My daughter was asked to give a little talk on Sunday. Her assigned topic was “the birth of Jesus, and the second coming.” Strange combo for a four year old. My wife came up with a great strategy for helping with these talks. [Read more…]
“Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing; for they shall see eye to eye when the Lord shall bring again Zion.” (Mosiah 12.22)
My son is almost two years old. We play a game when I’m getting him dressed to keep him from trying to roll away. I take my time as I pull his shirt over his head, leaving his eyes covered, asking “Where’s Dorian?” He’s surprisingly patient with this game. Eventually, as his turtle head emerges, his eyes invariably lock onto mine like magnets and he laughs. He’s found again.
It’s a common phenomenon—little children seem to believe they can’t be seen when their own eyes are covered. Psychologists have explained this as egocentrism. A child can’t yet view the world through any other perspective than their own. If they can’t see, nobody can. This is how I’ve thought of Dorian’s game until this morning. [Read more…]
At first glance, David Bazan might seem as unlikely an artist to release a Christmas album as Neil Diamond, not least of all because neither are Christian. Religion seems to have played a very small role—if at all—in Diamond’s career, whereas Christianity has been a central theme in Bazan’s discography from his Pedro the Lion days to his present solo work. But Bazan “broke up” with Christianity in 2009 when he released his album “Curse Your Branches.” Why a holiday album now? [Read more…]
The Sin of Certainty is a confessional book about how biblical scholar Peter Enns came to understand “belief” and “faith” less in terms of facts and knowledge, and more in terms of trust and love. Many Christians, Enns says, place being “correct” about God at the center of faith, which sets them on a shaky foundation that sometimes results in crisis and loss of that very belief. Enns speaks from personal experience here. He’s encountered what he calls “uh-oh moments,” times when what he thought he knew no longer seemed viable in the least. Such moments may be God’s way of inviting us to a more nuanced, closer relationship, breaking down the barriers of certainty in order to let faith flourish within our messy human lives:
“I feel it is part of the mystery of faith that things normally do not line up entirely, and so when they don’t, it is not a signal to me that the journey is at an end but that I am still on it” (154). [Read more…]
The Deseret News just published a column by Ralph Hancock, a Harvard-trained BYU professor of political science. Hancock suggests black people in America would be better off if they could learn to see the world through his white male eyes. “Black stories matter,” the headline says, and the substance of the piece is that the biggest problems facing black people are ultimately their own fault, or at least the solution to their problems are chiefly in their hands. [Read more…]
My wife served in the Russia, St. Petersburg mission. Her body left Russia but her heart stayed there. We had the chance to visit a few years ago and it was an amazing trip. Without her connection to Russia through the church I’m sure I never would have visited, and I never would have experienced the heft of that incredible country.
Now our missionaries in Russia are facing new restrictions due to a new anti-terrorism law Vladimir Putin recently signed. From the Deseret News:
“The law creates a broad definition for missionary work, and will restrict any such activity if it is not undertaken by individuals who are affiliated with registered organizations. Additionally, the locations where such work can unfold would be restricted to houses of worship and other related religious sites, critics claim.“
Another black man in America was shot and killed by police yesterday. I involuntarily witnessed the slaying just before turning off the bedside lamp last night because it showed up in my Twitter feed, a video already playing, and I knew how it would end but couldn’t stop watching and couldn’t sleep and felt sick and felt angry. I personally know too few people of color intimately enough to reach out to them directly for solace. And really, it would be pretty unfair of me to do that anyway. So I go to James Baldwin, an African American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic who was an incredible and thoughtful writer, and who died in the eighties.
From the Church’s new Doctrinal Mastery materials on “Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge“:
Invite a student to read aloud the following account shared by Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Ask the class to listen for how a young woman acted in faith when faced with a challenging situation:
“Recently, I spoke with a Laurel from the United States. I quote from her email:
“‘This past year some of my friends on Facebook began posting their position on marriage. Many favored same-sex marriage, and several LDS youth indicated they “liked” the postings. I made no comment.
“‘I decided to declare my belief in traditional marriage in a thoughtful way.
“‘With my profile picture, I added the caption “I believe in marriage between a man and a woman.” Almost instantly I started receiving messages. “You are selfish.” “You are judgmental.” One compared me to a slave owner. And I received this post from a great friend who is a strong member of the Church: “You need to catch up with the times. Things are changing and so should you.”
“‘I did not fight back,’ she said, ‘but I did not take my statement down.’
