Religious Art: Doubting Thomas

Michaelango Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610), Doubting Thomas, Oil on canvas, (1602-3).

Even today there is something quite shocking about Caravaggio’s ‘Doubting Thomas’.  For me, it is disturbingly literal.  The ragged apostles, perhaps even a little ugly, are crudely observing Thomas put his finger inside the wound of Jesus.  It is both invasive and a little mundane; yet these qualities suggest something profound about our relationship with Christ. [Read more…]

Spiritual orphans

Figures in a Landscape (1972-3) by Sidney Goodman

My father and mother were sealed in the London temple but subsequently their sealing was cancelled and my father was excommunicated. I have not seen him for over 10 years. Since my mother’s divorce she remarried and has been sealed again in the temple. Currently, according to the Church Handbook of Instructions, ‘After a husband and wife have been sealed in a temple, if one of them is excommunicated or has his or her name removed from Church membership records, his or her temple blessings are revoked. However, the sealing blessings of the innocent spouse and of children born in the covenant are not affected’.[1]  Although I find some solace in the continued validity of the sealing to my mother, I am still spiritually fatherless, an orphan of sorts.

Yet, in another sense, I am not. [Read more…]

Devotion, scripture and memorization: Elder Scott

Elder Scott, in his recent Conference address, extended a call to greater devotion of our scripture. This devotion, in his life, seems, in part, to have emerged from the practice of memorizing scripture. Within Mormonism memorizing scripture is tightly bound with seminary and the experience of Missionaries. The practice is often geared toward establishing as truth a particular doctrine or concept through a specific verse from the standard works. The ability to do this well seems to have become the Latter-day Saint definition of a ‘scriptorian’.  As such, I fear this association has lead some to conflate the practice of memorization with the act of proof-texting but this is not necessarily the case and it under-appreciates the religious value of this form of devotion.

[Read more…]

Listening with generosity

Last Sunday, I was walking down the hallway toward Sunday School right at the end of the allotted hour; as I neared the foyer where the class is given I heard a lady giving the closing prayer. As she prayed for the Conference speakers in preparing their talks I was moved by her expression of faith. [Read more…]

Religious Art: St. Peter weeping before the Virgin

Giovanni Franceso (Guercino) Barbieri (1591-1666), ‘Saint Peter weeping before the Virgin’, oil on canvas, 1647.

Having previously seen a print of this painting, I was surprised at my immediate response to the original when I visited the Louvre earlier this year. I have not experienced real grief in my life and as I stood before this masterpiece there was an unexpected sense that this image articulated something that I knew I would one day have to feel. It was almost prophetic but also, in one sense, surprisingly un-Christian.

[Read more…]

‘My age it means nothing’

If anyone has ever doubted the awesome institutional power of BCC, then the last few days have brushed all doubters aside.

Barely five months have passed since Ronan suggested that young men from the UK should be allowed to serve LDS missions at the age of 18. As from today, young men will have that right without any special permission. [Read more…]

Saintliness and fidelity: Thoughts on the Priesthood

Recently I presented a paper at the EMSA conference.  Time constraints, and also a sense of their devotional rather than scholarly nature, required that I remove some of the comments I wanted to make.  As such I have tried to describe them below.

At the conclusion of his recent book, Douglas Davies offers the reader a ‘glance’ at the sacrificial spirituality of Mormonism by connecting specific themes in Joseph Smith’s theology with Richard Hutch’s view of saintliness and the ‘ongoing human sacrifice’ from which it is formed. [Read more…]

Riot van

This is a difficult post to write, not least because people are still trying to come to terms with the damage, and so I hope not to offend; but if I have I apologise beforehand and ask that if you disagree please do so with respect.

Britain is currently reeling from a series of riots that have hit many of the major cities.  My local town centre was vandalised and robbed but my family have not witnessed the worst of the damage [1].  Shops have been looted, historic buildings have been burned and innocent people have been attacked.

