This week, Bryce Cook published a new comprehensive essay on the church’s stance toward LGBT members. Bryce Cook is a founding member of ALL (Arizona LDS LGBT) Friends & Family and a co-director of the annual “ALL Are Alike Unto God” Conference held every April in Mesa, Arizona. He is married to Sara Spencer Cook and together they have six children, two of whom are gay. Since their oldest son came out publicly in 2012, Bryce and Sara have become public allies for LGBT people in and out of the church.
I recently blogged about my first day as a missionary and how it felt to return to that place after 27 years. Because we were on a cruise last month, stopping at 5 of the Canary Islands, I had a chance to revisit the island of Lanzarote where I started my mission, a place I hadn’t been in the 28 years since then. I surprised myself by being able to pick out my apartment by sight even though the city of Arrecife has changed quite a bit, and the apartment has been renovated. The exterior balconies have now been enclosed, probably to keep out the sands from Calima, an annual dust storm that happens in the Canary Islands, bringing sand from the Sahara, across the ocean, obscuring the sun. Calima can last for several days when it comes. While I was there, our balcony would sometimes fill with sand overnight. Lanzarote is a very windy island, the most eastward of the archipelago, the closest to the coast of Morocco.
The biggest obstacle to memory was that I only served there for 5 weeks, and then never returned to that island, and most of the time I was there I felt like I didn’t know what the heck was going on. I was the only missionary being sent to Lanzarote, and I had just arrived in the islands after a long flight. When I arrived in Arrecife, I was alarmed by the 18 year old men in military garb casually holding machine guns, standing around the airport looking bored. I remembered thinking “I could easily take away that gun, and I’m not that big or strong,” envisioning the possibilities for violence and mayhem if any random person were so inclined. That’s a sight I saw in all the airports in Spain, one that I never quite got comfortable with. [Read more…]
I recently returned from a trip back to the Canary Islands, where I served my mission over 27 years ago. I’ve been back a couple times before, but this was my first time back to the island of Gran Canaria where the mission home was, where I spent my first day, and where I spent about half my mission. As we went to various places in Las Palmas, I kept having flashbacks to the emotions I felt on my first day as a missionary as well as on subsequent pivotal occasions. It was weird.
When I started my mission, I had some strange ideas about the need to slough off my identity, to leave behind the identifiable parts of myself in favor of a new, bland, passive Christian identity that was really no identity at all. I had the idea that I was entering a monastic order, similar to an abbey. I envisioned myself as a sort of Mormon nun, having transcended or at least forsaken my own interests and personality and ready to just be an empty vessel for the word of God, a conduit for a will other than my own. There was no room for defensiveness or for my need to be understood or known. Being misunderstood by others gave me a chance to let go of my identity, to kill the natural (wo)man.
Obviously this lasted about 5 minutes. [Read more…]
For those of you who enjoy Hales’ web comic, Garden of Enid, it will come as no surprise that Enid in book form is a delight. For those who haven’t read any of these comics, it’s well worth your time to pick up a copy. Steve Evans capably reviewed Part One here. Part Two takes Enid further into her adolescence and through big changes in her life and character’s development. [Read more…]
This week’s lesson is a continuation of the aborted Oliver Cowdery translation attempt. Bummer for you teachers who rotate weeks with another teacher; there’s a BIG overlap in chapters here with both this week and last week’s lesson focusing on the same three sections of the Doctrine & Covenants: 6, 8, and 9. This one throws section 11 in the cart, but really, the majority of the lesson is still focused on the same material as last week. You’re the loser who drew the short straw because your rotating cohort got first dibs on the good stuff.
The first “attention activity” is the suggestion to bring a radio to class. Apparently, a radio is an old-timey electronic device that was used to receive transmitted sound waves from the air. People used to use these devices to listen to talk show programs as well as music, all interspersed with housewives gushing about the newest dish washing soap and doctors recommending their favorite brand of cigarette “for your health.” Radios were also used in the Netflix series Stranger Things to communicate with the Upside Down. Since it’s probably impractical to drive your car into the classroom, perhaps there are some functional portable radios at the Desert Industries or in your grandfather’s attic you could pick up for your object lesson.  [Read more…]
The news is full of stories about some wall that’s going to be built and how a 20% tariff on Mexican goods will pay for it. I’ve been thinking about another wall lately.
