Oh Say, What Is Inconvenient Truth?

Kristine N is a graduate student in the Earth and Atmospheric sciences department at Purdue University . She recieved a B.S. in Geology from Caltech and an M.S. in Geology from Penn State. Her master’s research, conducted with Kate Freeman and Chuck Fisher, focused on the sulfur stable isotope geochemistry and lipid geochemistry of sediments associated with vestimentiferan tubeworms in the Gulf of Mexico (which sounds far more pretentious than it really is). She is currently growing Sea monkeys for her PhD in an effort to reconstruct drought freqency and intensity in the Great Basin.

Ben Santer works on identifying human influences on global climate. He and Tom Wigley co-authored the eighth chapter of the second IPCC assessment, which included the controversial statement, “The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate.” Having survived the maligning of climate skeptics, the third IPCC assessment, and the most recent CCSP report, which was released in May of this year, he spoke to a group of us at Purdue University. Today I am presenting, for your edification and entertainment, my notes from his talk. [Read more…]

Meet the spiritual head of Eastern Christianity

November_2006_BartholomewThe visit of the Pope to Turkey has included a meeting (the first such meeting in a millennium) with His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome. As Patriarch of Constantinople he is the spiritual head of the Eastern Orthodox Communion even though his diocese only includes around 5000 Turkish (Greek Orthodox) Christians. I find relics of the past such as this fascinating. Bartholomew is a modern remnant of a bygone Christian age. (In 1453, Byzantine Constantinople fell to the Turks.)

Still, Bartholomew is no fossil. Some of his achievements include a storied academic career. He studied Theology at the Patriarchal Theological Seminary of Halki (Turkey) and did graduate work at the Pontificio Istituto Orientale of Rome, the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey (Switzerland) and the Ludwig-Maximilians Universität of Munich. His doctoral research was on Canon Law. He also speaks Greek, Turkish, Latin, French, English, Italian, and German. He has been nicknamed the “Green Patriarch” for his environmental efforts and was awarded the US Congressional Medal of Honor. [Read more…]

What is a poor non-member to do?

It seems to me that we expect too much of non-members. I once attended a meeting in which a non-member scholar was criticized for reading the footnotes in the scriptures as if they were canonized. It is an easy mistake to make; one which I would imagine an awful lot of church members make. How was a minimally informed interested observer to know that the footnotes, while nice, are not considered authoritative? Nonetheless, this commentator was dressed down for his ignorance.

Obviously, in writing about this, I am writing about Andrew Sullivan, whose motivations, in spite of the accusations bandied about, remain unclear. Furthermore, I am writing it about that pastor from a couple of weeks ago who stumbled upon an anti-site and used it, and her own collected cult knowledge, to offer a depiction of the church that relied too heavily on long unmentioned and unused doctrines of the 19th century. Let’s assume, just for the moment, that these people are making honest mistakes and set aside the vast secret-combination theories.

Is it any wonder? [Read more…]

Six Anti-Mormonisms

What is an anti-Mormon? Latter-day Saints tend to have quite strong, and quite negative, feelings about anti-Mormons. My guess is that they might be our least-liked group — the one that Mormons would feel most reservations about allowing to speak at a library or teach at a high school (standard indicators used to measure social tolerance in survey research). But defining the boundaries of this highly-disliked group is a bit difficult to do. Some of us define anti-Mormonism in such broad terms that virtually all non-Mormons, and some faithful Mormons, fit in the category. Others choose a more narrow definition.

Terminological debates like these are typically painful and difficult to resolve. If a major moral taint didn’t attach to the word, it probably wouldn’t be worth thinking about what it actually means. But moral stigma does attach, with anti-Mormons thought of by some Latter-day Saints in the same ways that anti-Semites are thought of by World War II-era Jewish folks. So it may be worth tracing through definitions and thinking about who would be included. [Read more…]

Garments, Shame, Idolatry

I must be the only believing, garment-wearing Mormon who isn’t mad at Andrew Sullivan. I honestly don’t understand all the fuss. It seems to me that, removed from their sacred context, garments are just underwear. And really funny-looking underwear, at that. I can think of no promise made not to let others see the garment–I change in the gym locker room, and if I landed in the Emergency Room unconscious, people would surely see my garments–and I don’t believe they would be seeing anything “sacred,” any more than I am seeing something sacred when I see my orthodox friends’ yarmulkes. Underwear is generally private in our culture, so we’re *embarrassed* to have our skivvies paraded around on the Internet. And surely posting pictures of people’s underwear is in poor taste, as is the “boxers or briefs” question.

