BYU Alternaprom

Where is Ernest Wilkinson when we need him most, him and his supernal gift of utterly crushing all forms of activism and youthful dissent? Not content with protesting Dick Cheney’s impending commencement speech, a gang of hoodlums — dare I say, ne’er-do-wells — has now invited Ralph Nader to speak at an “Alternative Commencement.”

What is going on here? Is this the BYU from some alternative universe? Will they serve ocat ojavan, that inverted flatbread delicacy? Also attending: Bizarro Superman and Lyndon LaRouche.

(Just kidding, folks. I think this is a provocative, interesting idea — even if Nader isn’t the most prestigious alternative in the world, it’s still pretty fun.)

‘God is a psychopath’

So says the Very Rev Jeffrey John, if the conventional explanation of the crucifixion is true.

Speaking of his earlier Calvinist interpretation of the atonement, he said:

What sort of God was this, getting so angry with the world and the people he created, and then, to calm himself down, demanding the blood of his own Son?

And anyway, why should God forgive us through punishing somebody else? It was worse than illogical, it was insane. It made God sound like a psychopath.

This was the quote circulated in the British press anyway. But true to form, religion journalists have missed his wider point in order to stir the pot. John’s Easter sermon was much more than this. [Read more…]

Brownie Points

April_2007_11sugar4501There’s an article in the NY Times today about brownies. It showcases the struggle between cakey vs. fudgey brownies, and between those who put nuts in their brownies (pecans?? come on, people) and those who leave them unadorned.

Those debates cannot be resolved in a single article – they are timeless struggles that will wage on regardless. But let me say this much, in hopes that we can move forward: I know that my brownies are true. [Read more…]

Culture and my family

M. Norbert Kilmer was a kid from an obscure corner of Los Angeles County. He now lives with his wife and two boys in Helsinki, Finland, where he teaches high school English and hangs around looking cool. He will be guest blogging for the next couple of weeks.

I left the United States in August 2001 because of a serious case of restlessness. I was 31 and single; I had just finished my MA and thrived as a high school English and Media Studies teacher … but the restlessness haunted me. I considered several options, all of which left me with a stupor of thought. Then I heard about international schools and off I went to Finland, never having been here before. After two happy years I married a Finnish Mormon and we moved to London, planning to globe hop until our feet itched no more. The birth of twins and the ensuing chaos cured us, and when I was offered a job back here, it smelled like a blessing. And, dear reader, so it has been. [Read more…]

Making Adjustments

Atheist demigod Richard Dawkins has said that in the face of science, religion always retreats. This is probably true to some extent. For example, a century or two ago, few of us would have worried about the historicity of the global Deluge. Confronted by the overwhelming evidence from geology and archaeology (and all manner of other -ologies), most of us have learned to project some nuance on to the Genesis account. The same might be said of evolution, Big Bang cosmogony, brain science, ancient history, etc. We are rational creatures: when science shows beyond reasonable doubt that the earth is many billions of years old, we adapt our theology to fit. Mormons are generally pretty good at doing this. [Read more…]

My Publications

My father was a professor of education, and he published a lot (he authored or coauthored eight books and dozens and dozens of articles). Whenever one of his pieces was accepted for publication, he would get excited about it, but I (and the rest of the family) would greet this news with a yawn. It was such a regular occurrence that it just wasn’t meaningful to me. [Read more…]

BCC Research Collaborative 3: Social History of Evolution

From an exemplary graduate student in history:

I’m interested in researching the impact of evolution on Mormonism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. We know a great deal about Mormons’ doctrinal response to Darwin – men like BH Roberts sought to incorporate it into Mormon doctrine; others like Joseph Fielding Smith virulently opposed it.

What I’m more interested in is its impact on Mormon theologizing in areas other than Biblical literalism, and on Mormon culture and society in general. Thus, I’m less interested in citations to conference talks and The Truth, The Way, The Life, and more interested in more informal references. What did Mormons think about Social Darwinism? Was evolution brought up when genealogical work got hot in the 1890s in relation to issues of ancestry? Did it pop up as men like Roberts sought to clarify the exact nature of the familial relationship between God and man?

References to that sort of theology welcome; to popular culture (Nephi Anderson novels, diaries) treasured.


As always, we wil be glad to consider your questions at research at bycommon consent dot org

If you weren’t Mormon, you’d be….

The other day, driving to the accursed OfficeMax (NEVER shop at OfficeMax, folks — NEVER!), we passed by Mars Hill Church, a hipster congregation that nonetheless produces some real social activism. I commented to Sumer that if I weren’t a Mormon, I could see myself attending a congregation like that. On the other hand, I remarked, I could also see myself as Catholic — very European, with a profound history, systematic theology, and the Apostolic See.