This election has shown us is that we all live in a bubble, and given what I’ve been seeing and hearing for the last 5 days, I feel like my bubble needs a little heavier fortification. It’s not that I don’t want personal connections; I just want to be sure that the people who are in my bubble are valuable contributors. I don’t want people to be in my bubble who are unfairly or disproportionately draining my time or energy which are limited resources, when I could have people in my bubble who are boosting me. From now on, it’s Angela First. [Read more…]
Why does the church currently require that its employees have a current Temple Recommend? It’s a question I’ve often heard my friends who work for the church ask, and over my lifetime, we’ve continually ratcheted up the requirement for a Temple Recommend to callings and ordinances also, even when one has not been historically required. A recently leaked handbook document details the church’s reasons. Some of these were surprising to me, as a person with decades of leadership experience in Fortune 500 companies. [Read more…]
In a discussion about the election results, one of my friends asked why so many white women voted for Trump if he is so sexist. My intuitive response was “Because they are married to white men.” It was a guess that had a certain ring of truthiness to it, but I wasn’t entirely sure I could articulate why. What I meant by it is that, sexism aside, many Trump voters felt that the Republican platform will mean a better economic future for them, that they feel the Democrats have reduced their financial prospects, and that white men in particular feel held back and disenfranchised. If their wives are financially dependent on them (whether secondary income or no income), we shouldn’t be too surprised that they agreed with their husbands.  But to vote for Trump, even out of self-interest, voters in 2016 also had to overlook the misogyny of their candidate. To me, that was where the more interesting story was.
I and many others have talked in other OPs this election season about reasons Mormons disagree about this election and how we can see such strong differences of opinion among people who seem to share common values. With election day looming large, I wanted to finish off with one last look at the psychology of voting in 2016 to try to understand what I’m seeing when beloved ward members, friends and colleagues make political statements on their Facebook status that leave me baffled or worse, losing respect for them. Rather than criticizing one another, perhaps it’s better to take a minute to understand what’s behind our differences. [Read more…]
An article in Vox showed the statistical correlation between Trump supporters and hostile sexism. One interesting aspect of this analysis was that this is not an issue of Republicans in general being hostile to women, just a correlation between those who are and those who support Trump. The trend was not the same when Romney ran in 2012. Romney appealed to benevolent sexists rather than hostile sexists. The difference, as they say, is yuge. [Read more…]
The church posted a message on Facebook on Sunday to help members focus their attention in church, quoting a talk by Bishop Dean Davies. This post has gotten a few people in online communities asking questions.
Some of the questions I’ve heard in response to this post are:
- Who’s responsible for boring talks and lessons?
- Does this mean the church is acknowledging that our meetings are boring?
- Is the onus entirely on the listener or is this blaming the victim for their bad attitude?
- Is “shaming” people an appropriate tactic? 
Pres. Uchtdorf’s opening talk at the Saturday morning session of General Conference addressed this question also. He spoke of the spiritual experiences we’ve had that brought us to church in the first place and asked, quoting Alma 5:26: “Can ye feel so now?”
Thinking over my own church experience of nearly 50 years, my honest answer to that question is “Depends.” Sometimes I can “feel so,” but sometimes I simply don’t have it in me. Life is long. They wouldn’t call it “enduring” to the end if it was non-stop enjoyment. So yes, when a lesson or talk is boring, partly that’s because I’m just not feeling it right then. [Read more…]
This little gem of a talk was by E. Carl Cook, not the apostle E. Quentin Cook. He starts by talking about some obscure method of driving old-timey vehicles called “putting it in compound” that I admit was a bit confusing to me since all I have to do to give my car torque is hit the “torque” button in the mid-dash console (it’s a Juke), but the gist of his analogy was, as Paul said, that we are the body of Christ, and we all work together to do God’s will. When you have things (or people) working together, they are stronger than one working alone. Or at least that’s what I think he was saying.
