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Nature, Wisdom, Spirit, Mother

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

This is an expanded and re-written version of a Mother’s Day sermon I gave in church last week, on May 13, 2018.

I’m pretty certain that ever since I became old enough to wonder about matters theological, I hadn’t been all that enthused by the Mormon idea of Mother in Heaven. The Christian message which consistently spoke (and still speaks) most strongly to me was Pauline, Augustinian, and Lutheran; I took (and still take) seriously the omniscience and omnipresence of God presented through the Biblical tradition, and saw His relationship with us as profoundly grace-centered and not at all humanist. This left little room in my thinking for the discourse about Heavenly Mother that I was most familiar with, which seemed rooted in deeply literal and humanist presumptions about God’s identity, sexuality, and relationships. “In the heav’ns are parents single?/ No, the thought makes reason stare! / Truth is reason; truth eternal / Tells me I’ve a mother there“–to a great many of my fellow Mormons, for many years, the claim made in this old hymn seems both persuasive and obvious. But it wasn’t for me.

I write all that in the past tense, though, because not too long ago I read an essay which made me realize that maybe, just maybe, I’ve actually been thinking about, and perhaps even worshiping, Mother in Heaven all along. But let me work around to that. [Read more…]

Prayer for the Day of Pentecost

O God of the nations,
you who speak to all in their own language,
you unto whom all are alike,
black and white, female and male, bond and free:
pour down your spirit upon us;
let its thunder ring in our hearts
as it calls us into your love,
which became flesh in the person of Jesus;
let it teach our tongues to name the wounds
that have long festered in our body,
until we know at last how to pray for their healing;
let it teach us to hear the sighs too deep for words,
the groanings in the hearts of our fellow saints;
let it teach us to speak the long-awaited word of comfort;
let it teach us to pray your kingdom into our midst
until, Great God Almighty, we are free at last.

Lesson 19: The Reign of the Judges #BCCSundaySchool2018

http://www.facebook.com/catedraleseiglesias

Lesson Objective:  To understand the Judges pride cycle, and celebrate the leadership of righteous women.

Introduction:  This lesson attempts to grapple with a lot of material — the entire Book of Judges.  Judges is a mish-mash of Biblical stories, told in dramatic narrative but not necessarily chronological order, falling between the eras of Joshua and Solomon.  [Read more…]

Three strange ways I’ve aquired LDS books

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Emily Debenham is a three-time Mormon Lit Blitz finalist. She loves ancient history, Mormon literature, and telling herself stories. 

There are two things you need to know about my younger self.  First, I was a voracious reader. Second, I was obsessed with LDS fiction.  The combination of being obsessed with a niche market of books and a voracious reader meant that I constantly ran out of books.  So, here are three tales of the strangest ways I acquired my next LDS literature hit.

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The Unfinished Endowment

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Cory B. Jensen is a longtime temple worker and author of Completing Your Endowment, which traces the history of the endowment.

In May of 1842, Joseph Smith first introduced the temple endowment to nine men in the room above his Red Brick Store. Over the next eighteen months, Joseph continued to add to this basic endowment. He introduced separate prayer circle meetings, sealing for time and eternity of a husband and wife, and a capstone two-part ritual sometimes referred to as the second endowment or second anointing. By the time of his death in 1844, Joseph had endowed about thirty-seven men and thirty-two women.

Unfortunately, Joseph never had the completed Nauvoo temple to work with and he left Brigham Young a charge to complete the work. Brigham Young recalled: “Bro. Joseph turned to me and said: ‘Brother Brigham this is not arranged right but we have done the best we could under the circumstances in which we are placed, and I wish you to take this matter in hand and organize and systematize all these ceremonies with the signs, tokens, penalties and key words.’ I did so, and each time I got something more, so that when we went through the temple at Nauvoo I understood and knew how to place them there. We had our ceremonies pretty correct.” [1] [Read more…]

Garments are Symbols of the Atonement

P. Anderson blogged at the Exponent as Starfoxy once upon a time, but entered retirement in order to build a reputation as a bloggernacle cryptid. She lives with her family in the Phoenix metro area, and just got a new solar oven.

Screen Shot 2018-05-17 at 8.58.16 AMI had a conversation years ago where I expressed a desire for the women’s garment pattern to change to a camisole type top. The woman I was talking to stared at me blankly and asked, “Then how would we stop women from wearing sleeveless shirts?”

I wanted to shriek.

Thankfully I did not shriek. (Though after the rant I went on, perhaps my friend would have preferred the shriek.)

