The Rock of Faith, the Water of Faith

Moses_strikes_the_rock_001I’ve been thinking about the kind of testimony and faith I want to nurture in myself and others, and I’ve got a couple of way over-extended metaphors to throw out.* I have experienced at least two different kinds of faith, and I’ve seen these differences in others, too: Faith like a rock, and faith like water.

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A Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation

Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew pose for a photograph in the Pope's office

Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew pose for a photograph in the Pope’s office.

Pope Francis has been getting a lot of good press lately. He’s shown himself to be visionary, courageous, and disruptive. In the Christian world at large right now there is a remarkable rapprochement underway between the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, due in no small measure to the pope’s efforts, but also to another religious figure that makes fewer headlines but who has been steadily preaching a gospel of care for the poor and disadvantaged, of our moral responsibility for the way we use natural resources, and of the real linkages between those two concerns. Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople of the Orthodox branch of Christianity, is known as the Green Patriarch because he has traveled and sponsored conferences and symposia to promote ecumenism and environmental stewardship, most recently at his own monastery on an island off the cost of Istanbul. In March of 2013, he attended the inauguration of Pope Francis, the first Orthodox patriarch to attend a papal inauguration since the Great Schism in 1054. The two leaders clearly admire one another and have continued to show signs of solidarity over such issues as care for the poor and the environment. In his own recent landmark encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, for example, Pope Francis, makes particular mention of Patriarch Bartholomew’s environmentalist teachings, and this year the pope has invited his own flock and all people to join the Orthodox faithful in observing today, September 1, as a day of prayer for the care of creation—a tradition that the Orthodox Church has has observed since 1989 and which now the Catholic Church will officially observe as well. [Read more…]


538px-Muhammad_Salat.svgThere is perhaps no historical figure whose legacy is more energetically contested today than that of Muhammad, the messenger and prophet of Islam. Born in the Arabian city of Mecca in A.D. 570, as a young man in his twenties he began to proclaim a message of renewal and unity among his people. Gathered in the Qur’an, his revelations announce that God (Allah) is one, and that there is a true Way (din) for his people to worship him as a community (ummah). It is the way of submission or surrender (Islam) to God. Muhammad called the Jews, the Christians, and the polytheists of his day to unite in the simple faith of Adam, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus—all of whom recognized and worshipped one Lord through prayer, through fasting, and by caring for those in need. The revelations of the Qur’an repeatedly enjoin these basic acts of devotion upon all humanity and warn of the spiritual perils of unbelief and of living in a state of resistance to God and His righteous command (‘amr). A day of resurrection and judgement is promised in which those who have done good will see that good returned to them, and those who have done evil will suffer the consequences.

Muhammad’s message of one God beside whom there was no other was violently resisted by the powerful, polytheistic majority of Meccan society. He and his small band of followers were attacked from the outset and were finally forced to flee Mecca to save their lives. But Muhammad found new supporters while in exile and over time drew greater numbers to his movement such that he was finally able to overcome the Meccan opposition. He returned to his hometown, cleansed the Kaaba of its idols, dedicated it to the worship of the one God, and united all of the Arabian tribes under a resounding affirmation: “There is no god but God!”

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In Memory of Elder L. Tom Perry

iuI was saddened to learn today of Elder Perry’s passing. I remember memorizing the names and faces of the Twelve Apostles as a boy. My mother had given us a mnemonic for several of them, and Elder Perry’s has always stuck with me because it was so apt, given the big, toothy grin he always sported: He is very cheery, he is Elder Perry.

A few years later, we found ourselves living in Manila, Philippines where I was now in high school and enrolled in my first year of early morning seminary with my mom as the teacher. A small group of us expat kids met in our home every morning at 5:30 before heading to the International School together. At one point we learned that Elder Perry was visiting the Manila mission. President Iba was in our branch and his kids were in our carpool. My mom, being the intrepid soul that she is, asked the president if she could perhaps get a meeting with the Apostle for her seminary class, and Elder Perry consented. So the next day, there we were, six or so of us face to face with L. Tom Perry at 5:30 a.m.. He was wide awake, thanks to the time difference between Manila and Salt Lake City. I remember three things from that conversation. [Read more…]

David O. McKay

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 12.27.43 PMDavid O. McKay (d. 18 January 1970), the ninth president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Day Saints, is remembered for a number of things:

  • His length of service: Ordained an apostle at the age of 32, he served in that capacity longer than anyone else.
  • His emphasis on education: As an educator himself, President McKay promoted the value of education among the saints and emphasized the importance of women’s education
  • The development of the correlation program
  • His teachings about the importance of the nuclear family: He popularized the dictum of James Edward McCulloch that no other success in life can compensate for failure in the home, and formalized the Family Home Evening program in the Church by publishing a manual for it and by asking that local leaders protect one night of each week from all other meetings and activities.

