An Open Thread on Dialogue 42/2 (Summer 2009)

I came back from my morning movie and, after several days of nothing worthwhile showing up in the mail, was pleasantly surprised to find the latest issues of Dialogue and Sunstone waiting for me on the living room couch. The summer issue of Dialogue is Kristine’s second as editor, and I think she is doing a terrific job. So anyway I’ve started to read it, and I thought I would open a thread here for my own commentary as I go and for anyone else to share their reactions.

The first thing I noticed was that there were a lot of familiar names in this issue, people I’ve come to know through the Bloggernacle. And I think this is a wonderful development, and I was very glad to see it. The blogging community skews to the young, while the readership of the print independent journals like Dialogue skews to the gray-haired. I remember when Elbert was still at Sunstone and we still were having regional symposia in Chicago, there would always be a brainstorming session on how to involve younger people, and we could never really come up with anything constructive. But I’ve noticed at MHA there is a substantial amount of youthful participation and energy (witness the JI posse), and I think we’re seeing that same youthful appropriation of Dialogue as well. I’m of the view that the same people who blog are the ones with the talent and knowledge and writing skills to polish their thoughts a little bit more and actually publish them for posterity in Dialogue, and I think we’re starting to see that happen, and I think it’s terrific. I hope this trend continues and even accelerates.

The letters section includes a fairly long letter from Rocky Anderson (the former mayor of SLC), which describes his own history in the Church with the priesthood ban issue, and how that ought to be instructive for the issue we now are facing with gay marriage. Although I would have written it a little differently, I agree with the basic point. Seeing the Church err historically by failing to distinguish properly ambient culture from eternal doctrine has freed me to recognize similar culturally-grounded decision making in the contemporary church as well. I think the day will come, maybe in a generation or two, when we’ll be embarrassed by our advocacy against gay marriage (I’m already embarrassed.)

John-Charles Duffy wrote to apologize to Tom Alexander for Tom’s perception that John-Charles was going after him and Leonard Arrington in his Deconstruction article from the Spring 2008 issue. His actual intent was to go after antipositivists like Louis Midgley and David Bohn.

In keeping with the name “dialogue,” there is some give and take on my article from the Winter issue (Levi’s last as editor) on worshiping Mother in Heaven. This involves a lengthy critique of the article by Bored in Vernal followed by an equally lengthy response by me. Bloggernacle regulars will have already seen this play out on Hieing to Kolob and here on BCC. I personally love this kind of give and take over articles that have appeared, and as I said in my piece I thank BiV for playing. I thought it was both fun and enlightening.

MHA President-Elect Bill MacKinnon provides some additional information on his Utah War Command Ambiguity article from the Spring issue, based on info he got from Keepa’s Ardis Parshall.

The first actual article I turned to was “The Education of a Bible Scholar,” by Sheldon Greaves. (FPR guys, please feel free to comment here!) I could relate to his article through his BYU education, as my own experience had very similar contours, even though I studied classics and he did Ancient Near Eastern studies (but he almost did classics and his wife went that route). Like him, I was kind of naive and thought that pursuing critical scholarship would actually be perceived at BYU as a good thing; it took time to fully come to the realization that that doesn’t mesh well with BYU Religious Education.

I don’t have the experience of grad school, so I appreciated being able to read his story about his grad studies at Berkeley. I especially enjoyed his detailed account of the seminar he took with Jacob Milgrom. And therein was something that I found a little puzzling. He describes his growing disengagement with the Church. But it seems to me that Milgrom ought to have provided a model for how to be a rigorous scholar and biblical critic and still be a religious believer. Sure, he probably couldn’t teach GD effectively any more, but there are lots of other ways to maintain community with the Saints. He paints Milgrom as a kind of heroic figure, and rightly so, but he seems unable to translate Milgrom’s virtues into his own religious tradition. That was the thought I had as I read the piece; what did you think?


  1. Kevin Barney says:

    The first major article in the issue is by T&S blogger Nate Oman, “‘The Living Oracles’: Legal Interpretation and Mormon Thought.” Nate makes what strikes me as a terrific analogy between excavating Mormon principles from actual practice and the way the common law is excavated from actual cases. Figuring out what Mormonism has to say on any subject can be very difficult, like trying to “nail Jello to the wall” as the common saying goes. Well, trying to figure out what the law says on a subject can be equally as difficult. (When I went to law school, I had the misimpression that there was a big book somewhere that had the word LAW on the binding; I would soon learn it wasn’t going to be that easy). Anyway, Nate uses some actual examples from his ongoing work on the historic Mormon legal system, one from property and another from contract, to illustrate his point. Nate has floated portions of this basic idea before, but here he lays it all out.

    In any event, Nate’s proposal strikes me as a superior method to playing a game of GA poker any day of the week.