“She concludes: ‘Sometimes, as President Monson said, “You have to stand alone.”
* * *
A different version of her experience might read something like this: [Read more…]
I was caught flat-footed, a fifteen year old kid alone in a homely bookstore at the edge of Nauvoo, Illinois. She was a sweet grandmotherly type dripping with pity. If I doubted it before, it was now clear I wasn’t in an LDS bookstore despite the temples and angel Moronis gracing book covers all around. I stood in front of a nine-squared quilt hanging on the wall, each square depicting familiar but odd scenes. I understood the shopkeeper’s message loud and clear: Surprise! Joseph Smith made it all up.
I was surprised. My heartbeat quickened—it was my first encounter with an “anti-Mormon” in the flesh. I was a lifelong member of the LDS Church—a teacher’s quorum president for Pete’s sake! I’d read Joseph’s account of the First Vision countless times. I’d seen the film showing barefoot glowing Father and Son floating above the boy from Where the Red Fern Grows. Multiple versions? I knew what she was saying couldn’t be true. [Read more…]
I started my first podcast from scratch six years ago after cajoling FAIR—now FairMormon—into sponsoring it (meaning they paid for the webhosting and the show carried their name). I started from scratch and I was thrilled when Richard Bushman agreed to be on that unknown show. He appeared in episodes 3 and 4. You can tell from the sound quality, if not from my nascent interview skills, what sort of popsicle stand I was operating at the time, but Richard’s candor, gentleness, and intelligence is evident throughout. He played a pretty substantial part in my then-growing interest in history. I owe a lot to him, and I’m glad I’ve been in a position to let him know that.
Chances are, many BCC readers have been impacted by Richard’s work, perhaps Rough Stone Rolling most of all, but also in many lesser known ways. Now’s your chance to express your gratitude. [Read more…]
Karl G. Maeser was a pretty cool German. He was a Latter-day Saint convert, a key figure in establishing what became Brigham Young University. He believed in the importance of education and refused to disconnect it from moral formation. I think he was right about that. There’s an old story about Maeser that used to inspire me:
“I have been asked what I mean by ‘word of honor.’ I will tell you. Place me behind prison walls–walls of stone ever so high, ever so thick, reaching ever so far into the ground–there is a possibility that in some way or another I may escape; but stand me on the floor and draw a chalk line around me and have me give my word of honor never to cross it. Can I get out of the circle? No. Never! I’d die first!”
The underlying principle here is laudable. Our word of honor should mean something. We shouldn’t give it flippantly. We should do the utmost to keep it. Trust is a key ingredient in human relationships.
So far so good. But the story can also be seen as absurd—even potentially insidious—if taken the wrong way. [Read more…]
[The conclusion of my Adam Miller 2-part post extravaganza. Here’s part 1.]
I was surprised to meet the same epistlatory voice Miller used in Letters to a Young Mormon in his latest book, The Gospel According to David Foster Wallace. The books are very similar and very different. Both are made up of a series of short, topic-focused chapters written in a friendly style. But rather than excavating Mormon scripture and thought as in Letters, he’s identifying a “gospel” within the writings of David Foster Wallace, author of one of the best novels of our time, Infinite Jest.
Those who are familiar with Miller’s theology (and perhaps Latour’s too, as I outlined in a previous post) will understand why he’s comfortable using the word “gospel” in his Wallace book when there isn’t a trace of Jesus—except maybe for that one typo where he calls DFW’s character Chris Fogle “Christ Fogle” (page 79; just squeezing Adam’s shoes here). [Read more…]
Letters to a Young Mormon came out in 2013. It kicked off the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship’s Living Faith book series. I was the greenie at BYU’s Institute and it was thrilling to work on such an engaging and unique manuscript. We’ve published three more Living Faith books since then (I edit the series) and Miller kept on writing, too. His latest book is called The Gospel According to David Foster Wallace: Boredom and Addiction in an Age of Distraction. It’s a nice foil to Letters, so I’ll risk spoiling some of the magic by dissecting it a bit here.
I get a message every other month or so from a friend or relative who knows someone who isn’t merely struggling with their faith but who has announced they’re past that point. They are leaving the church. Their exit narratives, like our monthly testimony meetings, often follow a similar formula including a list of problems they’ve discovered in church history, belief, or practice.
I got another message today. Chances are good you’ve received one at some point, too. [Read more…]
Or, how to stick up for political correctness when it gets ridiculed at church.