But by his own account, his most significant accomplishment was to orient the Church towards its future as a global institution.1 [Read more…]

Galileo Galilei

Galileo-Galilei-z3“The Book of Nature,” wrote Galileo (d. January 8, 1642), “is written in mathematics.”

“Philosophy [i.e. physics] is written in this grand book — I mean the universe — which stands continually open to our gaze, but it cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and interpret the characters in which it is written. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometrical figures, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these, one is wandering around in a dark labyrinth.”1

In these words from Saggiatore—his mid-career manifesto setting out the principles of the scientific method—we find one of many examples of Galileo’s genius. Everyone knows him for his adaptation and improvement of the telescope and for the astronomical discoveries he immediately began to make as he pointed it toward the sky. But he revolutionized more than just astronomy. It was Galileo who brought the promethean fire of celestial mathematics to the dark labyrinth of the Earth and physical bodies in motion here below. [Read more…]


Jerusalem_dome_of_rock_2_1880Today we celebrate the life’s work of the Persian jurist and mystic al-Ghazali (d. 18 December 1111), one of the most important intellects in the history of Islam. In his autobiography, Deliverance from Error,1 he describes what we would today call a faith crisis during his youth. Like many who have had such an experience, he began early with a “thirst for grasping the real meaning of things.” He was devout, inquisitive, and quick to observe. He says, “I saw that the children of Christians always grew up embracing Christianity, and the children of Jews always grew up adhering to Judaism, and the children of Muslims always grew up following the religion of Islam.” Al-Ghazali figured that this was because each generation in each different community was basically following in the footsteps of their parents without really questioning. So, he decided to question everything. He wanted to know the truth for himself. But the more he questioned, the less certain he became of everything he thought he knew, eventually reaching a point of doubt so deep that he lost confidence that he could know anything—even the nature of his own existence—with any certainty. He continued to write and speak as always, but inwardly, he wrote, “I was a skeptic.”2

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The Festival of Lights

slide_376716_4433620_compressedDiwali is a festival of renewal and celebration observed by Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs around the world and by just about everyone living in India today. The festival follows the lunar calendar, so its dates vary from year to year, but generally fall in mid-autumn (late October/early November). This year, Diwali begins on the night of October 23 and continues for the next five days. During this time, families come together, the house is given a thorough cleaning, new clothes are bought or made, and neighbors exchange treats or other gifts with one another. But most of all, there are lights.

In religious traditions and cultures across the world, the triumph of good over evil, of order over chaos, and of love over fear are all represented by the universal symbolism of light, and Diwali is known as the festival of lights, celebrating all of these themes. People hang lights in their homes and across streets, they light lanterns, kindle fires; and in the evenings, fireworks light up courtyards, patios, rooftops, and the night sky as people celebrate their lives together. [Read more…]

Brigham Young

Melinda-Blog-Image-Brigham-YoungA word today in praise of Brother Brigham (d. August 29, 1877). Brigham Young was a man of his times, and those times were, by all measures, rough. With an iron will he and the Saints endured the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith, finished the Nauvoo temple sufficiently that ordinance work could go forward there, and then worked day and night so that the Saints could be endowed and sealed there before their departure into the wilderness. In the semi-desert of the Great Basin, Brigham Young and his followers planted their crops and commanded them to grow with irrigation water channeled from the rivers and lakes, then raised up more temples, and sought for Zion.

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Mormon Lectionary Project: Martha and Mary————Service and Discipleship


Mormon Lectionary Project

Collect: Generous God, whose Son Jesus Christ honored the service and discipleship of Martha and Mary of Bethany: Guide our hands likewise to serve thee in serving others, and open our hearts likewise to know thee and Jesus Christ our risen Lord; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. [Read more…]

Mormon Lectionary Project: Joseph Smith


Mormon Lectionary Project

Scriptures: Numbers 11:29; Psalms 105:1–4; James 1:5; Doctrine and Covenants 88:63.

Collect: We thank thee, O God, for the Prophet Joseph Smith Jr., who opened the heavens with his simple faith, and opens our minds that we should do likewise. Grant us, therefore, grace in Christ, that we may ask of thee, seek, and knock, as Joseph did, in faith believing that we may receive through the liberality of thy Holy Spirit, Amen.


