Self-Reliance: faith in Christ, consecration, stewardship, the prosperity gospel and “the deceitfulness of riches.”

I spoke in church yesterday. My assignment was to speak about self-reliance. This post is adapted from that talk.

1. Spiritual Self-Reliance: there is no such thing.

I confess that I don’t really like the term self-reliance, because strictly speaking, there is no such thing as spiritual self-reliance in the gospel. The scriptures, the Book of Mormon in particular, are as clear as can be that we are to rely only on Jesus for salvation (see e.g., 1 Nephi 10:6, 2 Nephi 31:19, Moroni 6:4). [Read more…]

My statement.

The church’s PR arm released a statement yesterday condemning the racism and hatred on display in Charlottesville.

I’m not going to lie. I wish the statement were stronger and more specific. I wish that we didn’t have to go back more than ten years to find a statement by a prominent church leader condemning racism as the evil that it is.

But I’m not going to find fault. This is a statement that expressly condemns racism as the evil that it is. And that is a good thing. [Read more…]

Things you can’t capture

Here is a sort of poem I have written. [Read more…]

Changing the Sacrament Prayers: an example of the role of human agency in revelation.

This LDSLiving article popped up in my twitter feed yesterday. The church has revised the French version of the sacrament prayer. I don’t know enough French to really have an informed opinion, but based on my knowledge of Spanish, and my spotty knowledge of Latin, it seems to me like the change is from a word meaning willing, in the sense of willing, or wanting to do something to one that means willing in the sense of available, or disposed to do something. The idea is to more closely match the English version. (And, incidentally, this also aligns more closely with the official Spanish version, which uses “son dispuestos.”)

I would be curious to know the process that led to this change. The change was announced over the First Presidency’s signatures, which suggests either that the First Presidency made the decision, or at least that somebody in the translation department brought to the First Presidency for approval. Who brought the issue to the attention of the decision maker? What were the discussions like? What kind of information did they rely on in making the decision?  [Read more…]

(A Version of) The Eagle Charge for LDS Eagle Scout Courts of Honor

Our ward’s scout troop recently held a court of honor for a boy in the ward to receive his Eagle Scout award. Though I have been released from my calling with the young men, I continue to serve on the Scout Committee, and I had worked with this young man while I was with the youth, and I was asked to give “the Eagle Charge” at the Court of Honor. [Read more…]

The Church cuts ties with scouts (but not really).

1241908The Mormon newsroom broke the news this morning that the church is ending its venture and varsity scout programs for boys 14-18 years old in the U.S. and Canada. I was particularly interested in this announcement not just because I was active in scouts when I was younger, but because until fairly recently I served in a young men calling that required me to serve as a scout leader, and I have two sons that will eventually be part of the program. Given President Monson’s personal attachment to scouting, I never thought the church would disengage from BSA during his lifetime. There was a first presidency letter sent out this morning announcing the change, included with the letter is a set of guidelines about the activities for priests and teachers, and there is a set of questions and answers on the newsroom about the change. [Read more…]

Where faith lives

This past Sunday the stake president asked me to speak in one of the wards in our stake. The assigned topic was cultivating the faith necessary to have success in missionary work as a ward. That got me thinking about faith and how it relates to how we think about the church’s long term fate.

It strikes me that there are two extremes in the way we think about the church and its long term destiny. [Read more…]

A poem for Holy Thursday

This is a sort of free verse poem that I have written about the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. As the day that we remember Jesus’s last supper, Holy Thursday seems like an appropriate time to share it, but the focus is not just on the last supper, but on the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper as it exists now.

I

This meat, and this drink,
To remember the body and the blood.
This meat. A chunk of plain bread, broken in pieces.
This drink. A cup of plain water, standing in for wine–
the blood of grapes, crushed until their skins burst.
This meat, and this drink,
To remember the body and the blood. [Read more…]

Enoch and the Silmarillion Part VI: Conclusions.

 

It turns out, the lesson of pity that Nienna teaches in The Silmarillion applies remarkably well to God’s tears in Joseph Smith’s Enoch revelations. I’m not suggesting that Tolkien was secretly a devotee of Joseph Smith, or that he was intentionally hiding encrypted keys to understanding the visions of Enoch as Easter eggs in The Silmarillion. Rather, I am suggesting that seeing what lessons The Silmarillion draws out of the image of a weeping goddess can open us up to seeing the image of the weeping God in Enoch’s visions in new ways that might not be obvious given the history of how we have read those revelations. [Read more…]

Enoch and the Silmarillion Part V: How the Weeping Goddess Might Move us Beyond the Sovereignty Debate.

The lesson of pity that Nienna teaches in the Silmarillion is a lesson that applies with equal force to the image of God weeping in Enoch’s vision. [Read more…]

Enoch and the Silmarillion Part IV: The Elves’ Weeping Goddess.

Buckle up, because this one is going to get super nerdy. [Read more…]

Enoch and the Silmarillion Part III: Enoch’s Weeping God and the Divine Sovereignty Debate.

The image of the weeping God has inspired debates over whether God’s omnipotence is absolute, or is in some sense limited. Those debates are interesting, but I’m going to suggest that perhaps they miss the point of the image of the weeping God as it is presented in the Enoch revelations. [Read more…]

Shrove Tuesday

Today is what was traditionally known as Shrove Tuesday, before it became Mardi Gras. In the middle ages it was traditionally the day to be “shriven” of your sins (meaning you confess and are assigned your penance to be absolved), before beginning the fast of lent the following day, Ash Wednesday. [Read more…]

Enoch and the Silmarillion Part II: Enoch’s Third Vision, and the Importance of the Tale of Enoch to Early Mormonism.