He very humanely pointed out that serving in the church can be daunting for various reasons: [Read more…]
Is Early Morning Seminary worth it? This is a question I ask myself every year. At the kickoff for seminary, the seminary director explains each year that the reason we do Early Morning Seminary is to teach the kids they can do hard things. That’s the same reason we were told we do manufactured Trek reenactments, too. But is doing hard things a good justification in and of itself to do something? I have seen fairly severe impacts to my kids as they’ve gone through 4 years of seminary. The sleep deprivation at a crucial growing period when they are supposed to be achieving grades that enable them to get a good college education seems like a high price to pay for daily religious education from amateur volunteers. [Read more…]
Pres. Uchtdorf’s talk from the latest Women’s Conference is now a book. I reviewed the talk here, and my opinion was that it was a great success given the audience. His story about a young girl reluctantly visiting her spinster great-aunt was particularly on point given the inclusion of 8-year-olds in the “Women’s” conference. His talk was inclusive of all sorts of women: singles, married, with children, without, cat people, women with messy houses, career women, depressed (but not clinically) women, eccentric dressers, women whose lives are different than they had planned, etc. Just like Relief Society should be an amalgam of sisters of different life experiences. [Read more…]
I grew up in rural Pennsylvania, outside the small village of Bainbridge on a country lane called Locust Grove. We lived atop a hill surrounded by corn fields. The Conoy Indians used to live there  nestled between the banks of the Susquehanna and the Conoy Creek. We sometimes found arrow heads in the corn fields or shards of pottery by the banks of the creek, the only remnants of a population that vanished a couple hundred years before we lived there. [Read more…]
I just finished reading Adam Miller’s latest modernization of ancient scripture: Nothing New Under the Sun. This is a very quick read, a modern version of Ecclesiastes:
Because the modern language made the parallels to modern wisdom literature so clear, I was curious about the links to Buddhism. According to Wikipedia, Ecclesiastes was written between 450 and 350 BCE.
The presence of Persian loan-words and Aramaisms points to a date no earlier than about 450 BCE, while the latest possible date for its composition is 180 BCE, when another Jewish writer, Ben Sira, quotes from it. The dispute as to whether Ecclesiastes belongs to the Persian or the Hellenistic periods (i.e., the earlier or later part of this period) revolves around the degree of Hellenization (influence of Greek culture and thought) present in the book. Scholars arguing for a Persian date (c. 450–330 BCE) hold that there is a complete lack of Greek influence; those who argue for a Hellenistic date (c. 330–180 BCE) argue that it shows internal evidence of Greek thought and social setting.
Is Ecclesiastes Buddhism in the Bible? Or is it simply the case that all wisdom is roughly the same and there is nothing new under the sun. Buddha dates to 600 BC. Adam Miller’s book doesn’t dwell on these parallels, but merely hints at them. Wisdom is wisdom, no matter the source. It’s an interesting question, though. His modernized take on Ecclesiastes also demonstrates that there really is nothing new under the sun, including Christian wisdom.
I was considering a post on the Book of Mormon & the Bechdel test when it occurred to me that Gospel Doctrine class is kind of like a book club. Which got me thinking how much better, and perhaps with more vocal women in it (as well as a few more humorously identified human foibles), the Book of Mormon would be if Jane Austen had written it. [Read more…]
Adam Miller’s new book Future Mormon: Essays in Mormon Theology is laid out in a series of digestible-length short essays. Reading his essays is like talking to a smarter, more esoteric friend or maybe sitting next to a chatty and interesting professor on a flight. His essays generally follow a pattern for me:
- Adam says something moderately profound but provocative that makes sense and that I totally agree with. I think to myself, “This is going to be good. Go, Adam!”
- Adam follows that up by saying something that sounds really smart but is completely incomprehensible to me. I re-read it several times, and then give up, shaking my head at how stupid I must be not to comprehend what he’s saying.
- Adam patiently walks back from Adam-land to where he left me in confusion and patiently, even respectfully, takes me through the steps to get me to the newfound understanding that is the true thesis of his essay.
- Along the way, like a dad walking on a beach with a small child, he points out interesting things, thoughts I can mull over at a later time, ideas I haven’t ever fully formed before, observations, and insights that have been hiding in plain sight and feel immediately familiar but newly articulated.
- When each essay concludes, my inner world of ideas has become a bigger place. My curiosity is awake. I’d like nothing more than to sit and think my new thoughts, but there are more essays to discover, so I keep reading.
Elder Stevenson starts his talk by sharing a rather banal incident of getting back to the car after a day of skiing to find the keys to the car missing. He then describes his hypothermia-induced hallucination about the priesthood keys. Well, not exactly. Actually, at first I thought this was going to be another story about finding lost keys. I mean, that’s practically a rite of passage for Mormons in our spiritual journey. Who among us has not had an experience when we lost our keys, we prayed, and then we found our keys? It’s practically like shave and a haircut.  [Read more…]
What is a deepity?