“Joseph Smith’s First Vision” by Walter Rane

Joseph Smith

Late in the afternoon on this date, exactly 170 years ago, a mob stormed the second story chamber of the small jail at Carthage, Illinois, and killed Joseph Smith Jr., the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his older brother Hyrum. John Taylor, who was also present and wounded in the attack, eulogized him in print shortly afterwards: [Read more…]

Mormon Lectionary Project: The Day of Pentecost—Whitsunday



Mormon Lectionary Project
The Day of Pentecost—Whitsunday

Collect: Thanks be to thy name, O Lord God of Israel, who keepest covenant and showest mercy unto thy servants in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of thy bosom, lending us grace to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit, even tongues to sing thy praise and to proclaim thy lovingkindness in all the Earth: Hallelujah to the Father! Hallelujah to the Son! Hallelujah to the Holy Spirit! Amen.

Readings: First Reading: Acts 2:1–21; Psalm: Psalm 104:25–35, 37Epistle: 1 Cor 12:3b–13Gospel: John 20:19–23; Small Plates: 1 Ne. 31:11–13; Mormon’s Plates: Helaman 5:20–50Jean_II_Restout_-_Pentecôte; Later Revelations: D&C 109:34–37.

Anciently the children of Israel celebrated the time when God delivered the law to Moses upon Mt. Sinai during The Feast of Weeks. It was upon such an occasion, falling fifty days after the celebration of Passover, that the disciples of the Lord were gathered at Jerusalem following His miraculous post-mortal appearances and ascension into Heaven. Now the kingdom was committed to their keeping, and He had promised them the gift of the Holy Ghost as a comforter or advocate (Greek: paráklētos). On this occasion, an outpouring of the Spirit occurred and was attested by signs both external (a sound as the rushing of a mighty wind), and internal (the speaking in tongues) to the disciples. It is, thus, in the gift of the Holy Ghost that we recognize God as fully transcendent (beyond us) and immanent (within us). [Read more…]

Five Goals

2013-12-07 00.02.27One of my most vivid memories as a boy growing up in the gospel-centered home that I did is of a Family Home Evening that we had when I was maybe four, in the basement of our little starter home in Bountiful, Utah. Mom and Dad helped my little brother and me trace our hands with blue marker on poster board. We cut those out, and then wrote on the five fingers of each hand our life’s goals, which we arrived at with Mom and Dad’s gentle persuasion:

1. Get Baptized and Receive the Holy Ghost

2. Receive the Aaronic Priesthood

3. Receive the Melchizedek Priesthood

4. Go on a Mission

5. Get Married in the Temple

That remains a pretty ideal life’s plan for young men in the Church today1—and there is a lot of good to it. Speaking personally, those were good goals for me, and they served me well. Over the years, I have also become more sensitive to the fact that sometimes ideals aren’t attainable, and that within Mormon culture the pain of unmet expectations or attainments can be really acute, even brutal. I want to speak in this post to a slightly different set of expectations that I wish we laid more cultural emphasis on—expectations that, in my view, are more attainable for a larger percentage of our willing young men and that might be more easily adapted to young women, as well.

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Pope with NF suffererEarlier this week, photographs emerged of Pope Francis cradling a disfigured man in his arms. The powerful images of the Pope’s benevolent touch of blessing spread quickly around the Web. At first the caption accompanying the pictures indicated that the man was disfigured by boils. But many of us knew better as soon as we saw the pictures. More accurate reporting now confirms that the condition suffered by the man before Pope Francis is a form of neurofibromatosis or NF. It is a none too rare genetic disorder that afflicts up to 1 in 3,000 people in the U.S. to one degree or another. (The man pictured obviously has a pretty severe case—the scars of operations on his face are discernible in the photo.) NF is characterized by tumors (fibromas) that, though usually non-cancerous, nevertheless can have serious health impacts. The tumors tend to form along nerves, degrading vision, hearing, and cognitive abilities and causing chronic—and sometimes severe—pain; bones can be significantly weakened and deformed, and the skin blotched and sometimes disfigured. Because this is a genetic disorder, there is no cure, only procedures and protocols to help mitigate the consequences. NF can be fatal, but in the West, life expectancies approach just under seven years of the norm.

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Self-Reliance, Guatemalan Style

Soldiers arrive to suppress insurgents in upland Guatemala. I was nearly electrocuted on the roof of the two story building on the right.

Soldiers arrive to combat insurgents in upland Guatemala, 1988. On another occasion, I was nearly electrocuted on the roof of the two story building on the right.

