day Six: “It Is Finished,” (John 19:30)
Day Seven: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 26:46)

I think we misread the experience of Christ on the cross when we present it as extraordinary suffering. It was agonizing, but not atypical. The Romans crucified tens of thousands of people exactly the same way that they crucified Jesus. Other cruel regimes have inflicted equally horrific things on their perceived enemies. People have been burned alive because they believed the wrong thing about the Eucharist or because somebody thought they were witches. People have been raped and tortured and murdered for being affiliated with the wrong sides in military confrontations. The Holocaust happened. Human beings have always been good at creating ways for other human beings to suffer.

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BCC Press Presents: Litany with Wings, by Tyler Chadwick

One of the things they tell you in business school is, “focus on what you do better than anyone else.” This is really hard for BCC Press, since we do so many things better than anyone else. But one of the things we do really, really well is poetry. That is why we are pleased, proud, preening, and prancing around to bring you Tyler Chadwick’s new poetry collection, Litany with Wings.

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Public Service Announcement: BoAP.org going down.

Hey all.

I (WVS) am the admin for BoAP.org which houses things like the Parallel Joseph and other similar Mormon related source material. The server operation that it runs on is changing hardware/software and BoAP may have to go off line for a few weeks while a friend and I look at some different possibilities for Linux servers. If you or anyone you know happen to use the site, pass the word if you think about it. At most I’d guess it could be down for a month or so beginning around Thursday this week (April 14, 2022).

The Last Words from the Cross: Day Four

Day One: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Day Two: “Verily, I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
Day Three: “Woman, behold thy son! Behold, thy Mother!” (John 19:26-27)
Day Four: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
Day Five: “I Thirst.” (John 19:28)
Day Six: “It Is Finished,” (John 19:30)
Day Seven: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 26:46)

On the brink of death, Christ quotes scripture. Specifically, he quotes the first line of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Both Matthew and Mark depict Jesus quoting this line (Matt 27:46, Mark 15:34), and it is something that almost everybody remembers.

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Complaints as Precursors to Revelation

Richard Davis is the author of The Liberal Soul:  Applying the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Politics (Greg Kofford Books, 2014) and Fathers and Sons: Lessons from the Scriptures (Cedar Fort, 2005).  He also is editor of Spiritual Gems from the Imitation of Christ (Catholic Publishing, 2016)

A recent “Come Follow Me” lesson covered the exodus from Egypt.  Even though the lesson stressed the importance of sustaining leaders, another, somewhat contrary, message emerged.  That was the value of complaint in the revelatory process.

It appears that Moses tooks actions when the people complained.  It happened when the House of Israel was attempting to escape from Pharaoh.  They chastise Moses for putting them in a position where they will be recaptured by Pharaoh and killed:  “Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness?” (Exodus 14: 11).  Moses reassures them that the Lord “shall fight for you.” (Exodus 14: 14) He goes back to the Lord who instructs him how to “lift though up thy rod” and part the sea so the people can cross. (Exodus 14: 16) 

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The Last Words from the Cross: Day Three

Day One: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Day Two: “Verily, I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
Day Three: “Woman, behold thy son! Behold, thy Mother!” (John 19:26-27)
Day Four: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
Day Five: “I Thirst.” (John 19:28)
Day Six: “It Is Finished,” (John 19:30)
Day Seven: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 26:46)

Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home. —John 19: 25-28

Christ’s third saying from the Cross depicts Jesus at one of his most human moments. Through great suffering, he sees his mother and his beloved disciple standing in a crowd, and he understands how profoundly his death is going to affect them. He knows that they will be emotionally shattered—John by losing a beloved friend and mentor and Mary by the anguish of losing her child. But Mary will likely face financial difficulties too. If Joseph is already dead (and this appears to be the case, since he is not mentioned at all in any crucifixion narrative), then Mary will have nobody to support her.

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The Last Words from the Cross: Day Two

Day One: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Day Two: “Verily, I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
Day Three: “Woman, behold thy son! Behold, thy Mother!” (John 19:26-27)
Day Four: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
Day Five: “I Thirst.” (John 19:28)
Day Six: “It Is Finished,” (John 19:30)
Day Seven: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 26:46)

The second words that Christ speaks from the cross are to one of the thieves who is being crucified with him. The text comes from Luke, though Matthew (27:44) and Mark (15:27) also mentions the thieves. Luke reports a conversation between Jesus and the two malefactors:

And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:39-43)

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The Last Words from the Cross: Day One

Day One: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Day Two: “Verily, I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
Day Three: “Woman, behold thy son! Behold, thy Mother!” (John 19:26-27)
Day Four: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
Day Five: “I Thirst.” (John 19:28)
Day Six: “It Is Finished,” (John 19:30)
Day Seven: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 26:46)

There is a grand tradition in Christian liturgy of using the days of Holy Week to reflect on the last words that Jesus spoke in his mortal life. The tradition goes back to the middle ages and has been a formal exercise at least since 1618, when Robert Bellarmine, an Italian Jesuit during the Counter-Reformation, published his book, The Seven Last Words Spoken from the Cross. Not being a liturgical religion, Latter-day Saints do not usually participate in this tradition, which is a shame. For Holy Week this year 2022, I will put my own spin on this liturgical exercise by devoting one post a day to each of the seven last statements from the Cross.

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BCC Press Has a Birthday Present for You

April 6 is the anniversary of so many things: the Restoration of the Church, of course, and possibly the actual birthday of Jesus Christ. It’s disputed. But it is also the date of the historic Battle of Thapsus, when Ceasar defeated the last holdouts of the Senate who were being led by Cato. And the day that Mehmed II began the siege of Constantinople that led to that great city becoming Istanbul. Truly something to sing about. And it is the date in 1930 that Ghandi concluded his epic, salt-making march to the sea.

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