Review: zion earth zen sky

Charles Inouye has written a remarkably beautiful book.

zion earth zen sky is by far the most personally enjoyable book I have read in some time. It is a profoundly spiritual and theologically rich book, but contains little by way explicit theological argumentation. It does not attempt to prove its theological points by reasoned syllogisms from premises, nor does it, for the most part, proceed from a close reading a scriptural text. It is, rather, grounded in insights won from the author’s highly personal application of simple, familiar, perhaps even unremarkable points of latter-day saint belief, in the context of a life heavily influenced by personal and familial Buddhist beliefs and practices.

[Read more…]

It’s not about masks, it’s not about vaccines

It’s now been about a week since the First Presidency sent a message to each member’s inbox directly encouraging everyone to get vaccinated against COVID if possible, and to wear masks in any indoor setting where you’re not socially distanced, until the pandemic is over.

Sam’s post today does a great of of explaining why a regulation requiring masks for indoor meetings, religious or not, would not violate anyone’s first amendment rights. But as I read Sam’s post it occurred to me that for many members, the real takeaway from the First Presidency’s instruction last week is not the narrow issue of masks or vaccines at all, or of their the legal issues surrounding governments requiring such precautions. The takeaway is really about epistemology.

[Read more…]

Keep Waiting for the Miracle

This post is adapted from a sacrament meeting talk I gave yesterday.

The first two books of the Book of Mormon give us a tale of two Nephis: First Nephi gives us a young man full of zeal. He’s going undercover, sneaking into Jerusalem under cover of darkness, fighting, hunting, adventuring, sailing, having visions, rebuking his brothers. He’s full of confidence in his own spiritual power and righteousness. He’s working to achieve his father’s dream of a land of promise where his descendants could live together in righteousness.

[Read more…]

In Spirit and in Truth

I would have had the assignment this morning to speak in one of the branches in my area, but for the suspension of church meetings. So the branch president asked me to share an email message with the members of the branch. This post is based on that message.

The Woman of Samaria, image from

[Read more…]

Blessing the Sacrament Remotely: Contagion, Technology, and Liturgical Adaptation.

14765375605_99e9f0f1a9_bWith the covid-19 pandemic already in force in some parts of the world, many stakes have cancelled traditional church meetings and have gone to videoconference sacrament meetings. I (I strongly recommend Sam Brown’s recent post on the theological responsibility we have to take precautions not for our own selves, but for the most vulnerable among us.) And as the pandemic continues to spread, I suspect that in the coming weeks we will see more and more of this.

Broadcast church meetings are not especially new. General conference and regional broadcasts are familiar, and even for weekly sacrament meetings, the church has sometimes used broadcasts in very remote areas where travel is difficult during certain seasons. But as online streaming technology has become more and more available, and as the covid-19 pandemic continues to spread, I suspect we are going to see videoconference sacrament meetings on a larger scale and perhaps for a more extended period than most of us have ever seen before. That makes me wonder about whether and how the sacrament could be administered remotely. Where members remain physically in their own homes and gather online to participate in a sacrament meeting, could a priest bless sacramental emblems prepared by members in their own homes over a streamed video? [Read more…]

Nephi’s Abdication: Failure and Hope.

When Lehi dies, his dream–the dream of his children living in unity and peace in a promised land that God gave them–essentially dies with him. And it is Nephi, whom Lehi and God had ordained as a ruler and teacher over the family, that bears the weight the death of Lehi’s dream for his family. That weight may explain the rather dramatic shift in Nephi’s record, after Lehi’s death, away from the visionary, faith-filled Nephi of first Nephi, and toward the nearly absent Nephi of most of second Nephi. [Read more…]

“Rejoice With Joy Unspeakable and Full of Glory,” 1 and 2 Peter #BCCSundaySchool2019

I misread the calendar and did not post this last week. I apologize that it’s late, but I hope it may be useful to some.