Still, I think confusing our embarrassment with religious offense is a mistake–what is holy and sacred about garments is the understanding we have about them from our experience of temple worship, and what we make of them in our covenant relationship with God. Investing the cloth itself with some sort of unseeable, unmockable holiness strikes me as superstition bordering on idolatry. And defending them with the kind of venomous ardor spewed at Andrew Sullivan this week seems both unchristian and decidedly unmormon to me.

Home Teaching, November 2006

I guess we missed a month. Sorry, Bloggernacle!

This month, we have been instructed as follows:

Because the November Ensign and Liahona contain the proceedings of general conference, there is not a designated First Presidency or visiting teaching message. Home and visiting teachers are encouraged to prayerfully select their messages from the conference addresses.

I have chosen Look Toward Eternity! by Elaine S. Dalton, Second Counselor in the Young Women General Presidency. [Read more…]

Son of man

I think one of the more subtle shifts over the last quarter century has been how the Church approaches doctrinal ideas. One easy observation of this shift is the change in the missionary library (1). Correlation is slowly disentangling itself from the last generation of thought. The future is markedly more…scholarly (or possibly simple). [Read more…]

Relief Society Musings

Jana comes to BCC as a special guest representing Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought.

What happens when the good, the bad, and the ugly are one and the same?

Yesterday in Relief Society, we had a special visit from two newish missionaries in our ward. The more senior elder opened by thanking us women for our marvelous goodness, which was certainly a sweet thing to say. The trouble, of course, is that he has never even met me. And the more he talked, the less good and charitable I felt. The lowest point was when he praised the new sister missionaries who were sitting in the front row, telling us what wonderful sisters they were, and how committed to the gospel. All very sweet and noble. But as I sat there watching the sister missionaries, their eyes demurely downcast to the floor, I wondered how we had come to this: we had two living, breathing, and reportedly wonderful sister missionaries right there in Relief Society, but they opened not their mouths. Instead, the floor belonged to two younger men who lauded all us sisters sight unseen, placing us on a pedestal so high that I found us utterly unrecognizable.

Contrast this to what happened twenty minutes later, when the RS teacher reached deep into her soul and produced a lesson that was so raw and emotionally powerful that it was actually painful to hear. [Read more…]

Squash him? Starve him? Poison him?

What should mormons in general, or the Church and/or Mitt Romney in particular, do about someone like Andrew Sullivan? His blog, sponsored by Time Magazine and CNN, has read like a poor man’s Godmakers in the past week. Under the pretense of “You wanna play by the rules of theoconservatism? Then deal with the consequences,” Sullivan has dredged up every controversial aspect of the Church he can find to hold it up to scrutiny. This goes beyond issues of blacks and the priesthood or historicity of the Book of Mormon; Sullivan has posted up pictures of men and women in their temple garments.

So what is the proper reaction? [Read more…]

Wresting the Scriptures

Our canonical texts are stridently negative about the practice of “wresting the scriptures.” Wresting the scriptures is said to lead to our own destruction (2 Peter 3:16, Alma 13:20), to lead us far astray (Alma 41:1), and to produce contention (D&C 10:63). What, exactly, is this dangerous thing, this sower of chaos, this “wresting” of the scriptures? [Read more…]

A call for stories and poems

I hope it isn’t inappropriate to ask visitors to By Common Consent to recommend to their friends who write fiction and poetry to consider submitting their work to Dialogue. An interdisciplinary journal, Dialogue has always been open to fiction and poetry. However, it has done so with some irregularity, owing, perhaps, to a dearth of submissions. During my editorship, we have published stories and poems with considerable consistency. Unfortunately, we have not had as large an inventory of them as I could wish for. [Read more…]

The Gathering of Israel

So I get a call from the ward mission leader last Sunday (a good friend of mine) asking me to teach the Gospel Essentials lesson this Sunday on the captioned topic (out of the old Gospel Principles manual). He normally teaches the class, but he simply had no idea how to approach this material, and so he punted to me. I was hesitant to do it, explaining that this is not exactly my favorite subject, but I finally caved, so I will be teaching the class come Sunday. [Read more…]

The lesser of two evils

Here at BCC we have feted Pope John Paul II and expressed our admiration for all things Catholic. Religious leaders are not immune from saying crazy things, however (see, “Smoothies, TK”). In 1981, the Pope stated that “every conjugal act must be open to life.” This has been interpreted to mean that contraception is forbidden by God. [Read more…]

Realistic Expectations

What expectations of accuracy should we have of non-LDS writers who write about Mormonism or Mormon doctrines? Not very high ones, I think. I believe an honest assessment of all the ambiguities, disputations and confusions surrounding the category “Mormon doctrine” require that we confront a simple reality: It is not reasonable to expect non-LDS writers to get “right” what we can’t even agree upon ourselves. [Read more…]

Shopocalypse Now: Mormons and Buy Nothing Day?