During my honeymoon violence flared in Paris.  Two young men had been shot by police and the youth of the Banlieue’s took to the streets in protest of police oppression.  The riots rippled through France but eventually order was restored.  London was again fairly quiet last night but riots recurred in various city centres around the country. [Read more…]

Revealing and revelation: Thoughts for Home and Visiting Teachers

After thinking about how ‘taking care‘ is a sign of sacred space I want to examine another feature of the sacred, namely revelation. [Read more…]

Taking care and constructing the sacred

A few days ago, in a summary of his excellent article on Mormon Environmental Theology, Jason Brown asked ‘Must nature be a separate domain for its sacredness to be apparent?’ Steve Evans responded that ‘Sacredness is a human concept, attributed by humans (through God, one assumes).’ For sacredness to become ‘apparent’ it must already be present prior to becoming recognisable. Jason responds that he wants to think about how ‘to take a concept like sacredness which does imply a sort of separation (think temple) and expand it to the forest as a space where people can both pray and work.’ [Read more…]

Fear and temptation

A few months ago, Jim F. wrote a post considering both references to fear and perfect love in LDS scripture (the First Epistle of John and an Epistle of Mormon).  Jim argued that each injunction invokes two different scenarios: one which pertains to the Final Judgement and our relationship with God and the other refers to our relationship with other people.  Jesus’ anxiety in Gethsemane, prior to the trial/temptation (gr. Peirasmos)[1], is related to John’s and Mormon’s insight[2] and I want to explore this briefly. [Read more…]

Creation, suffering and a rosary

Between February 23rd 2002 and July 2nd 2008, Ingrid Betancourt was a political prisoner.  An activist, anticorruption campaigner and a senator, Betancourt was held captive by leftist guerrillas.  Her remarkable rescue brought worldwide media attention.  As she left the plane she held in her hand a rosary and a crucifix that she had made from the same thread that her captors used to weave their gun belts.

Her rosary was still with her as she visited sacred Catholic sites and worshipped there.

[Read more…]

Roadshows and the rising legitimacy of the theatre

Terryl Givens’ ‘People of Paradox’ is an important attempt to develop a theoretical and empirical account of Mormon Culture. In this post, I want to take issue with his exploration of the transition in Theatre.  In short I believe Givens has failed to situate Mormonism’s approach to Theatre within the broader context of changes in class and highbrow culture in America.

Givens argues that the theatre was important for early Mormons, even though very little original work was published.  This interest has diminished.  However, his account fails to develop the association between changing Mormon interests and practices and the rise of the ‘highbrow’ in America.  Consequently, he misses how the legitimation of the Theatre and the move toward middle-class assimilation shifted the cultural landscape of the Latter-day Saints.  Moreover, in trying to provide a ‘cultural history’ of Mormonism he seems to have adopted too readily a contemporary frame of American culture which has invariably shaped that history.  As a result, the data Givens pulls together suggest that his argument is a series of holes held together by string. [Read more…]

Embarrassment and Missionary Work

Sharing the gospel with friends and neighbours is usually difficult for most members in the British Isles. Missionaries often struggle to find people who are interested. When they do find someone our worship services either fail to speak directly to their concerns or they fail to inspire the forms of devotion that are congruent with their previous religious heritage. For local members there are a variety of social costs that come with being Mormon; our theology, history and praxis are quite alien to many Europeans (as Tresa Edmund’s Guardian column demonstrates). As Mauss has outlined, being a member of the Church in Western Europe is not easy. Within this network of dispositions, doctrine and our past, Embarrassment serves an unusual role in inhibiting the Church’s growth. [Read more…]

The Limits of Community

“You can’t trust Melanie but you can trust Melanie to be Melanie.” Ordell in Jackie Brown

‘He that saith he receiveth [my law] and doeth it not, the same… shall be cast out’ (D&C 41:5).