I. 1 Peter

Peter’s first epistle has some of the most interesting and some of the most misunderstood passages in the new testament. And we’ll look at those passages, but in my view, the more interesting and more overlooked thing to look at is the overall themes and structure of Peter’s first letter.[1] It’s a short letter, but it is dense, and it refers in just a few words or lines to complex ideas that take up whole chapters in Paul’s letters. [Read more…]

Could we Sustain the Female General Officers of the Church as Prophets, Seers, and Revelators?

This past conference, President Nelson announced additional changes to the ecclesiology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Among other things, ward young men’s presidencies are discontinued, and their functions are shifted to Bishops, who are to put more of a focus on their role as the President of the Aaronic priesthood in the ward, consistent with D&C 107 (see WVS’s excellent series for some background on the history of section 107 and how the church has applied it) and delegate more of their other responsibilities to the presidencies of the Elders Quorum and the Relief Society. Young Women’s and Relief Society (along with Primary and Sunday School) are no longer “auxiliaries” and are now referred to as “organizations,” and their presidencies are now called “ward officers,” “stake officers,” and “general officers” rather than auxiliary presidents. The Bishop still ultimately presides over the entire ward, but by eliminating the Young Men auxiliary and arguably elevating the Young Women and Relief Society organizations, this change arguably puts Young Women closer to parity with with Aaronic Priesthood, and, with the earlier elimination of ward-level High Priests Groups, it arguably puts the Relief Society closer to parity with the Elders Quorum at the ward level. [Read more…]

The God Who Ranges: A Poem

I don’t write poems often, but sometimes I do. Here’s one. [Read more…]

The Problem of the Default Male and All-Male Church Leadership

This past weekend I was traveling to another state for my younger brother’s wedding. We had about a 6-hour drive to and from our destination, so during part of the drive we were catching up on some back episodes of one of our favorite podcasts, 99% Invisible. One of those episodes was this one, titled Invisible Women. It was an interview with Caroline Criado Perez, the author of a book also titled Invisible Women, about the problem she calls the Default Male. [Read more…]

The Power of God Unto Salvation #BCCSundaySchool2019

Reading: Romans 1-6.

This week has us finishing Acts and going into the epistles. This means we’re no longer going chronologically. Instead, we’re going more or less by author and more or less by topic (though each epistle jumps around a bit). It also means that we’re not really reading a story anymore, we’re reading artifacts. For the most part, we’re no longer concerned with the story, but with the teachings contained in the letters of the apostles. We’re moving from events to doctrines, and Romans is arguably the most doctrinal of all the books of the New Testament. [Read more…]

“Ye Shall be Witnesses Unto Me.” #BCCSundaySchool2019

Readings: Acts 1-5

This week we have finished the gospels and are moving into Acts. The transition here is from the story of Jesus to the story of the church and the apostles. Sometimes we talk of Jesus having organized his church during his ministry, but that’s not really accurate, at least not according to the gospels. He makes a reference to having “ordained” his apostles, but he doesn’t do (m)any of the other things we associate with ecclesiology in the modern church.

He doesn’t organize wards or stakes. Unless you count the last supper as an instance of the sacrament, he doesn’t really perform ordinances (other than maybe the equivocal reference to having ordained the apostles, and, maybe when he “breathes on” them and tells them “receive ye the holy ghost”). And if you do count the last supper, he doesn’t do it until the very end of his ministry. He doesn’t seem to organize regular weekly meetings with hymns and preaching. He doesn’t seem to create any kind of organization at all. His mortal ministry is almost entirely as an itinerant preacher of repentance and a sometimes cryptic prophet. The work of organizing the movement of people he left behind when he ascended to heaven was something he left to the apostles. And it’s not something they did all at once, it’s something that developed over time, partly from revelations, partly from policy decisions, or even just chance, and partly from traditions that developed. The beginning of that development is the story that Acts tells.

[Read more…]

Designing the Scriptures.

Today it’s in the news that President Nelson went and met with Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister. This was a little bit more interesting than just any meeting with a world leader for two reasons: (1) Ardern has been widely praised recently for her leadership, including her response to violence in her country, and (2) Ardern herself was raised in the church, but says she left the church in 2005 and currently identifies herself as agnostic.