A year ago, on the day after American Thanksgiving, I found myself in an English-style restaurant sharing a meal with a group of bloggers. After a lunch of deep-fried fish, potatoes, macaroni (?!!) and yes, one chocolate bar shared among many, we split up for the afternoon. Steve and Ronan went home to male-bond over some movies and Kristine and Elisabeth went to the Whitney Museum. Me? I was on walkabout. With a route planned out by Sumer that would take me from Chinatown to the Upper West Side, I was ready to experience Manhattan. But it soon became clear that small-town Canadian girl did not understand the culture. Why all the crazed shoppers? At home, the day after Thanksgiving was for lounging around and eating leftovers. It is a holiday and all the stores are closed. And what were all the signs for Black Friday about? Did it mean that everything black in the store was on sale? [Read more…]

Feet of Clay

I was interested to read in the New York Times Magazine this weekend an interview with Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States. It was a timely interview in some respects, including this bit:

Q: What do you make of Ted Haggard, who just stepped down as the head of the National Association of Evangelicals, after he was accused of cavorting with a gay escort?

A: I think it’s very sad. We’re always surprised when we see people’s clay feet. Our culture seems to delight in exposing them. I think we have a prurient interest in other people’s failings.

Why are we surprised when we see the clay feet of others? Allow me if you will a brief pontification. [Read more…]

The sweat of the face

I woke up early yesterday to attend a 6:30 meeting in which the Stake Presidency instructed us in the manner of teaching. Actually, at 6:20 and after sleeping through the alarm my wife kicked me out of bed. I stumbled as I picked up a shirt from off the floor and tied a tie. I ate a leftover Saturday Krispy Kreme as I drove. I was glad I went, though. We discussed the Teachings of the Presidents and how to make them meaningful. An important take home message: ask the hard questions. Later that day, I sat pondering the introductory paragraph of the lesson. Speaking of Woodruff’s Character:

To sweat, was a divine command as much so as to pray; and in his life he exemplified in the highest degree that simple Christian life that makes for the physical, mental, and moral well-being of man. He believed sincerely in the moral supremacy of manual toil. [Read more…]

Could We Serve More?

It has often struck me (Kathleen from Dialogue) how willing the people in my ward are to participate in service projects. The best attended Enrichment Meetings are the ones to assemble whatever hygiene kit ,back-to-school kit for needy kids project, or food bank drive, that comes down the pike. Through an Interfaith Council our stake participates in a program that provides meals and a place to sleep for homeless men. Our church never hosts the sleeping arrangements, but whenever it is our ward’s turn to provide dinner, lunch, and breakfast for these men, it’s an easy sell for the sister in charge. Considering service more broadly, it seems as though all my Salt Lake nieces and nephews have gone to Africa or South America to help out in a orphanage for a month, or gone with somebody to Tibet or Mongolia or some other far away place to deliver medical equipment that some church member has managed to collect. I know Young Men and Young Women leaders are always looking for ways to involve the kids in meaningful service. [Read more…]

Steady as she goes…

Last night I realized Thanksgiving is just a few days away. Immediately after this realization, I started googling turkey like a crazy person. I explored all things turkey, from turkey recipes (my original intent) to voting on the name for the turkey being pardoned at the White House (despite the absurdity of the ritual). I even clicked on the Visit Turkey websites just out of curiosity and went to bed determined to make Turkey our summer destination.

This year, I have decided to make Thanksgiving dinner for the first time. That’s right, despite the multitudes of people telling me I am crazy, in over my head, and have no idea what I’m doing, I’m going for it anyway. I envision a colorful Thanksgiving feast, bright cranberry sauce, steaming golden turkey, all laid out on an immaculately decorated table. My guests will ooh and ahh as I stand back like a proud mama and watch Patrick carve the turkey. I might even be wearing an apron, a floral one. [Read more…]

Kolob as Sirius

Kaimi’s T&S thread on Kolob raises the question of what the word “Kolob” means. Clark mentioned the Kolob as Sirius theory, and I mentioned that I personally hold to that theory. I was sure someone would ask about it, but no one did, so I thought I would undertake a brief explanation of it here.