A few weeks ago in Sunday school I was chided for suggesting that Christopher Columbus didn’t merit our unalloyed appreciation. I did it with as much diplomacy as I could muster, making sure to emphasize everyone was entitled to their own opinion. My observation was dismissed as the product of too much “political correctness” in the world. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard “PC” being spoken of disparagingly at church—even some general authorities have spoken of it as something to be lamented if not rejected. But it was the first time my own observation directly provoked the disparagement. And it felt terrible. In the current political climate of the United States we’re seeing compelling evidence that dismissing the idea of political correctness wholesale is a huge mistake. [Read more…]
The following activity verse could be used to teach children to be thankful for God’s creations. It is taken from the Primary song “The World Is So Big”:
The world is so big and, oh, so round,
[form a large circle with arms]
And in it God’s creations are found;
Stars shining brightly through all the night,
[straighten and wiggle fingers]
Sun in the day so warm and so bright.
[form a large circle with arms]
The world is so big and, oh, so round.
God loves us all; our blessings abound.
[grasp arms and hug self]
(From Teaching, No Greater Call, Part F: Methods of Teaching.)
I’ll get around to why I opened this post with an excerpt from the church’s teaching handbook, but first I should explain that I was going to open with a simple declaration:
Teaching Adult Sunday school is a very difficult church calling. [Read more…]
The Catholic church is currently celebrating a Holy Year of Mercy, a time designated by the Pope to focus the church more closely on what he considers to be God’s most important attribute and “the core of the Gospel message” (7). The Name of God is Mercy is an interview between Pope Francis and a Vatican reporter. It’s conversational and not overly polished, with a few striking moments of candor.
For example, the interview begins with the Pope describing the process of inspiration that led to his Holy Year declaration: [Read more…]
It seems like too many times this year I’ve sat in a class (Elder’s Quorum invariably) where the teacher confesses complete lack of preparation. It’s a deflating experience. I look forward to reading some of yours in the comments!
Similar to the unprepared teacher is the absent one. I’ve had to pinch hit a few times this year. Luckily I’m a gospel doctrine instructor and so I’ve used already-prepared lesson plans. This is better than the usual go-to solution: reading straight from the manual and asking the class to share “personal experiences.” “Does anyone have anything to add to that? No? OK, moving to the next paragraph.”
But let’s say you’re supposed to pinch hit and you don’t have old lesson materials you can reuse. What do you do? What have you seen done?
Here’s one possibility: [Read more…]
Lesson 39 covers Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians—although it may not have been written by Paul, might not have been an epistle, and likely wasn’t originally for the Ephesians! One of this book’s overall themes, however, reflects something that comes up in many of Paul’s writings: the desire to unite a diverse group of people into a body of Christians. Truths don’t seem to hinge on authorship here. It also has a rousing section on grace which segued nicely with one of President Uchtdorf’s recent conference addresses.
Much of my lesson focused on that perennial Pauline problem of promoting unity in diversity (you can see my entire lesson outline here). This post focuses on lesson 39 but really serves to provide three tips to help teachers hone their craft for youth and adult Sunday school classes. (More of my tips for teachers are linked here.) [Read more…]
Next week is Disability Awareness Week at BYU, so I thought it would be nice to write a post on the subject. A few weeks ago I was asked to substitute teach for elder’s quorum (I usually teach Sunday school). The lesson happened to be chapter 17 of the President Benson manual, “Keeping the Law of Chastity.” While reading over the lesson I found a few good quotes to build the discussion around.1 While preparing the lesson I came across a certain manual balrog.
“Manual balrogs” are excerpts that seem troubling, confusing, or otherwise inappropriate for your particular class. The manuals instruct teachers to “prayerfully select…teachings that you feel will be most helpful to those you teach,” and this particular quote was not selected for inclusion in my lesson:
“Purity is life-giving; impurity is deadly. God’s holy laws cannot be broken with impunity. Great nations have fallen when they became morally corrupt, because the sins of immorality left their people scarred and misshapen creatures who were unable to face the challenge of their times.”