According to the D&C, there is a point at which an individual’s sins can become so detrimental to the community that they need to be formally excluded (cf. D&C 41:5).  Excommunication is a difficult topic that requires care.  This discussion is not intended to focus upon those times when excommunication has been used and there is, seemingly, no direct impact upon the community (though I am sure this sometimes happens).  Rather I want to consider whether it might be possible to accept sinners as part of the community, even when their sins are potentially destructive.  Wendell Berry wrote: ‘A community can trust its liars to be liars… and so enjoy them’.  If a community could accept the sins of another with this type of love then excommunication might not be such an essential part of our ecclesiology. Yet, I am sceptical of such an approach to sin and the community. [Read more…]

Religious Art: The Hand of God

Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), ‘The Hand of God’, marble, 1898. [Read more…]

Elder Perry: The Act of Sabbath

Elder Perry, in the first talk of the SM session (after Pres. Monson’s welcome), observed: there is ‘no better way for us to begin or continue to be an example of the believers than in our observance of the Sabbath day’.  Elder Perry then counselled, based on D&C 59:9-10, that there are three things the Lord expects from me on this day: ‘first, to keep ourselves unspotted from the world; second, to go to the house of prayer and offer up our sacraments; and third, to rest from our labors’.  Using E. Perry’s homiletic and, in my view, intentional mis-reading of this passage[1], I want to offer my own meditation on his invitation to ‘avoid… worldly distractions of businesses and recreational facilities on the Sabbath day’ [2]. [Read more…]

An Ecclesiology for the Fallen

This post is a brief attempt to approach a question: How can perpetually sinful individuals trust that they have received revelation on behalf of another? [Read more…]

Religious Art: Sunflower Seeds

Ai WeiWei (1957-present). ‘Sunflower Seeds’, porcelain, 2010.

The Unilever Series is an ongoing commission that is displayed in the Turbine Hall at London’s Tate Modern.  The most recent addition to this series is Ai WeiWei’s ‘Sunflower Seeds’.  Each of the 100million porcelain seeds has been produced through traditional methods in a Chinese town famous for their porcelain.  This is a staggering effort, and one which has saved a town from financial ruin.  Ai WeiWei’s Sunflower Seeds are situated clearly within the conceptual art tradition and invoke a number of themes: mass-production, individualism, what does it mean to be ‘made in China?’,and, perhaps, most significantly, the lives of those who lived through the Cultural Revolution in China. [Read more…]

Parochialism and Church callings

Scott’s excellent post on comparative advantage and using opportunity cost in considering ward callings provided some impetus for me to articulate one of the concerns I currently have with how we approach callings.  Scott noted that ‘supply generally exceeds demand’.  Though there are some areas of the Church where this might not be accurate (i.e. my Ward) I am sure that this is generally true in a wide variety of areas.  Moreover, if this accurate it suggests an excellent question: What do we do when the Ward is saturated? [Read more…]

Religious Art: The Vision after the Sermon

Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), ‘The Vision after the Sermon: Jacob wrestling with the Angel’,Oil on canvas, 1888.

In my attempt to reinvigorate this series on ‘Religious Art’ I thought I would return to themes of the first post.  Jacob wrestling the Angel. [Read more…]

Lacan and the pre-mortal life

Jacques Lacan is best known for his three registers (the Symbolic, the Imaginary and the Real) in psychoanalytic theory.  It is through the Symbolic that human subjectivity and the unconscious are ordered.  The Symbolic is tied to language (cf. Zizek).  The Imaginary is a conception of the body-as-whole and is also a psychical map of our corporeality.  The Imaginary (the embodied unity) is reinforced and made possible through the Symbolic (the speaking subject, or ‘I’).  Lacan’s descriptions of the Real are often difficult and intentionally ambiguous [1] and yet I sense they have some relevance for how we think about the pre-mortal life. [Read more…]

“Bishop Kvetch” and busyness

Research on time-use has observed an increasingly powerful association between prestige and busyness among some social groups; this research is relevant to the Church’s repeated efforts to reduce the pressure on Bishops.