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Of Mormons, Baptists, and Liberty of Conscience

Given the recent revival of the kerfuffle between Robert Jeffress and Mitt Romney (see Mike’s recent post), along with Jeffress’s appeal to “historical Christianity” in his rebuttal to Romney, I am reposting here something I wrote back in 2011 at State of Formation. Plus ça change…

On 7 October [2011], Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, was speaking to reporters outside the Values Voter Summit in Washington, DC, where he had just introduced Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry. Taking aim at Perry’s rival for the nomination, Mitt Romney, Jeffress said that Romney, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “is not a Christian.” Jeffress went on to say, “This idea that Mormonism is a theological cult is not news…. That has been the historical position of Christianity for a long time.”

Jeffress has a point: evangelicals have long been uncomfortable with Mormonism, and significant theological differences—most notably over Christology—exist between the two groups. I’m not going to attempt to resolve those differences here, or to defend the proposition that Mormons are in fact Christian (even though I, as a Mormon, affirm my own faith in Christ).

Rather, I wish to seize on an opportunity inadvertently opened by Jeffress’s overly broad invocation of “the historical position of Christianity” to argue that Mormons and Baptists ought to make common cause in opposing the use of such appeals as tests of religious orthodoxy, let alone as de facto religious tests of fitness for political office.

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Ramadan Mubarak!

“Whoever witnesses the crescent of the month, he must fast the month.” [Al Baqarah, 2:185]

Wish your Muslim friends a blessed Ramadan today.  Then ask them whether they are fasting starting today or tomorrow.  Prepare to be fascinated by their answer.

Why?  Because the official start of Ramadan is a subject of mass theological, scientific, and geographic debate.  The best Mormon analog I’ve come up with so far is our spirited conversations about the nuances of the Word of Wisdom.

moon wars

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Are Mormons Christian? Sometimes. But Bigots Are Always Bigots

Anybody who has played the “Are Mormon’s Christian?” game knows that it is a trap. The only possible answer is that it depends on who gets to define the terms. Under some definitions, Mormons are Christian. Under others, we are not. Since Christianity does not have anything like the royal language academies of France and Spain, the only logically coherent way to ask the question is, “are Mormons whatever it is that I think that Christians are?” [Read more…]

There’s a time and a place to rat out your neighbor, but church isn’t it

As a followup to Sam’s post on Mormons referring other Mormons to the ICE, this post is directed to those who feel called to enforce the law in their spare time (or who feel pretty good about other people doing so): Regardless of where you stand on (il)legal immigration, church is simply not the venue where we gather to police civil infractions.

Before rolling your eyes too hard, note that what this post does not do is suggest that the law stops at the chapel’s door. In my experience the Church strives to be in compliance with every jot and tittle of the law, including zoning laws and building codes; we’ve even recast the kitchens in our meeting houses as “serving areas” in order to comply with safety and health regulations! Certainly there is no obligation to sit on our hands and let Zion go to hell in a hand basket with expired tags. Nor am I suggesting we have no debate about the moral implications of, say, an immigration policy that calls for separating families who cross the border illegally as a deterrence. At the same time, however, worshiping and ministering are not first and foremost about law enforcement.

In making my case, let me begin by sharing what I hope is an illustrative example of the importance of the proper venue for our undertakings.

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I am a child of Heavenly Mother

Lily Darais is a mother of four living in Orem, UT.  She earned a B.A. from Michigan State University, a Masters of Education from Harvard, and has earned a diploma in culinary arts.  She currently spends most of her time trying to keep her toddler and baby alive and begging her older kids to practice their instruments.  The following is the Mother’s Day talk she gave yesterday.

The Apricot Blossom

“I am a child of God” is such an obviously loving statement that even–and perhaps especially–children can sing “I am a child of God” with fervent, joyful understanding. While the words, “I am a child of God,” function as a holy affirmation for all of us, they are also more than an affirmation. We can read them as an invitation–to learn more about God, to develop our own divine potential, to consider our utter dependency and also our protected, beloved status. We can even read the words as a gentle rebuke, a reminder to, in the words of President Hinckley, “be a little better.”

Depending on how we read these words, we can be healed, shaped, or driven by our understanding of them.

As I wrote those last words, I happened to glance out of the window at a neighbor’s tree. I am not a tree expert, but the puffy clusters of white blossoms recalled to mind another primary song, this one a little less theologically packed: “Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree.” As I stared at the flowering clusters, I thought of the apricots that will follow in a few short months. I compared myself to an apricot in spring. [Read more…]

That One Particular Word

For most families celebrating today, the word “mom” is not fraught with sadness, fear, hope, confusion, and powerlessness.  But for foster children, the word “mom” is one of the most difficult words they have to deal with and choose how to use.  It doesn’t fall off the tongue in uncomplicated reliance.  It is a constant reminder that something went terribly wrong for them.

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The Art of Jackie Leishman: thoughts on how novelty enters the universe.