Something that sounds profound but intellectually hollow.
Usually has the following characteristics. 1. True but trivial 2. False but logically ill informed. 3. Usually a use-mention error or (UME) To the extent that it’s true, it doesn’t matter. To the extent that it matters, it isn’t true.
What is a UME? Confusing the word used to describe a thing, with the thing itself.
Daniel Dennett, the prominent atheist author who coined the term “deepity” in 2009, argues that theology is full of deepities. To which I say, I know you are, but what am I? [Read more…]
When I was in 5th grade, our class was going to put on a classroom play: an abbreviated version of A Christmas Carol. When I looked at the script, there was only one female part, that of Fezziwig’s wife, and she only had two brainless lines. I figured that must mean all the parts were open, so I decided to audition for the part of Scrooge, which had a meaty fifty lines, plenty of scene-chewing grumpiness, and even a crying scene. I borrowed my grandfather’s hat and shirt, and I explained to the teacher that since none of the girl parts were remotely interesting in this play, casting should be open to all comers for all parts. She agreed with me, and I got the part! 
The Bechdel test  is used to identify gender bias in movies and literature, but it applies to any narrative story. [Read more…]
As the Ammon Bundy headlines continue to dominate the news cycle, many have been wondering whether these views are inherently Mormon as the Bundy clan claims or if Mormonism encourages these types of attitudes. While this episode has a libertarian theme, which may or may not relate to the question of anti-modernism, I wanted to revisit a post I wrote in 2013 about the anti-modernist streak that seems to be emerging in various faith traditions, including Mormonism.
An interesting article in the Salt Lake Tribune last week reminded me of a post I did a few years ago about a non-member review of Kirtland. Kirtland is an interesting historical site because some of the attractions are run by the LDS church, and some are run by the Community of Christ. In my experience, both tour guides were very knowledgeable, but the key difference was that the LDS tour guides persisted in inserting “spiritual” experiences into the tour such as invitations for spontaneous hymn singing, testimony bearing or (whew!) moments of silence. Yet, the senior couple who took us through the site was very knowledgeable about the history of the site. They had clearly done their homework.
By contrast, the article in the Tribune was about a recent visitor to the Beehive House (Brigham Young’s SLC home) who had questions about her family’s connection to Brigham Young. [Read more…]
In Matthew 6, there are several behaviors called out as public displays of righteousness:
- Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them (v. 1)
- And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. (v. 5)
- Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. (v.16)
It’s a common claim among participants of Mormon internet groups that people feel they cannot be themselves at church or can’t say what they think for fear of being ostracized. They feel they are discouraged from being honest or authentic, that they would be rejected if they disagreed with the party line or articulated a non-conforming viewpoint. Certainly many examples have been given of individuals who were viewed suspiciously for sharing unpopular opinions openly. These are complaints that they feel they must be inauthentic to be accepted. [Read more…]
In the Priesthood Session, coming to a living room near you, Pres. Eyring began by addressing each of the offices of the Aaronic Priesthood in turn, talking about the acts they perform in their priesthood, their duties. He presents each act simply without aggrandizing the individuals who perform these acts, indeed with a focus on the humility and dare I say cluelessness (certainly guilelessness) of the Preisthood holders, and then contrasts that with what the Lord brings to the act. We perform simple acts routinely, often without much thought, and the Lord magnifies and sanctifies those acts beyond our understanding and capability. We perform small acts; God does the heavy lifting. [Read more…]
Pres. Uchtdorf, aka the “Silver Fox” as he is known in my ward and probably everywhere else, hit yet another home run in the Women’s Session, batting clean up for the three female speakers. He opens with:
Today, I too have a story to share. I invite you to listen with the Spirit. The Holy Ghost will help you to find the message for you in this parable.
He shares the story of an 11 year old girl named Eva who did not want to go to live with her Great-Aunt Rose. [Read more…]
It is common for westerners in India to be amazed at the utter chaos and yet the seemingly laissez-faire attitude of the Indian drivers. One of our Indian drivers remarked about the traffic: “In India, nothing is impossible because I-M-Possible.” He chortled over his cleverness, and repeated that saying many times in our nine day trip. [Read more…]