Sumer had a different take. [Read more…]

Just one more…

The Airy Christ
by Stevie Smith

(After reading Dr Rieu’s translation of St Mark’s Gospel.)

Who is this that comes in splendour, coming from the blazing East?
This is he we had not thought of, this is he the airy Christ. [Read more…]

Jesus is Risen

The Russian Orthodox celebrate the holy day of Easter in part by greeting each other with the formula Iisus Voskres (Jesus is Risen!) to which the believer would respond Voistinu Voskres (Truly, He is Risen!).

In negotiating their struggle with official atheism and the bureaucracy at the Kremlin, Russians circulated a joke about a Kremlin functionary stopped one Easter morn by a janitor (these were generally older women, the ones who most stereotypically stood by Russian Orthodoxy) who saluted him with a “Jesus is Risen. ” He barely looked up and continued his path across the Kremlin grounds, when a second saluted him with the same greeting. He continued without looking up, clearly late for a meeting in the halls of power. Finally, on the third such encounter, he exploded, “Yes, Yes. I’ve been informed.”

May we all be more with the janitors than with the powerful on this holy day.  Happy Easter.

More Easter

Seven Stanzas at Easter–John Updike

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours. [Read more…]


Easter–George Herbert (1593-1633)

RISE heart ; thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise
Without delayes,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him mayst rise :
That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more just.

Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
With all thy art.
The crosse taught all wood to resound his name
Who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day. [Read more…]

Holy Week: Saturday

Ruht wohl–from J.S. Bach’s Passion According to St. John

Ruht wohl, ihr heiligen Gebeine,
Die ich nun weiter nicht beweine,
Ruht wohl und bringt auch mich zur Ruh!

Das Grab, so euch bestimmet ist
Und ferner keine Not umschließt,
Macht mir den Himmel auf und schließt die Hölle zu.

Rest peacefully, you holy limbs,
For whom I no longer weep,
Rest peacefully, and bring me also to rest in peace.

The grave, which is appointed for you,
no longer holds any danger or fear–
It opens heaven to me, and closes hell forever.

Lost in Identity

I found this narrative essay this morning and was flooded with memories of almost two decades ago. While I could wish that the prose were smoother and the interpretation more persuasive, I have been struck by the relevance of the stories I reconstructed those years ago. Happy Easter.

Holy Week: Good Friday

He Bore Our Anguish

(Hy Droech Onse Smerten)
Jacobus Revius (Dutch, 1586 -1658)
Translated by Charles D. Tate, BYU
Published in BYU Studies, 15.1 (Autumn 1974) p. 103

It was not the Jews, Lord Jesus, who crucified you,
Nor the traitors who dragged you to the law,
Nor the contemptuous who spit in your face
Nor those who bound you, or hit you full of wounds,
And it was not the soldiers who with evil hands
Lifted up the reed, or the hammer,
Or set that cursed wood on Golgotha,
Or cast lots and gambled for your robe;
It is I, O Lord, it is I who have done it,
I am the heavy tree that overburdened you,
I am the rough hands that bound you,
The nail, the spear, and the cords that whipped you,
The bloodied crown that tore your head:
All this happened, alas! for my sins.


Stabat Mater dolorosa

Hugh Nibley: Mormon Dissident

Hugh Nibley has entered the Mormon historical imagination as a defender of the orthodox faith, a crusader for belief in ancient origins for the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham, a progenitor of FARMS and current Mormon apologetics. This is indeed an accurate sketch of one dimension of Nibley’s Mormon thought, but there was more to the man. A second facet, less often recognized but still fairly widely known, involves Nibley’s commitment to social reformism, economic equality, and even pacifism. A popular, and worthwhile, introduction to this component of Nibley’s thought can be found in his Approaching Zion. [Read more…]

Holy Week: Maundy Thursday

Ubi Caritas

Ubi caritas et amor,
Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exsultemus et in ipso jucundemur,
Timeamus et amemus Deum vivum,
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.

Where love and charity abide,
There God is.
We are gathered into one by the love of Christ.
Let us exult and be glad in Him.
Let us love and fear the living God,
And with pure hearts treasure one another. [Read more…]

The Tragedy of the Steamboat Saluda

Next Monday, April 9, 2007,  is the 155th anniversary of the sinking of the steamboat Saluda, on which approximately 40 Mormon immigrants lost their lives. This post is an attempt to honor their lives and their sacrifice.

[Read more…]

The Culture of Poverty and Retention

Anecdotally, it seems to be the case in this country that missionaries have greater success among the poor. In our ward, all the adult baptisms that I can recall in recent years have involved people living in or near poverty. The charitable would say that this is because the poor are more humble and receptive to the gospel while the cynical would say the poor are more needy and receptive to the promise of welfare. The motivations the poor have for joining the church are not what I’m seeking to explore. What I want to know is why, in South Bend and in wards across the country, can we not seem to retain our poorer brothers and sisters? [Read more…]

BCC Papers 2/2: Barney, Elkenah

On Elkenah as Canaanite El

by Kevin L. Barney

[Read more…]

DNA Mormons?