  2. Other bloggernaclers featured in this issue include former JI guest blogger, Katie Blakesley, whose article “A Style of Our Own” was previously summarized at JI (see here); former JI blogger Heidi Harris (who contributes an interview/review of with Donna Freitas on her Sex and the Soul); and current JI blogger Elizabeth Pinborough, whose wonderful poetry on Shakers finally gets the wider audience it deserves.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks, Christopher, you just saved me from needing to summarize Katie’s article! There is even more blogerrnacle connection here than I first thought; that’s wonderful.

  4. I should’ve thanked you for providing the review, Kevin. I appreciate it, especially since I haven’t had a chance to sit down and read it yet (aside from Liz’s poetry). Nate’s article sounds like it will be well worth the read, as do a lot of other featured pieces. I have never subscribed to Dialogue, primarily because I have such easy access to it here at BYU, but will probably subscribe when I leave Provo this fall.

  5. Aaron Brown says:

    There’s an interesting, thorough review of Paulsen’s “Mormonism in Dialogue w/Contemporary Christian Theologies.” It contains the umpteenth mention of Prof. Keller’s (?) inappropriately devotional comments at the ’05 Library of Congress symposium on JS. I’ve heard that referenced so many times, I really with there were a podcast or recording of the symposium I could finally listen to. Is there?

    Nate’s article was excellent, as always. I agree with Kevin’s comments abou it, though without GA poker, I’m not sure Mormon life would be nearly as fun.

    Let’s not forget to mention T&S permablogger Rosalynde Welch’s book review in this volume.


  6. Kristine says:

    Christopher, alternatively, submit an article and you’re still young enough for that to qualify you for a year’s electronic subscription via the New Voices award:

  7. Kristine says:

    Also, readers out there, please consider sending feedback as letters to the editor, as well as posting it here!

  8. Sheldon says:


    The entire Joseph Smith Symposium is available on the church web site in both audio and video.,4945,510-1-3067-1,00.html


  9. Sounds like a great issue. Mine hasn’t arrived in the mail yet, but when it gets here I’ll be sure to comment.

  10. Kevin Barney says:

    Christopher, like you when I was a student I had library access to Dialogue, and then when I got my first job after school I began subscribing. That was in 1985, and I’ve been a subscriber ever since.

  11. I like the new cover design.

    I’d warn anyone who hasn’t seen Richard Dutcher’s films not to read the review of them before seeing them. It’s loaded with spoilers.

  12. Let’s not forget to mention T&S permablogger Rosalynde Welch’s book review in this volume.

    A two-fer: T&S permablogger Jonathan Green short, smart review of Breaking Dawn also appears.

  13. Kevin Barney says:

    Wm Morris, thanks for pointing us to your discussion of how blogging can lead to more formal work. I’m sorry that I had not seen it, but I completely agree with you.

  14. Kevin Barney says:

    In fact, Wm Morris, my current project, which will appear in the Journal of Mormon History, originated as a blog post here on BCC. And the blogging community had a lot to do with bringing that project to fruition.

  15. No need to apologize — I was trying to be silly and not rude, but that’s hard to get across online without overexplaining (thus the overexplaining now). I certainly don’t expect every blogger to read every post in the Bloggernacle. I don’t anymore.

    Although those who don’t regularly add <a href=";A Motley Vision to their BCC, T&S, Keepa, JI routine are missing out.

    And really the point was to brag about how many of AMV’s bloggers are showing up in the pages of Dialogue and other Mormon publications.

  16. Wm I agree, they are missing out.

    And worm, sorry about the spoilers. I’ll keep that in mind next time I’m called upon.

  17. Definately a great issue. I’ve only skimmed most of it, but look forward to digging in.

    Wm, AMV (along with the bloggernacle) got some extended love in the BYU Studies, which arrived the same day as Dialogue.

  18. Thanks, J. It’s a good piece — or at least the version on the website is. I don’t know if it was revised for the print journal.

    And not to be ungrateful to Randy, but I think that he doesn’t pay as much attention to Eric Thompson’s work as he should have — sometimes Eric’s work is a bit underappreciated, imo, but he has quietly put together a fantastic body of Mormon film criticism. and I also have to laugh at the “somewhat recently” comment that Randy begins his look at AMV with. Before he was a Bloggernacle gladfly Eric Russell was publishing film review and criticism on AMV back in 2005 and 2006, and AMV was a very early champion of New York Doll and of the work of Christian Vuissa.

  19. Kevin Barney says:

    OK, I read Katie Blakesley’s “‘ A Style of Our Own’: Modesty and Mormon Women, 1951-2008.” I found it very interesting.

    I especially enjoyed the discussion of Elder Kimball’s initial “Style of Our Own” address in 1951. A BYU coed had just purchased her new dress for the upcoming dance, and it had spaghetti straps. So she decided to “kimballize” it by adding a wrap that would cover her shoulders. She and her BYU friends kimballized their wardrobes, until church leaders asked them to stop calling it that and singling out Elder Kimball.

