American Academy of Religion

So a friend and I showed the documentary _Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons_ at the American Academy of Religion in Chicago this past weekend, and then showed it again at the University of Chicago on Sunday, for a predominantly Mormon audience.

A few things:  This friend of mine is rather ill, and was in what he called “a-fib.”  Now, I have no medical background, so he explained that the upper chambers of his heart were fluttering, while the lower chambers were pounding fine.  He had been to the doctor’s, and brought a pulse monitor with him on the trip.  But there were a couple of times we thought he might need to go to the hospital.  This particular friend is the sort of person who gives and gives and gives–and is spending his life serving his God.  So what happens if I suggest that he request a priesthood blessing?  “I wouldn’t want to impose” is his answer.   Excuse me?

Do you brethren feel it an imposition to “impose” your hands (Spanish-izing the phrase) on somebody’s head?  Do you yourselves feel blessings as you bless others?  Are you hesitant to request a blessing?  If you are, WHY?

Other than the health issues, our trip was wonderful.  One woman saw the film and embraced my nameless friend afterwards.  She saw him the next day and embraced him again.  She said, “I really want to know about your church.  I am not satisfied with mine, and I was so moved by your film.  Can I find out more?”   Another, from the Universal Unitarian Church told us that there were countless parallels with her religion.  She was eager to get a copy of the DVD (we’re close) for her university.

My daughter was already in Chicago, so I spent some time not attending sessions but looking at beautiful art at the Art Institute with her.  The only other session I attended was great: Brian Birch, Quincy Newell, Alan Cherry, Ahmad Corbett (a good and courageous stake president in New Jersey–African American) and two other panelists whose names escape me.

It was a delightful weekend.  As I understand it, this is the first time Mormosn have played a significant role at AAR.  Several sessions were devoted to us, and we got to speak for ourselves in most of them.

For those interested, we do have a upcoming screenings of the doc at the Red Rock Film Festival (St. George) on Nov. 14 and 15th.  You can find out about that at

I am much more interested in the first questions I posed in this post, however, not in talking about the film.


  1. Do you brethren feel it an imposition to “impose” your hands (Spanish-izing the phrase) on somebody’s head?

    I’ve never felt imposed upon when asked to give someone a blessing, particularly an annointing and blessing for health, just honored. My only concern is that I’ve been living close enough to the Spirit to have the inspiration I need, especially if the blessing is not for health but rather for guidance, comfort, counsel, etc.

    So, no, it’s not an imposition. But I recognize that those asking for the blessing may feel that way. I chide my wife occasionally when I find that she wanted a blessing but “didn’t want to bother me”; I reminder that’s the whole reason why I’m there and why I have the priesthood — it doesn’t do me any good (I can’t give myself a blessing), it’s only for blessing others. ..bruce..

  2. Ah, you are forgetting all the great stories of people administering to themselves or using oil therapeutically!

    Anyway, as to the post, I appreciate the write up, Margaret. I’m also glad to hear that the DVD is soon coming (hopefully done in time for the BCC annual Christmas book guide).

  3. Wait! Administering to themselves? I’ve never heard of that. I do know that Green Flake carried a flask of consecrated oil with him wherever he went. I believe I’ve heard that he put it on any wound he got. I wonder if he said any specific words making it an ordinance.

  4. Yeah, using oil on yourself was very common – in the area of affliction or swallowing it. A classic example of self-administration is recounted by Elder Whitney in General Conference:

    A pain had seized me in the elbow of my left arm, and it steadily grew worse. That evening I used some liniment upon it, but got no relief, and my arm continued to swell and stiffen. I could hardly move it next day, but by that time I knew just what to do. There was some consecrated oil in the house, but my green inexperience had made me think that it would be improper to use it on myself, there being no other elder present. But suffering had opened my eyes, and my faith was strong, for I felt that the pain had no business there. That night I carefully washed off the liniment, applied the holy oil, and rebuked the pain in the name of Jesus. The effect was instantaneous. I turned my arm over–the pain was gone; and I have never felt a vestige of it since.

    Orson F. Whitney, Conference Report, April 1925, 21

  5. Anon_this_time says:

    I have no trouble asking for a blessing. In fact, the healings (physical and spiritual) that I have experienced at the hands of priesthood holders is one of the things that keeps me faithful to the Church during times of intellectual doubt.

  6. Could be a “guy thing.” You know, maybe your friend is an independent, self-reliant type. To ask for a stranger to come give a blessing would be, well, worse than asking for directions when lost!

  7. I appreciate the irony of your friend viewing this film and thinking exercising the priesthood an imposition.

    Thankfully, I have not felt much need to request blessings. If I’m sick enough to miss more than a day of work, then I ask for a blessing.

  8. This is an interesting question, Margaret. I think it’s a cultural practice that is on the increase–to hesitate when asking for a blessing, lest it be an imposition. Related to this, many men (including my husband) will not offer to give a blessing, preferring to wait until asked.

    I’m wondering if this shows a decline in our faith in priesthood blessings??

  9. What Hunter said. I think it’s more a function of maleness and not wanting to appear weak or needy, rather than strong and self reliant. I also have observed the culture of not offering to give blessings, but waiting until they are asked. Recent talks and instruction seem to be prodding priesthood holders to stop this way of thinking and exercise their priesthood whenever possible.

    A big part of it for me has to do with the merciless self-evaluation I give myself before performing an ordinance or blessing. I’m my worst critic and can always think of things I’ve said, done, or thought that may (in my mind) make me unworthy. Lately I’ve come to realize that I’m never sinless, but that’s what the Atonement is for, and by exercising my priesthood as Christ did I can access more of that grace and in turn be strengthened against sin. But still, it is no small thing to act in the name of the Savior.

  10. My husband is similar to your friend. He would not hesitate to give a blessing to anyone who asked, but he never felt comfortable asking afor a blessing for himself; me or the kids, he’d happily call someone up to help him administer. I think he only ever asked once for himself, and it was when he was in a-fib.

    BTW, I was at the showing Sunday night. It was a beautiful movie and great discssion afterwards.

  11. Rameumptom says:

    Sarah Studevant Leavitt, in crossing the Plains, noted in her journal of being deathly ill. She asked for a blessing from an elder, who blessed her. However, she did not get better. So, they travelled on until they found another elder, who blessed her. Still, no resolution of the illness. Finally, they found a third elder to bless her, and she was instantly healed.

    Perhaps in our wealth obsessed land, we tend to focus more on medical doctors than priesthood power for miracles?

  12. Interesting idea Rameumpton, or maybe we tend to focus on people who don’t necessarily have the gift of healing.