President Russell M. Nelson’s talk began with some personal reflections on the loss of his dear friends and fellow quorum members over the past year but soon turned to focus on the wives of two of them: Donna Smith Packer and Barbara Dayton Perry. This made me realize again how little I know about these women and how much more I’d like to know. President Nelson held them forth as exemplars of the powerful influence that strong and courageous women can have “not only on families, but on the Lord’s Church, as wives, mothers, and grandmothers; as sisters and aunts; as teachers and leaders; and especially as exemplars and devout defenders of the faith.” While much could be said about this engaging talk, I’d like to focus on the last point about women as “exemplars and devout defenders of the faith.” [Read more…]
It’s incredibly easy these days to update online content. It’s also relatively easy to compare updated content to older content, especially with the help of that magical “Way Back Machine.”1 (Check out lds.org in its original “Under Construction” phase, and its first full iteration. Pretty nifty but it needs more animated gifs.) When I was told the “Race and the Priesthood” essay on the Church’s excellent Gospel Topics section of the website was updated it only took a few minutes to make a comparison using that website and Microsoft Word. But before I continue let me say if you haven’t read the essay already, I urge you to read the whole thing rather than focusing on the parts that were updated merely to verify if they comport with your political, religious, or cultural sensibilities. Even if you have already read it, you might read it in full again because we could all use a refresher. So go here first: lds.org/topics/race-and-the-priesthood.
I’ll wait for you, continuing when you get back. [Read more…]
Around the age of thirteen I became deeply interested in the Millennium. When I was in the seventh grade I hung a picture of the second coming in my room. It showed Jesus descending to (what now looks like) the deserts of southern Utah, flanked on the right and left by angels with long trumpets. Truth be told, I was actually more interested in the “signs of the times” than in the peace Jesus’s millennial reign would inaugurate. The most vivid sign of all, for me, was that the moon would turn red with blood. Without recognizing it at the time, I was especially thrilled with the idea that some sort of complete upheaval was on the way, that “the world” and “the wicked” (usually synonymous) would get their just desserts while good church members like me would miraculously escape harm. [Read more…]
Something pretty incredible occurred this week for lovers of the Book of Mormon. People will be talking about it for a long while yet. For the first time ever, the Church made available full color photographs of the entire printer’s manuscript (except for three lines which have been missing from the manuscript for a very long time). Of course, everyone’s talking about two pages out of the two-part volume’s apx. 976 pages: photographic images of the chocolate-colored stone Joseph is reported to have used for much of the Book of Mormon translation. (See Richard Bushman’s reaction here.)
During the press conference, Assistant Church Historian and Recorder Richard Turley briefly discussed the decision to publish the photographs: [Read more…]
While I was looking at the Gospel Topics Essays a while back I noticed a link that says “Seek learning, even by study and also by faith, which led me to a short Gospel Topic called “Gospel Learning.” This Topic seems geared to help contextualize the Gospel Topics Essays for people who are unsettled by them. (See here for the difference between Gospel Topics Essays and Gospel Topics.) As usual, this Topic is unsigned, but at least part of it (the airplane analogy) borrows from Elder Marcus B. Nash’s 2012 General Conference address.
A lot of digital ink gets spilled on recent Gospel Topics essays about race, polygamy, the First Vision, Mormon scripture, etc. The Gospel Topics page itself is occasionally updated without public announcement. News of the more sensational pieces spreads via back-channel whispers followed by blog post and Facebook discussions and perhaps a Peggy Fletcher-Stack article or two. Some people have been frustrated that many church members are likely unaware of the Gospel Topics because they haven’t been highlighted in General Conference or in letters to local leadership. Newer church curriculum materials call direct attention to the essays, though. At the same time, they aren’t featured obviously on the home page of lds.org, but you can find them currently in the menu options under “Scriptures and Study>Learn More”:
The last few months of my mission changed my relationship to God in a very unexpected way. That’s when it seemed to me God decided to go home early while I finished my full two years. I noticed God’s absence most during personal prayer. What formerly seemed like a welcome opportunity to express gratitude and ask for assistance, or like an intimate confession or reunion, became to me like speaking alone to a bare ceiling.
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…
Elder Brent H. Nielson spoke about something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately: interacting with people who no longer associate with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.Mormonism burrows deep. Its roots spread throughout our soul’s soil. Disaffiliation can lead to heartache, anger, confusion, or shock for those who remain in communion with the Church as well as for those who don’t. Pulling up roots is disruptive and messy. [Read more…]
I have friends and family members who have left the church. A few actively removed their names from church records. Most of them simply slipped into “inactivity” and some even still consider themselves Mormons. I have some confessions to make about my various relationships with them. [Read more…]
Are science and religion mutually combative foes? The question’s not a new one, nor is it necessarily more pressing today than it’s been in the past. The turn of the twentieth century marked another period of intense cultural shifts, not least of all regarding widespread views about the relationship between the natural sciences and religion. [Read more…]