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The Many Faces of Eve by Jackie Leishman

I’ve recently had the chance to think about art and its place in the world. One of the long-term projects I’m engaged with as a scientist, is the evolution of novelty. How do new things enter the world? To give a little context to this consider: The appearance of art in Homo Sapiens is hard to date, but for roughly 150,000 years we just chipped some useful tools and called it a day. There are hints of art emerging here and there, but about 50,000-40000 BP something extraordinary happened. Something astonishing flowered into existence. We began to decorate ourselves, to represent parts of our world in bone and on cave walls, our toolkits exploded with creativity, beauty, usefulness, and intricacy.

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Immigration and the Twelfth Article of Faith

In the last couple days, an apparently Mormon Twitter user claimed to have reported someone in his ward to ICE, which started deportation proceedings against the family. I’m dubious of the claim, frankly: this person has a history of acting as trollishly as possible to get reactions. (And, for that reason, I’m not going to name him or link to his tweets—if you really want to see it, it’s not hard to find.)

However, in the last couple of days, we at BCC have verified instances where Mormons have called ICE on their ward members. I assume they claim they’re doing it because of the Twelfth Article of Faith, and especially that part that says that we believe in “obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”

Upfront: those people are lying. They’re calling ICE because they’re racists, xenophobes, or otherwise un-Christian-like.[fn1] [Read more…]

Fearful Tales of Interlagos, Brazil

XDxRvANaHeather Collins is a convert and in-progress author of a book on patriarchal blessings she never shuts up about, but will probably never finish.  Follow her on Twitter.

The only time I ever trained a new missionary was in the most dangerous area I was ever assigned to in Brazil. She was Argentinian, and we dealt with a triple language barrier. I’d come without suitcases to take her back to our area, deep in the interior of São Paulo state. Tatuí was rural, relatively safe, and hours away from the city by public transit. We had a small branch to work with and had just baptized a child with no support at home.

I wasn’t happy about that baptism. I was tired of baptizing young kids whose parents wanted nothing to do with the Church. That was how I was baptized, and I knew the years of heartache that would be ahead of every child we did this to. The price of staying without parental support is higher than most people know.

I was frustrated with my area. I wanted to go anywhere else where I felt like baptism would be more likely. In my mind, that meant going back to the city. 

Then our phone rang. It was my mission president. There had been a change of plans. [Read more…]

“No known records exist”: The fallacy of racial restriction origins

In a well-meaning Ensign article commemorating the end of the Mormon Temple and Priesthood restriction against Black people, an unattributed author makes a pernicious claim about the origin of the restriction. I do not think the author was lying. The author was repeating a fallacy that has been growing in circulation for years, but is nevertheless wrong. And if the author was even remotely aware of recent years’ scholarship, then the author is engaging in prevarication.

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The Church Is Dropping Boy Scouts and Personal Progress. Now What?

If your Facebook feed is anything like mine, you’ve heard that yesterday the church announced that it’s cutting ties with Boy Scouts, effective December 31, 2019. It’s also going to drop Personal Progress for girls, effective the same time (as far as I can tell). Most of the commentary I’ve seen is cheering this decision as a great move.

And I think I agree, though perhaps not for the same reasons many are cheering. [Read more…]

Lesson 18: Be Strong and of a Good Courage #BCCSundaySchool2018

Lesson 18: “Be Strong and of a Good Courage”

The essential question of the Book of Joshua is what it means to be a member of the House of Israel. At the end of Deuteronomy Moses challenges the Israelites, offering them a stark dichotomy:
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Practical Tips for Helping Victims of Abuse

The #MeToo movement is a stone cut from the mountain of silent victims’ pain, rolling forth to break in pieces the corrupt and powerful institutions of this world.

Abuse is no respecter of victims.  Religious and secular, clergy and celebrities, liberal and conservative, rich and poor, women and men.  #MeToo stories infect every community — our friends and families, our churches and coworkers.  Hypocrisy is rampant.

Victims who speak out are prophets, calling the world to repentance.

The world is listening.  You are listening.  As #MeToo has erupted, I hear the same questions again and again from concerned observers with desires to help.

I believe victims, I know abuse happens, but I don’t know who they are. 

Someone close to me is in a terrible relationship.  I’m listening, but I don’t know what to do.

How can I help?  [Read more…]

What’s the Buzz? #LyricJCS

Full disclosure: my history with Jesus Christ Superstar is pretty thin. The first time I remember experiencing it was after my wife and I got married, and she got a DVD of the 1973 film version.[fn1]

The second time was this last Easter on NBC.