But this post isn’t about that meeting, it’s about how we print and bind the scriptures. President Nelson made a gift to Ardern of what appears to be a very nice Deseret Book “Legacy Edition” of the Book of Mormon. It’s a nicely done hardcover edition that would look beautiful on a shelf, but it’s pretty pricey retailing around $100. Anyway, that got me thinking about what my ideal edition of the scriptures for my personal use would look like if I could design it myself.

1841_Book_of_Mormon_open_to_title_page [Read more…]

“What Lack I Yet?”: #BCCSundaySchool2019

The readings for this lesson deal with a few different substantive topics: Marriage and divorce, the role of material wealth in a disciple’s life, prayer, soteriology (the theology of what it means to be saved and how we are saved), church leadership, children, and miraculous healing.

But if there is a unifying theme to these readings it is how Jesus’s teaching often disrupt what are often our natural or cultural beliefs about what is righteous and call us to believe and practice something that is much harder to believe, and much more demanding to practice. We naturally and culturally want to believe that we can be righteous by following the rules, and that therefore, if we just find out the right rules, we can make ourselves righteous and earn salvation or exaltation or blessings by following them.

But Jesus’s message over and over in these readings is that following the rules won’t make you righteous. Instead, if you want to become righteous you have to become a fundamentally different kind of person. The kind of person that humbles himself as a child, sells all that he has and gives it to the poor, serves others, and rather than glorying in his obedience to the commandments, begs only to be forgiven for all the ways he has failed to keep them, and follows Jesus all the way to the cross. [Read more…]

Under What Circumstances Does the New Marriage Policy Apply?

As Peter’s post points out, the First Presidency today announced that it has ended the policy that couples who live in countries that allow the church to perform legally binding marriages in the temple, but who are married outside the temple in a civil ceremony, must wait at least a year after their civil wedding to be married in the temple.

The First Presidency letter includes this line in the third paragraph: “Where a licensed marriage is not permitted in the temple, or when a temple marriage would cause parents or immediate family members to feel excluded, a civil ceremony followed by a temple sealing is authorized.” Some who have read the letter are questioning whether this implies that in places where a licensed marriage is permitted in the temple, and in situations where “parents or immediate family members” would not be excluded, a civil ceremony followed by a temple sealing is not authorized.

I think that would be a bad misreading of the First Presidency’s letter. The idea is that by saying one thing is true, the First Presidency is implicitly also that the converse is not true–what lawyers would call the canon of expressio unius exclusion alterius. And that may be a useful guide for interpretation in some cases, but in this case, I think it would be inconsistent with the rest of the letter to read it this way.

[Read more…]

Christians, Mormons, and Latter-day Saints: Religious Identity and Self-Determination in Religious Movements and Institutions

Who gets to decide what my religion is? Who gets to decide what my religion is called? Who gets to decide who gets to call themselves a Mormon, or a Christian? Should the church have anything to do with those who aren’t members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint, but who call themselves Mormons?

Something I’ve been thinking about over the past several months since President Nelson’s announcement about the name of the church is the relationship between the right of religious institutions to define themselves, and the right of individuals to choose their own religious identity. [Read more…]

A Poem for Holy Thursday (2019)

I posted this two years ago on Holy Thursday. I’ve tweaked it and made some revisions. [Read more…]

Come Follow Me as a Quasi-, or Proto-Lectionary

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn’t have a traditional Christian liturgical calendar, and the Come Follow Me New Testament manual is not a traditional lectionary. But Come Follow Me is also not entirely like a traditional Latter-day Saint Sunday School manual, and the ways that it departs from that form nudge it closer to functioning almost like a lectionary in some interesting ways. [Read more…]

Today is (probably) not Jesus’s Birthday

thIt’s a fun calendrical coincidence this year that the first general session of General Conference falls on today, April 6. This is a big date for the church. It’s the date we recognize as the date that the church started as a church. (See this guest post yesterday for a discussion of what that actually means). But there’s a tradition in the church that says Jesus was born on April 6, 1 BC, exactly 1830 years to the day before the church was organized on April 6, 1830. This tradition is almost certainly wrong. [Read more…]

“Thou Art the Christ” #BCCSundaySchool2019

Readings: Matthew 16-17, Mark 8-9, Luke 9*

There is so much we could say about these readings, but this post will focus on the episode of Peter’s testimony of Jesus. The manual places the most emphasis on this part of these readings, and it uses Peter’s testimony as support for the idea that prophets and apostles are revelators and have revealed knowledge that’s worth listening to. This is a timely message, with general conference coming up, and the manual specifically asks us to ponder the testimonies we will hear from the apostles at conference this weekend along with Peter’s testimony.

