A British Pageant? Part 1


One of the unique parts of American Mormonism seems to be the penchant for pageants. Although I have never previously attended a pageant I have seen pictures and they seem like strange affairs, like LSD-soaked Roadshows with a glossy sheen of sentimentality. Geography (I am from the UK) is not the only reason I have never been to a pageant, it would very likely not be something I would enjoy. Recently, members of the Church in the UK – after obtaining approval from the First Presidency no less – announced that in 2013 the UK will have their first pageant. I am not convinced this will be a good thing. [Read more…]

Why Mormons love Movember?

Picture of me with a handle-bar moustache, circa 2008
Full disclosure: This moustache was not grown for Movember but simply because it made me look bad-ass!

During our Stake conference just under a year ago the Stake Presidency was changed. It was not a shock.One of the newly called members of that presidency however had to make a difficult decision. Just like other places around the world, during the month of November (Movember), men from all over the country begin to grow a moustache in order to raise money for testicular cancer.  Prior to his call, and while serving as YM president, this good man had been growing a mustache for charity. The next day, the Sunday, he arrived at his meeting sans ‘tache. I admit to feeling a little disappointed.  Not so much with him but with the culture which (either implicitly or explicitly) suggested that having facial hair – especially in the service of such a worthy charity – was incommensurate with serving as an ecclesiastical leader.

Mormons love Movember. It is ethically sanctioned disobedience; and Mormon men get behind it. It is wonderful to see this creeping facial hair spread across our wards and stakes during this wintery month and I love the fact that our ‘disobedience’ serves those outside our community.  Although unbeknownst to anyone but Mormons, these furry upper lips seem to say “I care more about others than I do about the norms of my community”.  However, I wonder whether some of us would still be involved if we were not Mormons, or if we removed the taboo around facial hair.  Part of the motivation for growing the moustache might, in part, be because it is a little bit rebellious. [Read more…]

Chatham House rules and the church

A few of the attributes I appreciate most among public speakers in religious settings are honesty, openness, and vulnerability. One example, might be Elder Jensen’s remarks in San Francisco Oakland a few years ago which were subsequently widely shared.

This unfortunate episode – the sharing and not what Elder Jensen said – demonstrates that it has (potentially) become increasingly costly for visiting authorities to demonstrate these qualities because of the availability of social media and also the tendency among the membership to hang on even throw-away comments. To some extent, the church have begun to embrace these changes and have attempted to harness them. Not only are General Conference addresses made publicly available but so are sermons and discussions from other settings and in various parts of the world.  Embracing these changes in a church which is very concerned with PR has had some unfortunate side effects.  For example, presentations can be so carefully worded that they become staid and uninspiring. [Read more…]

Elder Perry: On the Corpus Clock and becoming a goodly parent

On the Northwest corner of Corpus Christi college in Cambridge, England there is a strange looking contraption. A gold-plated and stainless steel disk, about 1.5 metres (4.9ft) in diameter, sits in front of the Taylor library and glares across at the Porter’s lodge of Kings College. It is, in fact, a clock; although it has neither hands or numbers. It displays the time by opening tiny slits in the clock face which are backlit with blue LEDs; these slits are arranged in three concentric circles denoting hours, minutes, and seconds.

Yet, this is not what is most striking about the clock. Rather the dominating feature is a macabre metal sculpture of an insect, something akin to a locust or perhaps a grasshopper, which sits on top of the clock. Although somewhat symbolic, this insect is not merely cosmetic, for it is the clock’s escapement (the mechanical device which transfers energy to the timekeeping element).

It was officially unveiled by Stephen Hawking in 2008 and was conceived and funded by the inventor John Taylor. Taylor called the insect the Chronophage, which apparently means ‘time eater’. The insect both consumes time and moves it forward. When the clock strikes the hour it rattles a chain inside a hidden, wooden coffin and it is only accurate once every five minutes. Below the clock there is an inscription from the Vulgate of 1 John 2.17: “the world passeth away, and the lust thereof”. [Read more…]

In praise of senior couples

Last Thursday I drove my in-laws to the Preston MTC in England. They have been called to work as CES coordinators for the church in the Greece Athens Mission. They will be the first to tell you that when they first received their call they were not overly pleased with this assignment. Originally, they had intended to serve a humanitarian aid mission and hoped to serve in the US. Subsequently they have made their peace with this assignment and seem to be having fun in the MTC.