  20. Kristine says:

    Yeah, and there’s more AMV goodness coming up in the Fall! I actually hadn’t realized quite how many bloggern were represented, although I did figure that the mean age of contributors had dropped about 25 years :)

  21. Kevin Barney says:

    “the mean age of contributors had dropped about 25 years.”

    Kristine, to me that is little short of a miracle. Seriously. We’ve never been able to get younger people involved in significant numbers before, and it is actually happening now through the Mormon blogosphere. I’m very happy to see this development, and I think it bodes well for the future of the formal independent Mormon journals.

  22. Dallas Robbins: sorry that I failed to mention that I enjoyed the review. (As for me, I have seen the films, except for Falling. I’m still deciding whether I want to actually see that one, although it’s long since spoiled for me already from the various things I’ve read about it.)

    I also enjoyed Greaves’s “Education of a Bible Scholar” essay.

    And, on the topic of Biblical criticism, I thought that Clyde D. Ford’s article last issue about Talmage and Biblical criticism was excellent. That’s the sort of thing that keeps me renewing my subscription even when I think I can’t afford to.

  23. Hi Kevin,

    Thank you for the post about my article. You asked a question about why I was unable to transfer the virtues I learned from Jacob Milgrom and others into the Mormon community and tradition. The whole point of the article was that in my experience, I tried to bring those virtues with me, but my church experience made it clear that I could not do so and be accepted by the institutional church. My experience was not unlike those of the religious studies instructors who found that their expertise in the Bible and ancient scripture became a liability unless they found a way to toe the party line.

    It’s one thing to be willing to be part of a believing community, but that also assumes that the community will accept you. Judaism has been around long enough that they have a place for people like Milgrom–as do most older religions. In Mormonism, the boundaries are, if anything, contracting.

  24. I found the fiction piece, “The Widower” by Eric W Jepson quite interesting, particularly in light of the dialogue in the bloggernacle over afterlife polygamy. How much it represents the struggles widowers have when choosing to remarry I don’t know, but I do believe it’s representative of the feelings in the church that polygamy really will exist in the hereafter.

  25. Kevin Barney says:

    Hey, Sheldon, thanks so much for chiming in and responding to my question. I really appreciate it!

    Today I read Phyllis Barber “At the Cannery,” in which she uses cannery experiences as a framework for talking about her relationship with the Church.

    Then I read Shawn P. Bailey, “Triptych: Plural,” which is three vignettes illustrating the continued impact of polygamy on people in the Church.

    Kari, “The Widower” is next on my list.

  26. Kevin, looks like “Triptych: Plural” will need to be next on mine.

    I too appreciate Sheldon’s response, as I found his personal sentiment to reflect my own experience of contracting boundaries and anti-intellectualism in the church (not that I’m a bible scholar).

    Kristine, I’m still trying to formulate a letter to the editor regarding the last issue. I hope I won’t be penalized for lack of timeliness. Out of curiosity, what is a rough deadline for letters to be submitted?

  27. I wonder if this is a matter of discipline. It has seemed to me that the boundaries are expanding.

  28. An excellent issue, Kristine. Nate’s article was thought-provoking, and I enjoyed Phyllis Barber’s essay much more than I expected to. (I confess I was expecting a fairly predictable set of post-exit-narrative reflections. I was very pleasantly surprised to find anything but.)

  29. I also have not found contracting boundaries. In some respects it’s how you define those boundaries yourself, I think (and some local petty tyrannies). I’ve found my ward in SLC wonderfully accepting and have had people within the institutional church tell me they enjoyed pieces I had written that in 1980 might have been seen as problematic but now can be embraced as part of the devotional diversity of the LDS Church.

  30. Kevin Barney says:

    OK, I just finished “The Widower.” I enjoyed it. But–and I know this is going to sound terrible–I couldn’t really relate to his deeply conflicted feelings. If I had been a widower for four years, I seriously doubt I would have the problems he had approaching another marriage. It must be that old school Mormonism kicking around inside me…

  31. Kristine says:

    The bulk of each issue goes to the production staff about 6 months before publication (so, for instance, the Winter issue material was all finished up last week), but the typesetter is usually flexible about saving some pages for letters that come in at the last minute. If you got something to me in the next few weeks, it could go into the Winter issue. Hopefully, the new website will be up and running soon-ish, and we’ll have a place for more timely publication of letters (especially shorter ones that are general reactions rather than specific scholarly squabbles)

  32. I just wrote up a short reflection on Sheldon Greaves, “The Education of a Bible Scholar”

  33. So, all told, how many contributors to this issue of Dialogue have “official” ties to the Bloggernacle (ahem, A Motley Vision included)? Just curious, esp. in light of Wm’s AMV post…

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