The third time was Saturday at Chicago’s Lyric Opera. (Spoiler alert: if you’re in or near Chicago, or will be on or before May 20, get tickets to this show. Right now.) [Read more…]

Blessings

This past general conference was…fun. Change is generally exciting. Even though our stake still hasn’t reorganized the various Elders’ quorums yet, “Ministering” is on the move. Ecclesiology is fun for me, so as an observer as well as practitioner, I’m having a good time of this. However, perhaps the most interesting bit of conference to me was President Nelson’s concluding remarks at the Priesthood Session on liturgy:
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Making Your Calling and Election Sure IV. Hard Times. When Pioneer Living is not Enough.

I was in the LDS Church History Library some time back, dwelling amid the dusty productions of yesteryear as is my wont, when I came across a transcription of the diary of James Cantwell.[1] Cantwell was an Irishman. Cantwell became a Mormon in 1842, but financial issues kept him in Britain until 1850 when he took his family to St. Louis. Six years passed before he could get to the Valley.
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James The Mormon, Round Two

I’m eating hot dogs and chips, and across the table from me is James Curran, a serial entrepreneur and app developer, who “as a hobby” has had a #1 track on iTunes for hip hop/rap under the name James the Mormon. We’re talking about artistic integrity, “clean” rap, the future of Mormon culture, the LDS Deseret Book culture machine, and what representation looks like. [Read more…]

A Bunny Juggling Whipped Cream

I’ve always been horrible at expressing sympathy.  Not that I don’t feel it–I feel it deeply.  I just feel so paralyzed by others’ grief, and I get so worried that what I say or do will be wrong and cause more pain.  So sometimes I back away slowly and feel guilty.  I’m not proud, but if I’m being honest, I’ve definitely taken the coward’s way out and just left people alone who clearly needed love and support.

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Announcing: The Little Purple Book

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By Common Consent Press is proud to announce our newest offering. We have teamed up with the team at Mormon Women for Ethical Government to publish The Little Purple Book-a collection of founding documents, core principles, and devotional readings that define a remarkable organization that is only a year old and has already had a huge impact on our  national and ecclesiastical conversations. [Read more…]

Male Friendships

A quick observation, one backed up by science (at least as a five minute google search revealed): it’s getting more difficult to have male friends as I get older. Yes, my time is largely taken up with family and work. Yes, there are lots of activities in the elders’ quorum. But I find that I simply don’t have very many close friendships with men. Maybe a handful. Most live far away. [Read more…]

Book Announcement: God and the IRS

I’m thrilled to announce that my book God and the IRS: Accommodating Religious Practice in United States Tax Law (New York: Cambridge UP, 2018) has just been published and is available for your reading pleasure.

As background to the book, the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment (as well as the jurisprudence courts have used to interpret and apply the Religion Clauses) have a sometimes-complicated interplay. Because the law sometimes imposes on individuals’ ability to practice their religion, the government can sometimes accommodate their religious practice, exempting religious individuals from generally-applicable laws. At the same time, though, in general, the law can’t favor religion over non-religion; as a result, sometimes religious people can’t get an exemption from the generally-applicable law. A lot of religious litigation turns on where, in a given situation, the line between permissible and impermissible accommodation falls. [Read more…]

Lesson 17: “Beware Lest Thou Forget” #BCCSundaySchool2018

Deuteronomy 6; 8; 11; 32

Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe to do it; that it may be well with thee, and that ye may increase mightily, as the Lord God of thy fathers hath promised thee, in the land that floweth with milk and honey.
–Deuteronomy 6:3

I was very fortunate that during my one and only trip to the Holy Land last year, I had an amazing expert tour guide: Dr. Norma Franklin of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Haifa. Norma patiently answered every question I had ever had about Israel, archeology, and the Bible. I learned more about all of these things that week that I had managed to gather during the previous 50 years of my life.

One of the questions I asked her was supposed to be sarcastic. When we reached a particularly inhospitable hilltop in the Jezreel Valley, I turned to her and said, “Is this where they keep all the milk and honey?” She looked at me quizzically and said, “you know that that was a joke, right?” I knew no such thing, so she patiently explained it with an interpretation that I had never seen before and have not been able to find since, but that fundamentally changed the way I saw the covenant of the Old Testament. [Read more…]

10 Reasons Why Mormons Should Love “A Quiet Place”

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This post contains spoilers-ish.

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Review: Confessions of a Mormon Historian: The Diaries of Leonard J. Arrington

Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless doves. Matthew 10:16

I didn’t know Leonard Arrington. I never met him. I have met several of the people who worked with him in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. And among them is one who I consider the dearest of friends. We have had Leonard’s Adventures of a Church Historian, a chatty memoir, and Lavina Fielding Anderson’s biography of the historian years (1972-1982), Doves and Serpents. The latter, Lavina explains in the front-matter, was derived largely from Arrington’s copious journal. [Read more…]