From Joanna Benson aka JA Benson.

Maybe, like us, you are a proud descendant of Mormon pioneers, confident in your knowledge of your Western European heritage, a typical DNA Mormon-American. Are you ready for a big surprise? We weren’t! [Read more…]

Holy Week: Wednesday

Ecce tempus idoneum, Latin plainsong, before 12th century, transl. T.A. Lacey (1853-1931)

Now is the healing time decreed
For sins of heart, or word or deed,
When we in humble fear record
The wrong that we have done the Lord;
[Read more…]

Sit-in at BYU’s JFSB Quad

Demonstrators, April 4, 2007, BYU

Demonstrators, April 4, 2007, BYU

Here’s a shot of today’s demonstration/sit-in/protest at BYU. By my rough estimate, there were about 250 students and faculty participating at any one time, with a total count during the 2 hours of 700-800 (not counting passers-by).

Some of the signs hoisted by the participants were:
“One Nation under…..Surveillance.”
“That’s Ok, I didn’t need my civil rights anyway.”
“Cheney should go to…..BYU.”
“You Lied [under large photo of Cheney] — They Died [with large photo of Bush made up of 1″ photos of what may have been servicemen and women].”
“Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Torture.” [Read more…]

Upcoming Films: The Triple Whammy

My husband asked me last week if I had ever heard of Helen Whitney. Since I was interviewed by her and her staff, I have obviously heard of her. It turns out that Helen was mentioned in the Ensign, along with her 4-hour documentary to be aired April 30 and May 1 titled The Mormons. But since that implicit Church endorsement, there have been cautionary e-mails. The scuttlebutt is that Helen showed the documentary to PBS (aka the big sponsor) and was told it was too positive; she was asked to re-edit. Now the instruction I’ve heard going out to Mormons is to look at the documentary first before inviting investigators to a FHE with Helen Whitney’s work as the scheduled activity. [Read more…]

Dialogue, while packing lunches

Peter:  Mom, are there Boy Scout cookies?

me:  I don’t think so, sweetie–at least I’ve never seen any.

Peter:  That’s sexist.

My kids rock!

Journaling and Authenticity

Liz Muir completes her stint as a guest at BCC! Earlier posts here and here.

If you’ve found your way over to my blog, you may have noted that I’m embarking on a study abroad trip to England in less than a month. One of the main purposes of this trip is to develop a collection of personal essays–a glorified journal, basically. As a result, we’ve been discussing the elements that go into writing a journal. We’ve basically come down to two opposing forces of journal writing, both in terms of style and content. [Read more…]

Stop using the @ in comments.

It’s annoying. That is all.

Relief Society? Who Cares?!

When Barbara Bradshaw Smith was called to be the General Relief Society President on October 3, 1974, the Tabernacle was filled to capacity. President N. Eldon Tanner paid special tribute to Belle S. Spafford whose presidency had lasted 29 years. She had served under 6 different Presidents of the Church. Many women who were present that day had never had a different General Relief Society President. When President Kimball announced at the last session of the two-day conference that Sister Spafford was being released, gasps could be heard throughout the building. The murmured exclamations of “Oh, no!” were clearly heard by Sister Smith who was sitting with other general board members. When she came to the podium, her voice trembled and she declared,

“When you said ‘Oh, no’, so did I. I have sat in this audience many times; when the conference was over, I have thanked my Heavenly Father that Sister Spafford was still our general president. And when President Kimball came to my home and called me to be the general president of Relief Society, I couldn’t believe it could happen to me.” (Women of Covenant, p. 347)

While Barbara Smith may have felt overwhelmed by the reaction to her new calling, at least she got one. [Read more…]

He’s not heavy, he’s my brother: community and public education

The Utah legislature has recently passed a broad-based school voucher bill that may or may not be constitutional and may or may not be subjected to direct public vote. This has been something of a shock to me, given my longstanding roots in the Northeast where, at least perceptually, this was not even on the horizon.

Rather than play my reactionary card aggressively, I’ve been trying to understand more about what motivates this kind of a proposal. [Read more…]

Holy Week: Tuesday

Here is a hymn and poetry lesson all in one–these are the original German texts Bach used in “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” (from the Cantata “Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben,” BWV 147) followed by my translations. The standard English texts are lame, and don’t begin to get at the tenderness and intimacy of the German. I’ve left the translations very clunky–I don’t know how else to get at the rawness of the German. It is very far removed from the bloodless prissy Victorian monstrosity that English-singing choirs are generally stuck with. Maybe one of the Fowles or our other august Germanists can pretty it up and make it scan… [Read more…]