Watching them move through the process of submitting their papers, preparing to serve, and then saying goodbye has been humbling. I love and admire my in-laws a great deal. This has not been easy for them and they have been willing to trust in their God as they embark on this period of sacrifice.

In fact, I have new respect for senior couples all over the church. [Read more…]

Two Wedding Sermons: Part 2. I carry your heart

Recently I was fortunate to speak at two weddings.  I thought I would share the texts of the two sermons.  Each has been edited to remove personal anecdotes or jokes.  Because each of these were given within a short space of time, they contain some similar themes but I hope that posting them both will not be redundant.

As I have reflected on what I might say, a famous poem by E.E. Cummings has repeatedly come to mind. It captures perfectly some of what I want to say today. Cummings writes: [Read more…]

Child support and the Temple Recommend interview: Oppressing the precariate

I was raised by only my mother from the age of 8 until my mid-teens. During that time my father paid very little child support and even went to extraordinary lengths to avoid it. We struggled financially. There were times when we could not afford heating or food. For a short while my 3 siblings and I lived with my Mum in a single room in sheltered housing. My mother went to university while working full-time so that she could provide for us.  My Dad is not now a member of the Church but if he had returned I wonder how the Bishop would have handled this question in the temple recommend interview: “Do you have financial or other obligations to a former spouse or children? If yes, are you current in meeting those obligations?” Would the Bishop have required my father to be ‘current’ before giving him a temple recommend and what type of stipulations would the Bishop have placed on being current? I raise this question because I am sure that there are wards where this question is treated quite light or merely as aspirational. I applaud the Brethren for including this question in the Temple Recommend interview but I fear that local leaders are not thinking through the importance of this question as it pertains to our temple covenants. [Read more…]

Badiou, addressivity and Prophetic speech

Saint Paul the Apostle by Pompeo Batoni

Badiou’s ‘Saint Paul’ offers a provocative reading of the Pauline epistles.  Badiou’s purpose is to find in Paul the foundation for Universalism amidst the proliferating differences of late capitalism and contemporary identity politics. By drawing attention to faith (conviction), hope and charity (love), Badiou offers some important insights for how Mormonism should relate to Paul’s theological impulse. Badiou’s Saul is made Paul through an event which radically alters his subjectivity. This new subject is a gift, given by grace, and is available to all. As such, Paul is compelled to declare this new subjectivity both Jew and Greek, Male and Female, Bond and Free. This is, for Badiou, the Love of which Paul speaks. It is not necessarily a call to greater kindness but rather an impulse which declares the possibility of this new creature; it is public attestation that this gift is for all. Using Paul to consider the intersection of love with proselyting and also with being faithful to the gift of our new self are fruitful ways to engage with Paul’s theology and yet there is something else in Badiou’s work, something not fully explored in the book itself, that is the motivation for this post. Badiou’s attempt to establish a universal through Paul traces the way in which Apostolic discourse engages, in some instances, in a different form of addressivity than other forms of speech/text. [Read more…]

‘Sameness chokes oneness’: Notes on ‘A Short Stay in Hell’ by Steven L. Peck

This is not a review, I leave those to others more qualified (BHodges), rather it is a few reflections on some of the themes of the book.  I will try not to give too much away but there are spoilers.  Like most Mormons, I do not know a great deal about Zoroastrianism.  Additionally, I know SteveP well enough to be fairly confident that he is far from ignorant of that religious tradition.  As such I am sure to mis-read certain elements of the book because of that lacuna in my knowledge.  This will certainly be a Mormon interpretation of the book but I hope it is an interpretation that encourages a few others to buy it for themselves.

Last Friday, I read ‘A Short Stay in Hell’ in one sitting.  Apparently, I am not the only one.  Since the book has been published through Strange Violin, with Matt Page’s new excellent cover, comments about the book have been regularly popping up in my Facebook feed.

That same Afternoon, I gave the book to my Mum who also read it within a few hours that same day.  We had two quite different experiences: while she found it a little pessimistic (although thought-provoking) I found it unsettling but unfailingly hopeful. I am, as I have written elsewhere, ‘someone who is intimidated by the boundlessness of the eternities and who can (perhaps) envisage a time when I might choose to cease to exist’.  This book offered some comfort regarding why and how I might choose to be with another for eternity. [Read more…]

Two Wedding Sermons: Part 1. The birthday of my life

Recently I have been fortunate to speak at two weddings and so I thought I would share the texts of the two sermons.  Each has been edited to remove personal anecdotes or jokes.  Because each of these were given within a short space of tim, they contain some similar themes, but I hope that posting them both will not be redundant.