Thursday, October 19, 1989, San Felipe, Guatemala

I feel confused by my own expectations. What I fear more than anything else is that I am going back to the way I was, and that when I get home I will be more or less the same [as I was before]—a weak addict to technology, and a sensationalist. I despise those attitudes now, but I fear that they are still part of me, and will come naturally when I get back. After all, I’m going to be immersed in it all again. That is the way life is there.

I need time to think. But there is no time.

It is morning here. The sun is coming through the white curtains and the room is filled with soft, yellow light…. I just want to learn always to keep life uncluttered.

I’m still haunted by those lines, written just days before I was to return home from my service in the Guatemala, Quetzaltenango mission. I had come to Guatemala the way most Gringos do, from a life of relative suburban ease. I had had my own room, TV, stereo, and piles of recordings and videos. I had ambitions one day of going into film production. But what I found, unexpectedly, in Guatemala was a summons to a more elemental existence: to water and soil, rain and sun; to the natural rhythms of day and night; to the oscillating sounds of corn ground on stone, of hands clapping out tortillas above a little fire, of clothes swashed back and forth on riverside stones; and to a confrontation with my fear of death.

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On Becoming More Christlike

What does it mean to become more Christlike? I will confess that the quest to be Christlike has sometimes bothered me, not because I don’t think it is a worthy goal (at my house, we are currently memorizing Moroni 10:32–33), but because I am naturally plagued by mortal doubts as to its practical feasibility. I understand that becoming like Christ is the whole point of the gospel. But it is not an unproblematic proposition, when you think about it. 

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News from the Joseph Smith Papers Project

9831536As the Joseph Smith Papers Project releases the first volume of what will be a multi-volume series of documents, the editors have reaffirmed that the series will be as comprehensive and as open as possible. At an event to celebrate the publication of Documents, Volume 1, Assistant Church Historian and Recorder Richard E. Turley Jr. said:

“We have not withheld any documents for this series. There may be an odd document or two of which we are not aware. But all of the thousands of documents that we have found relating to the life and work of Joseph Smith will eventually be included.”

For many researchers, there has always been a hope that this would be the case, but always a shadow of uncertainty with respect to one set of documents in particular—the much whispered-about Council of Fifty minutes. Now those uncertainties have been fully addressed. The announcement came from Elder Steven E. Snow, the Church Historian and Recorder, as quoted in a just-released article by the Church News.

Elder Snow said a few days prior to this recent announcement that the First Presidency “has approved the Church History Department staff to use the Council of Fifty minutes as reference and footnote material in upcoming Joseph Smith Papers books and to eventually publish the minutes in full as a separate volume.”

We applaud this wonderful announcement and the openness and trust that it represents on the part of the First Presidency.

The Why

Screen Shot 2013-08-30 at 4.43.08 PMIn a previous post, I wrote in praise of what I call the discipline of Mormonism. I love that we have high expectations to live up to. It’s salutary, affirming, and ennobling to believe and finally to know that every soul has the stuff of greatness and even of divinity within. Part of the discipline of Mormonism is the recognition of commandments—divine prescriptions and proscriptions for our conduct—and of the blessings that flow from obedience to them.

From the beginning, obedience has been a high-value principle for us. As Richard Bushman interprets him, Joseph Smith’s revelations

bound the free intelligence [of the person] to God rather than setting it free to reason for itself. For God was the source of light and truth, and His light and truth were to be gained only by obedience. The idea of free intelligence [see D&C 93:27–31] combined the moral being of the Bible with the reasoning individual of the Enlightenment. In Joseph’s revelations, truth could not be discovered in rebellion and wickedness…. The test of one’s humanity was not whether one would abide by the independent dictates of one’s own reason, in accord with the Enlightenment ideal, but whether one would accept the light coming from God” (Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, 209–210).

But even as Joseph’s revelations circumscribed human freedom within certain divine limits, they also taught that there was a point to God’s commands, and that people were empowered and expected to come to understand the why as well as the what of those divine parameters[Read more…]

“Marriage and Family” Curriculum for Youth

young-man-knocking-holding-rose-686406-galleryI’ve been wanting for some time to compare the different class outlines in the Come, Follow Me program. This month, the theme (“Marriage and Family”) lends itself particularly to comparison across the classes. So, here goes. I’m not looking for anything in particular; my aim is mostly to be descriptive and to highlight a few things that might be of interest. How we teach about gender and sexuality are some of the most fraught discussions that we have in the Church. I am a work in progress when it comes to my own views on the subject, so I will bravely refrain from putting them forward here. This exercise is my effort to gather more data. [Read more…]

The Discipline of Mormonism

ImageRecent posts here at BCC have considered the ideas of ordinances and covenants—the terms themselves and how the Latter-day Saint understanding of them has developed over time. In this post, I would like to consider these concepts in still another light. I believe that it is our particular regimen of covenants (which are made in ritual contexts we call ordinances) that imparts to the LDS way of life most if not all of its distinctive energy.  [Read more…]


Roman Key

A Roman iron key, c. 1st–3rd century AD. 185 mm (7 1/4″) long, “head” of key measures 2 1/4 x 2 3/4.”