That message is fine as far as it goes. But I think we sometimes misread Peter’s interaction with Jesus in Matthew 16:13-20, Mark 8:27-30, and Luke 9:19-21 if we overemphasize Peter’s role as an institutional revelator as the salient thing from this passage. [Read more…]

Glossopoeia: The Gift of (Invented) Tongues


“Atan lantanë tana atani ëuvar; ar atani ëar tana haryar olassë.”

– 2 Nephi 2:27, author’s translation in Quenya


A calligraphic tengwar version of The Ataramma, the Lord’s Prayer in Quenya, by Danny Andries. Tengwar is one writing system that Tolkien invented for his invented languages. Source:


Warning: this post is weird. It descends into depths of Tolkien nerdery previously unheard-of at BCC. Ye be warned.

Today is Tolkien Reading Day. Every March 25th the Tolkien Society chooses a theme and encourages readers to read their favorite passages from the professor’s work that relate to that theme, and read them on this day. This year’s theme is Tolkien and the Mysterious. That’s a topic with a lot of material, but one of the elements that contributes most to the sense of mystery—the sense that there is more to the story behind the story, is the presence of invented languages in Tolkien’s stories. Not just nonsense words with a “translation” in English, but full languages with internal rules of grammar, etymologies, and alphabets. This post will be an exploration of the idea of invented languages as it relates to the idea of the gift of tongues. [Read more…]

“I’m sort of rules oriented”: What one man’s involvement in the college cheating scandal can teach us about moral reasoning.

By now everybody has heard of the college fraud, bribery and cheating scandal. In case you haven’t: a bunch of rich folks paid a sketchy dude to find ways to cheat on college entrance exams and college applications, including lying and flat-out bribery to get their kids into high-ranked colleges that they would not have been able to get into on their academic or athletic merit.

We could say a lot about it, but one thing that really jumped out at me was a pair of statements made by Gordon Caplan, one of the parents caught cheating, and what they tell us about the nature of morality and rules. [Read more…]

Missionary Communication Rules: How Folk Theology Works (and Doesn’t Work).



The church announced today that effective immediately, missionaries can text, call, instant message, and video chat with their families at home on their preparation day, repealing the old rule that missionaries were only allowed to call home twice a year (Christmas and Mother’s Day), and were otherwise only allowed to email (and before sometime in the early 2000s, only write letters).

I imagine that this change is motivated at least in part by a concern for the emotional and mental health of missionaries. As long-distance communication has become cheaper and more ubiquitous, the world has become more and more interconnected. This is a double-edged sword: it makes long-distance and online friendships easier, but a side effect of that is that many people find it easier to primarily make friends with people online which means that IRL connection and friendship get harder. It can also be even more isolating when you grow up using online communication to make and maintain friendships, and then the ability to have online and log-distance connection is suddenly taken away. I’m no expert, but I suspect that this has a lot to do with the fact that many missionaries today find the mission experience, as rewarding and fulfilling as it is, to be seriously challenging to their emotional and mental health. And at some point, we have to ask ourselves whether that challenge is a necessary or worthwhile one. The church has now decided that it’s not. I think this is a very good thing. [Read more…]

“Ye must be born again” #BCCSundaySchool2019

Readings: John 2-4

We’re back in John for this week’s reading. And John moves really fast through Jesus’ life and early ministry. It’s almost like an anthology of snippets of Jesus’s greatest hits. And Jesus is travelling all over the place. In these chapters we get these episodes:

  • Jesus in Galilee: Jesus turns water into wine at the marriage in Cana, his first miracle, according to John (John 2:1-11).
  • Jesus back in Jerusalem: Jesus turns the money-changers out of the temple (John 2:12-17).
  • Jesus prophesies of his death and resurrection: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:18-22)
  • Jesus meets with Nicodemus: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:1-21).
  • John in the desert: John the baptizer testifies of Jesus (John 3:22-36).
  • Jesus in Samaria, on his way back to Galilee: Jesus speaks with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well and makes a lot of converts in Samaria (John 4:1-42).
  • Jesus back in Cana: Jesus remotely heals a nobleman’s son (his second miracle) (John 4:46-54).

John is so compact and dense, and Jesus and John both speak in such mystical, prophetic language in John, that you could have many weeks of discussion about these chapters. In this post, I’m going to look at just a couple of these episodes. [Read more…]

“The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me” #BCCSundaySchool2019

Readings: Matthew 4, Luke 4-5.

In the chapters that immediately precede these chapters, Matthew and Luke have just shown us the moment where Jesus is baptized and as he comes up out of the water, the voice of the Father, speaking from heaven, declares that Jesus is his son (Matthew 3:17; Luke 3:22). This is an important reminder because the chapters for this lesson recount Satan’s immediate challenge to the Father’s declaration, Jesus rejecting that challenge, and then Jesus showing the signs that prove his messiahship–his status of having been anointed by the Spirit–to the people of Galilee. [Read more…]

The Pitfalls of Grading in Religious Education

Yesterday, this pair of tweets by a current BYU student sparked some interesting discussion about the role of grading in religious educations:



Though it was about a decade ago, I remember similar things as a BYU student myself. [Read more…]

Nephi’s iron rod may not be what you think it is.

This post might be a little oddly timed because we’re not doing the Book of Mormon Sunday School curriculum this year. But it’s a passage that we frequently refer to in talks and lessons, in my experience, and it’s on my mind lately because I’ve heard people invoke the old iron rod / liahona dichotomy. I confess I don’t like that distinction, because I think it distorts the meaning of the iron rod to place it in contrast with the liahona. This post, written as a sort of dialogue with myself, explains why.


I. The Iron Rod in Nephi’s Vision

Thesis: The iron rod from Nephi’s vision of his father’s vision of the tree of life does not represent the scriptures. [Read more…]

God’s Name is Dangerous to Hold in Your Lips

This is a post about what President Nelson’s counsel to use the church’s full name challenges us as church members to do.

However you feel about his declaration that using “Mormon” was a victory for Satan and an offense to God, there are lots of other places where that conversation has happened and is still happening. I don’t want to replicate that here. I want to focus on the core of his message: that the church’s formal name is important because it is connected to taking upon ourselves the name of Christ. President Nelson’s counsel to speak Jesus’s name more often may be both dangerous and rewarding, because God’s name is not to be taken lightly, and doing it will require us to either receive the spirit through repentance and faith in Christ and his grace, or condemn ourselves by using his name in vain. [Read more…]

The 60-Minute Sacrament Meeting: An opportunity to build a new Christ-centered worship service.

The change about two-hour church that has attracted the most attention is the elimination of the “third hour” and the alternating classes for the “second hour.” Kevin’s post yesterday discusses some of the logistics of these changes. But as I’ve read through the October 6, 2018 first presidency letter and enclosure, one part that has caught my attention is the potential to use this change to radically re-work sacrament meetings. [Read more…]

Is it such a fast that I have chosen?

You may have heard that President Nelson asked the youth of the church back in June to take a seven day “fast” from social media, and that he repeated the same counsel (but for ten days) was to the women of the church during conference. I’ve taken breaks from social media in the past, but I always thought of it more as a “Sabbath” rather than a “fast”: a time to disconnect from worldly influences, to re-connect with the real world of creation and with the Spirit of God, and to reset and renew ourselves.

This post is an attempt to think about some of the implications of casting this social media break as a “fast.” Fasting has important implications, both inward looking and outward looking. [Read more…]