[Read more…]

BCC, now with 25% more awesomeness

BCC is proud to announce the addition of a few regular contributors to our line-up. Please welcome Melissa DeLeon Mason and Tracy M. They have both graced our pages with wonderful insight and we are looking forward to their continued writing. [Read more…]

BCC Christmas gift book guide

Christmas gift buying can be a stressful experience. What to get somebody that already has everything? Books are always great. There are typically affordable titles and nobody I know has every book they would like to own. Additionally, Mormon books aren’t widely available through the library system (outside the corridor). So don’t fret over the tie pattern or night gown and peruse the bookshelf. [Read more…]

Exasperation with the media

Lee Thomson at the Journal Gazette/Times Courier has an interesting (read: idiotic) answer to the simple question: “Why does the Mormon Church not have crosses in or on their buildings, and why do Mormons not wear cross jewelry?” [Read more…]

A Letter to the Editor from the One Mighty and Strong

It is to be noted that Dialogue receives fewer letters to the editor than it formerly did. Is that because we have gone totally stuffy, as some notable frequenters of Mormon weblogs have claimed? Or is it that blogging drains off the kind of energy that used to go into writing letters to the editor? I could hold to the latter explanation more easily if the blogging opportunities on Dialogue’s own website had an abundant clientele. Ironically, the Dialogue website now offers a letters section where you can post responses to the most recent issues of the journal in a blog format. Unfortunately, user statistics are light. Exactly three persons have posted letters for the spring 2006 issue, two for the summer issue; and two for the fall issue. However, numbers alone don’t tell the entire story. [Read more…]

The Mormons

So I’m watching “Dog, the Bounty Hunter” and my wife walks in with a punk magazine, Razorcake #33, which her brother had lent her. (Anyone interested in the magazine can check out their website.) And she shows me this interview with a band called The Mormons. The interview is by Gus Straub and Amy Adoyzie, and the band mates are Patrick (vocals), Vince (guitars and vocals) and Louie (guitars). In an apparent effort to avoid the rock “fashion show,” they dress up on stage like Mormon missionaries, complete with short-sleeved white shirts, ties, back packs and bike helmets. The interview is a little fuzzy on where they are located, but I think it is Los Angeles. Their website, which includes lots of pictures, is located here. I will type in here part of the introduction and brief excerpts from portions of the interview (having to do with Mormonism). [Read more…]


Episcopalians have started a new eucharist service, to raise money and resources to end global poverty.

It is called the U2Charist. While listening to the music of Bono and U2, the congregation sings, claps, stands, dances, takes Eucharist, thinks about Jesus,  listens to a sermon about “God’s call to rally around the Millennium Development Goals” and then donates money.

I support any group who recognizes there is poverty in the world and that we’re obligated as people and as Christians to do something about this. But I hate this.  Why? [Read more…]

Into My Skin

When I first joined the Church, I did so with gusto. The exhilaration of finding long-yearned for answers- answers that did not disallow my own personal revelations, was almost narcotic. I still feel that way. For the most part.

My first Visiting Teacher was the Temple matriarch. My first Home Teacher was the Stake Patriarch. Sensitivity on the part of my bishop led to these stellar examples being a regular part of my life, and I was showered with the best examples of being Mormon. Framed temple pictures, photos of the prophets, Greg Olsen prints, the Proclamation and a dozen other symbols of my new faith were bestowed on me by kind ward members. Overwhelmed, I felt I had to display all of these things in order to be a “good Mormon” girl. All the other homes I visited had similar decorations; I must need them, right? I was grateful for the kindness of my new friends.

And yet… Somehow, these things were a like a tight shoe, slightly too small. [Read more…]

Archbishop Smackdown

John Sentamu, Archbishop of York (he of the “prophetic enactment”, Anglicanism’s number two man), has come out swinging against media bias, the liberal elite, the Muslim veil, and Christmas commercialism. File under: when religious leaders speak their mind. For a staid old church, this stuff is a breath of fresh air. [Read more…]

Moral Courage

As I mentioned in the course of Tracy M.’s “Moral Conundrum” post, a week ago I got a call asking me to speak on “moral courage” in church tomorrow. Below is the text of the talk I came up with and plan to deliver. It is a little long for a blog post (it is supposed to be a 20-minute talk), but I wanted to share it with by ‘Nacle friends.

Speaking Notes for a Talk on “Moral Courage”

[Read more…]

Why We Wait

How does one balance honoring covenants with honoring family? Obviously, promises to God are greater than keeping familial harmony, but how do you “honor thy father and thy mother” when your parent(s) chose otherwise?

Part of the reason my husband and I have not gone to the Temple yet, despite having recommends, has do to with our extended family. As I already wrote, my family hates that I have chosen to be Mormon, and makes few allowances in their dealings with me. My husband’s family, while there are two other distant members, also is completely unsupportive. At every turn, it’s difficult, nigh unto impossible, to keep the family waters smooth.

When we go to the Temple, it will very likely be the last straw on my familial camel’s back. I am vacillating between jumping in with both feet, and being quite comfortable in my fence-sitting. I am in no hurry to make the relationship with my loved ones even more difficult, yet at the same time, I know, for my spiritual progression, there are more steps to be taken. [Read more…]