This is the transcript of a sermon I gave on 9 June 2012 in the Southend ward.

As I have been thinking about what I might say today a poem by Christina Rossetti keeps coming to mind.  It is entitled ‘A Birthday’: [Read more…]

Can womanhood be defined through nurturing? The scriptural case

Neither womanhood qua nurturing nor motherhood qua nurturing are explicitly present in the LDS canon. This is unsurprising because women are just not frequently mentioned in the scriptures and when they are they are rarely the protagonists. Where women more than a bit-part in a particular narrative they almost never demonstrate the qualities of nurturing. In terms of developing a scripturally informed view of gender (which, in fairness, we may not want to do), this absence problematizes the association between womanhood, motherhood and nurturing. [Read more…]

Resurrection and the ontological gap

I had the great pleasure of walking some hills and swimming some streams with Ronan a few months ago.  One of our conversations touched on the resurrection and I was reminded of this after his thought-provoking post yesterday.

Like Ronan, death frightens me.  That fear motivates my hope in the after-life but it is also constrains the degree to which I have confidence in the life-after.  To hope of a resurrection in the face of the brute fact of death just seems so flimsy.  As a believing Christian, I have been conflicted about death for some time.  I have a fairly robust commitment that there was an empty tomb and yet I still struggle to have confidence that I too will be resurrected. [Read more…]

Leaving the Saints: Language and Alienation

The BBC’s recent documentary on Mormonism highlighted the powerful feelings of ostracism that are frequently felt by those who leave the Church. These feelings are not unique to those who leave a religion but are often felt by those who join a tradition as well.  In fact, large identity transitions of any kind can have similar consequences.  Yet, with that caveat,  I want to offer some reflections on this phenomenon as it applies to leaving Mormonism and why I believe exclusion is felt at times by those who leave and by those who stay.  In particular I would like think about how and why this occurs within families.

Based solely on anecdotal data I assume that this is not an uncommon experience.  Yet, my experience also suggests that members of the Church are actively encouraged to love and care for those who are left the faith.  This is especially true of those within the family.[1]

Why then do families which had previously been close, or at least not antagonistic, slip all too easily into practices that feel exclusionary?  Because these families have once experienced rewarding emotional ties I believe that this is rarely intentional.  In most cases this gradual alienation is quite unconscious although surely there are times when those who remain and those who leave are both guilty of unkindness toward the other.  These shifts highlight both the fragility of our relationships and also the way in which we rely on a shared language to communicate in the context of this fragility. [Read more…]

Death, phronesis and young Bishops, or, What Aristotle could teach us about calling ecclesiastical leaders?

Recently, I have noticed a concerning trend in the British Isles of calling Bishops who are under the age of 35 and, very often, under 30. This is concerning because these men are very often starting out in their careers and are occasionally in full-time education, because they have very young families who need their attention and because their spouses are burdened with far more than their share of the child-care and housework. These are all important concerns and they are probably common in some form to most Bishops; but I want to explore an additional concern that is, perhaps, unique to young Bishops.  Some forms of knowledge are only gained through practical experience and youth can be a significant barrier to these forms of knowledge.  Moreover, knowledge which comes through practical experience is very often vital to ministering with love and wisdom. This post is not a blanket proscription against calling those aged under 30 to be in such positions.  Rather it is a suggestion that those forms of knowledge which require time and experience to obtain are properly valued.  Calling young Bishops should be the exception rather than the rule because ‘Knowledge of the good for mankind lies through the observation of particulars’ [1]. [Read more…]

Mission rules

A brief exchange with Ardis on the blog got me thinking about idiosyncratic Mission rules.

In my first area, my companion fell off his bed onto his knee and damaged the ligaments.  As a result he was unable to walk for about three weeks.  During this time I tried to read voraciously but by the afternoon I became very frustrated with the lack of physical movement.  In order to alleviate this frustration I purchased a cheap skateboard and began to teach myself some basic tricks. For the next three weeks, in the late afternoon, my companion would hobble downstairs and sit on the step of our flat while he watched me pretend to do kick-flips.  Shortly thereafter, during a Zone conference, the Mission President announced, subsequent to hearing about a Missionary who owned a skateboard, that: ‘Missionaries do not use Skateboards’. [Read more…]

Temple garments and the Don Draper effect

During each temple recommend interview the person conducting the interview has been asked to read a short statement on wearing the temple garment.  Recently the text of that statement has been altered slightly.