[Read more…]

Why I would give a Dialogue subscription for Christmas?

Dialogue has impacted my religious experience a great deal.  I recall reading Marilyn White’s article ‘Making sense of suffering‘ and coming across these lines: we must become ‘comfortable with not making sense of suffering’ and we must realise ‘that we don’t have all the answers and that contradiction and unfairness is part of mortality’.  When I first read this, I had recently been called to a responsibility that would require me to serve a diverse group of people and respond with empathy and love to their pain and suffering.  This article gave me a vision of how to best serve those suffering Saints that I would encounter and it prepared me to learn other lessons about empathy.

Additionally, I have seen material from Dialogue influence the lives of other people.  [Read more…]

Sharing reasons to exist

Ronan recently speculated (apparently after some discussion with Brad) that sealing ordinances encourage ‘the dead to stay together at a time when, with the immensity of eternity before us, we may feel drawn to leave our earthly relationships behind’.  In ‘Everything is Illuminated’, at the conclusion of Alex & Jonathan’s ‘very rigid search’, Alex writes to Jonathan and explains that through their journey ‘we have shared something to exist for’ [1].  I want to explore a little more fully, in my own way, the ideas underlying this perspective. [Read more…]

Review: Joseph Smith, Jesus & Satanic Opposition

Douglas J. Davies, Joseph Smith, Jesus and Satanic Opposition: Atonement, Evil and the Mormon Vision (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010).  292pp., inc. index, bibliography, textual references. Paperback: £16.99, ISBN: 978-1-4094-0670-9.

Davies argues that Mormonism’s force as a religion is intelligible through a relational trinity (Jesus, Satan and Joseph Smith) evoked in three paradigmatic scenes: the Grand Council, Gethsemane and the Sacred Grove.  This intelligibility makes Mormonism Plan of Salvation both accessible and appealing.  Davies’ attempts to speak to and through a form of Mormonism which is now fading, or at least shifting, gives this text a liminal quality.  He attributes some of the major shifts in LDS ecclesiology and theology to the reconfiguration of this trinity.  And yet, despite being focussed upon Mormonism’s past, his book sensitises members of the Church, and interested observers, to those changes currently occurring. [Read more…]

Mormon Vodou

Douglas Davies, in his paper at the ‘The Worlds of Joseph Smith’ conference, argued that though Mormonism might become a Global religion (in the sense of having a world-wide presence) it is unlikely that it will become a World religion (in having multiple and diverse manifestations across the globe).  One constraint, Davies notes, is generated by relying upon centralised authority, which is increasingly important in religions that require high levels of energy (cf. Stark).  However, Basquiat draws attention to the process of syncretism (the union of different forms of belief) among Haitian Mormons and consequently suggests that we re-think Davies’ thesis. [Read more…]

Monson is Pro-Evolution: The Unsaid Sermon

A number of LDS Apostles have not been shy about expressing their personal views on the topic of evolution; even if those presentations have necessitated (at times) extraordinary caveats, i.e. ‘The Law and the Light’.  However, President Monson’s distancing from and (IMO) out-right repudiation of those ideas is less well known.

[Read more…]

Elder Hales & Elder Kearon: Agency and Self-Deception

Two talks at the most recent GC raised important questions concerning agency.  Consequently I want to consider those questions through the work of Walter Brueggeman.  [Read more…]

Derrida, Institutions and the Unforgivable

Discussion abounds of late on Institutional apologies.   Using Derrida’s work on forgiveness I think it is possible to argue that the Church should not ask for forgiveness.  Most often such calls are contextualised around the Priesthood ban or Homosexuality.  From the outset I want to be clear that I am not taking any position regarding the inspiration of the ban or Prop 8 nor that the discourse to support these positions is correct.  In fact I am assuming the opposite simply because most ‘calls for an apology’ come from people who accept that these actions/decisions were mis-guided. [Read more…]