As Rebecca J just noted, the theme for youth instruction for the month of June is priesthood and priesthood keys. In the revelations of Joseph Smith, the Biblical leitmotifs of opening and closing, of binding and unbinding, and of sealing and unsealing all come to be associated in deeply significant ways with the priesthood orders of the Church. In this post, I will focus on the theme of opening and closing as it connects to the imagery of keys.

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Divine Quiescence in the Last Dispensation

This is another installment in a series of posts based on the monthly themes from, “Come, Follow Me,” the new youth curriculum for the Church. Here are the previous posts for January, February, March and April.

Boyd K. Packer

The topic for May is “Prophets and Revelation.” (By the way, this topic highlights the genius of providing this curriculum on-line, as some of the links point to messages that were given just weeks ago in general conference. Never has Church curriculum been so agile and timely.) One of the links points to Boyd K. Packer’s most recent testimony, “These Things I Know.” I am struck by the sincerity of his concluding words:

Of all that I have read and taught and learned, the one most precious and sacred truth that I have to offer is my special witness of Jesus Christ. He lives. I know He lives. I am His witness. And of Him I can testify.

It is instructive to set that simple but very direct testimony next to another address by Pres. Packer, speaking in general conference in 2007. He is discussing what it means to be a special witness: [Read more…]

A Poem for Today

Dietrich BonhoefferApril is National Poetry Month in the U.S., and I’d like to share a poem by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a Lutheran theologian of extraordinary courage and insight. Author of the classic The Cost of Discipleship, and a vocal anti-Nazi, he languished in a concentration camp for two years before being executed in the early morning on this date in 1945, just weeks prior to the collapse of the Third Reich. He wrote numerous letters and some poetry while in prison, of which the following is an example. It is not, perhaps, the most artful of his verse, but I have chosen it for its autobiographical—and yet universal—poignancy.

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Revelation and Surprise



This is another installment in a series of posts based on the monthly themes from, “Come, Follow Me,” the new youth curriculum for the Church. Here are the previous posts for January, February, and March

A mother gives birth to her child, a composer writes a new song, and a gardener’s planted seed sprouts, all to some degree of surprise. It’s not that these events were unexpected, but that the specific manner of their unfolding could not be entirely predicted. There was a moment of prestige—of revelation—natural to each. We live in an age of almost constant scientific, historical, and creative revelation, and therefore of surprise. How fitting, then, that this dispensation was inaugurated by a young man who turned out to be—and is still turning out to be—full of surprises as well.

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Guest Post: The Merits of Divine Responsibility

We’re happy to have Morgan Davis as a guest author once again. Morgan is posting approximately once a month this year on several of the themes in the new youth manual, Come Follow Me. The third in his series is below. See previous entries here and here.

In my last post, I argued for patience with certain gospel mysteries, such as the pre-earth life, and showing care in not leaping to conclusions in our thirst for definitive answers. Now I will do an almost-about-face and charge headlong into speculation about one of the greatest of all gospel mysteries, the Atonement. I get to do this because, I am told, I am human and so embody contradictions, which means I need the Atonement as much as anyone. In what follows, I take Adam’s Miller’s marvelous Rube Goldberg Machines as permission to practice theology without a license, or even an apprenticeship, admitting that my speculations are just that and so have the potential to be—in Jim Faulconer’s powerfully ambivalent words—good for nothing. [Read more…]

Guest Post: Letting the Mystery Be

We’re happy to have Morgan Davis as a guest author once again. Morgan will be posting approximately once a month on several of the themes in the new youth manual, Come Follow Me. The second in his series is below. The introduction to the series is here. 

This is the second of a series of posts on the themes presented in “Come, Follow Me,” the new youth curriculum for Sunday instruction. I hope it will be clear that my thoughts are not intended to become material for class discussions; rather I am just interested in exploring some ideas that might be in the background of such discussions. [Read more…]

Guest Post: Beginnings

The following is a guest post written by Morgan, a longtime BCC reader and friend of the blog.

If we start right, it is very easy for us to go right all the time; but if we start wrong, we may go wrong, and it be a hard matter to get right.”[1] [Read more…]