Part of the earlier version reads: ‘The garment should not be removed for activities which might reasonably be done with the garment worn beneath the clothing.  As members carefully follow these principles, they will be guided by the Holy Spirit in considering their personal commitment to wear the garment’.

The revised version reads: ‘The garment should not be removed, either entirely or partially to work in the yard or for other activities that can be reasonably be done with the garment worn beneath the clothing.  Members who have made covenants in the temple should be guided by the Holy Spirit to answer for themselves personal questions about wearing the garment.’ [Read more…]

White lies and the Temple recommend interview

“No one can ever enter the celestial kingdom unless he is strictly honest.” (attr. to Joseph Smith by Milo Andrus)

‘Are you honest in your dealings with your fellowmen?’ (Latter-day Saint Temple Recommend Question)

Earlier this year I watched an excellent French film entitled ‘Little White Lies‘ (2010). The opening sequence is a wonderful continuous shot, or so it seems, which follows Ludo (Jean Dujardin, The Artist) through a few cocaine-addled moments in a night-club. This initially dazzling sequence distracts the untrained eye (in this instance, mine) from noticing the subtle edits, learned from Hitchcocks’ ‘The Rope’. The cracks started to appear when I showed my wife the scene later that night.

This sequence is part of a broader and deftly constructed narrative leading to a tragically painful end, which serves as an illuminating precursor for the rest of the film. Guillaume Canet’s movie explores deception between friends; not blatant lies, but white lies, small lies.  The type of lie shared among friends. [Read more…]

Elder Bednar: Restoration and the uniqueness of the Priesthood

Elder Bednar began his address in the Priesthood session with a quotation from President McKay. “If at this moment each one of you were asked to state in one sentence or phrase the most distinguishing feature of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, what would be your answer?” President McKay’s response was, according to Elder Bednar, this: ‘“divine authority” of the priesthood’. This comment was especially pertinent to me because the previous weekend I had somewhat downplayed the uniqueness of LDS claims to Priesthood authority in a conversation with some of my fellow co-bloggers. Over the last few years I have come to frame the restoration in two ways: first, I see restoration and apostasy as concurrent processes occurring both within and without the Church and second, I believe that it is the particular assemblage of doctrines, ordinances and covenants that makes the prophetic restoration of Joseph Smith unique. One of the implications of this second principle is that the restoration cannot be hung on a particular doctrine or ritual as the unique feature of our religion. Rather the uniqueness follows the theological and institutional accumulation of a particular constellation of characteristics. As a result I have been in the process of rethinking Priesthood and Elder Bednar’s talk has given me impetus to hash this out in slightly more formal terms.  This post, more than anything else, in as opportunity to think through these ideas a little more in this community. [Read more…]

Monotony, conversion and spiritual practice

Romford ward building, Essex, England. 1965.

This is a transcript of a sermon given in the Romford ward, January 8th 2012.  I have only just managed to get round to writing it up .  Thanks to John Fowles for his help in preparing the transcript.

The Book of Mormon prophet Alma taught, while referring to Church his father had established: “Behold, he [God] changed their hearts; yea, he awakened them out of a deep sleep, and they awoke unto God. Behold, they were in the midst of darkness; nevertheless, their souls were illuminated by the light of the everlasting word”

To convert is to change from one status to another, and gospel conversion consists in the transformation of man from his fallen state to a state of grace.  Similarly, the word ‘repentance’ also conveys a sense of turning around or changing course. So the words ‘conversion’ and ‘repentance’ both capture a certain sense in which we need to turn (meaning to change direction) in order to be transformed.  In both repentance and conversion we turn to God, but why?  Because he calls to us.

[Read more…]

‘Lest we run too far’: Baptism for the Dead and the Holocaust

An anonymous Latter-day Saint in Arizona has reignited the debate surrounding baptism for the dead and victims of the Holocaust.  This unfortunate incident raises, once again, questions around whether and how Mormons should practice these ordinances and I think it is time for a change, but perhaps not the one Rabbi Cooper was calling for.

This type of offense has happened too often to ignore the evident implications.  As long as the LDS Church continues to pursue a wholesale approach to processing and performing baptisms for the dead lay members of the Church, intentionally or not, will continue to cause hurt to members of other faiths. Is there scope for change without altering what is at the heart of these ordinances.  I believe there is. [Read more…]

On remembering the excommunicated: A modest proposal for change

During the Church’s relatively short life, it has excommunicated many people; unfortunately very few of them ever return to the Church. [Read more…]

Religious Art: Annunciation after Titian

Gerhard Richter, Annunciation after Titian, oil on linen, 1973.

[Read more…]

Giving away Books of Mormon: Which edition would you choose?

Recently I have begun reading the Book of Mormon again using Grant Hardy’s Reader’s Edition.  The other night as I sat in my parent’s house to read, my step-father and I began discussing the problem of giving copies of the Book of Mormon to people.  For us there were a number of considerations: the cost of the copy, the size of the copy (physically), the size of copy (selections vs. entire text) and the readability (versification, footnotes, structure etc.).  The question I pose, therefore, is: which copy of the Book of Mormon would you give to a friend? [Read more…]

Live Blogging Conference Call with Pew Forum

BCC has been invited to participate in a conference call discussing the latest results from the Pew Forum study ‘Mormons in America‘.  I will be live blogging the conversation.  Thank you to the Pew Forum for allowing us to participate. [Read more…]

Mormons in the Pew Forum 2012

This post is written off advanced word and may be inaccurate. The full results will be published tomorrow and this post will be updated as more details are available.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life is about to be published. Like previous years, the researchers have tried to untangle some of the complexities of the Mormon experience, and this year in particular the questions have a special importance. In this latest iteration of the survey, 1,019 Mormons were interviewed and some of this data captures interesting trends among the Latter-day Saints. As a caveat, part of the problem with this data, as always, is a lack of appropriate nuance in the questions.

According to the survey, less than half of Mormon respondents believe that abstaining from caffeine is necessary to continue to be a ‘good’ member of the Church. It is difficult to draw anything substantive about this particular question except that it is clearly trying to tap into something latent concerning the Word of Wisdom. If anything it seems surprisingly high, especially because it is not clearly proscribed by D&C 89.
[Read more…]

Best Comment of the Week (3): Happy Holidays Edition

Belatedly, another edition of Best Comment of the Week. Rules for nomination are the same.

Mark B. on avoiding MoTab

It’s really pretty easy to avoid listening to the MoTabs. It’s like avoiding porn–don’t buy it, don’t click on those links, and if it pops up unbidden on your computer or TV, turn it off.

Keeps my blood pressure in the range my doctor likes, and saves my friends and family from hearing me complain. [Read more…]

Best Comment of the Week (2): And the nominations are…

Another set of the nominations for Best Comment of the Week.  Rules for nomination are the same;  sorry Mark B. [Read more…]

Bonhoeffer and the practice of confession

According to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, true fellowship requires that we must not only live together as believers but also ‘as the undevout, as sinners’.[1]  Lynette, at ZD, recently described a Church where we fail to see ourselves as a hospital but rather focus on projecting sainthood.  Additionally, Scott’s excellent post on worthiness and repentance has outlined very clearly why we are in the position Lynette discussed. In the comments of Lynette’s post, Kristine shared a beautiful post articulating the emotional necessity of being able to avoid the intensely raw suffering of others in our community while recognising that there are moments when grief and pain need to rupture the procedural fabric of our Worship services.  These ruptures are very often difficult to respond to.  Over the summer I read a wonderful account of a teacher who tried to develop classes where children could share difficult experiences and at the same time I was reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  These two texts have helped me see that confession is still a form of spiritual practice but that confessing in private, to people other than our close friends, is one way of extending a particular conception of repentance. [Read more…]

Best Comment of the Week (Month): And the nominations are… [Edited]

Instead of selecting a winner from among the nominations, the powers that be wanted to share them all so that we can reminisce together.  The original rules for Best Comment of the Week are the same and a number of excellent comments were not eligible, sorry John F.

Here are the nominations, simply for your reading pleasure:  [Read more…]

Yes, President: On ecclesiastical titles

Titles in the Church have often bothered me, and probably not for very good reasons.  A somewhat recent link in the BCC sidebar noted, according to Judith Dushku, Governor Romney’s preference for being called by his ecclesiastical titles.  Reading this made me uncomfortable, and not because I do not use ecclesiastical titles.  It just feels unseemly.  I remember hearing a Bishop being told that one of the reasons he might be struggling to motivate people in the Ward is because he did not refer to himself enough by his official title and that he should request this from other members.  Similarly I know of Stake Presidents who insist on using proper titles, even referring to the deacon’s quorum president as President X.  All this strikes me as peculiar or did until I recently re-watched The West Wing.  Specifically, this TV show prompted me to question the extent to which the status of Bishop is governed by a different set of dialogic parameters than other types of conversation? [Read more…]