In the last post, I divided Enoch’s story up into 6 parts (three visions, and the aftermath of each vision) and summarized the first two visions and their aftermaths. In this post, I’m going to summarize the third vision, but before I get into the image of the weeping God, I’m going to take note of a few interesting connections between the Enoch revelation and other things going on in early Mormonism. [Read more…]

Enoch and the Silmarillion Part 1: Context and Structure of the Tale of Enoch.

I’d like to do a series of posts on the tale of Enoch as it is found in the Pearl of Great Price. There is a lot of interesting stuff in there, and I’ll probably take note of a few interesting tangents along the way, but where I’m ultimately going with this is that I want to make a comparison between the weeping God of Enoch’s vision, and Nienna, the weeping goddess of Tolkien’s fictional epic, the Silmarillion, and see what insights I can draw out of such a comparison.

But first, I want to put the text of Enoch’s vision in its context as a part of Joseph Smith’s biblical revision project. None of what I write below is groundbreaking, but I think it helps to summarize it before getting into the text. [Read more…]

Witnesses of God

Adapted from a talk I gave recently:

In his talk last conference, Elder Anderson encouraged us to stop feeling guilty about our lack of past success in member missionary work and to instead seek to be motivated by a desire to stand as a witness of God, quoting from Alma’s famous baptismal sermon at the waters of Mormon.

As I read Elder Anderson’s talk, I wonder what is the difference between how we normally approach missionary work and the approach he asks us to take? How is standing as a witness of God different from what we normally do (and that makes us feel guilty)? [Read more…]

Lesson 4: “Remember the New Covenant, Even the Book of Mormon.” #DandC2017

Lesson 4 in the Doctrine and Covenants Sunday School curriculum is entitled “Remember the New Covenant, Even the Book of Mormon,” a phrase taken from section 84. According to the manual, the objective of the lesson is to get class members to “recognize the Lord’s hand in the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and to encourage them to study the Book of Mormon, follow its teachings, and share it with others.”

I apologize in advance that the way I went with this post probably doesn’t make it a very good Lesson outline; instead of short statements followed by incisive questions that get a good discussion going, I ended up with basically a long comment on some themes in the canonical texts, followed by some questions at the end. So I wouldn’t necessarily recommend following this post as a lesson plan itself, but I hope there may be some useful insights in the post and in the comments that you can work into a lesson if you are teaching this material. [Read more…]

“Thy will, O Lord, be done.” #MLK

Yesterday in the ward I attended we sang “When in the Wonderous Realms Above,” for the sacrament. This hymn has as its refrain, “Thy will, O Lord, be done.” The third verse goes like this: “We take the bread and cup this day / in memory of the sinless One / and pray for strength that we may say with Him / ‘Thy will, O Lord, be done.'”

I’ve been reflecting on this line and it seems to me to be particularly appropriate for Martin Luther King day. [Read more…]

What does the First Vision mean in light of a limited view of the apostasy?

Yesterday in our priesthood class in our ward we had a lesson about the apostasy and the restoration, with a heavy emphasis on the First Vision as the event that ends the apostasy.

One of the class members raised his hand and asked, how do we reconcile a belief in the apostasy with the fact that there was so much faith and spiritual devotion in the world in the middle ages and in the renaissance? I don’t think he was trying to be a rabble-rouser, either, he was being sincere.

When I was a missionary, we used to teach that the apostasy was a loss of true doctrine, a corruption of ordinances, a loss of revelation, a loss of understanding about the fundamental principles of the gospel, and a loss of priesthood authority. Over the past 5-10 years, though I’ve been more and more convinced of a much more narrow view of the apostasy. But I wonder what that means for the First Vision? [Read more…]

Advent 2016: Preparing our hearts for Christmas

This is an edited version of a talk I gave in Sacrament Meeting last week.

My assignment was to speak on a message entitled “Preparing Our Hearts for Christmas,” which is based on talks by the First Presidency in the 2011 Christmas Devotional. All the quotes in this post are from that message. While we don’t as a church formally observe a traditional liturgical calendar the way many other Christian denominations do, the First Presidency’s exhortation to prepare our hearts for Christmas is consistent with the very old Christian tradition of advent, four weeks of anticipation and preparation before Christmas. [Read more…]

Samuel, the prophet. #BOM2016

These past weeks I’ve thought a lot about Samuel, the Lamanite. And as I’ve re-read the Book of Mormon this year, I’ve realized that in the past, I’ve glossed over how significant Samuel is to the latter end of the Book of Mormon, and how appropriate a figure he is for advent.

Arguably, the three figures that loom the largest over Helaman through Ether are Jesus, Mormon, and Moroni. And all three of them draw attention to Samuel and his prophecy. When we read Samuel’s prophecy about the destruction of the Nephites, it’s easy to see that as referring to the destruction that befell them at the time of Jesus’ death. But Mormon sees it, along with the prophecy of Abinadi, as referring to his own day (see Mormon 1-3). When Moroni describes the curse that befell the Jaredites, while abridging the record of Ether, he uses the same language that Samuel used when pronouncing his curse on the Nephites, and that his father, Mormon used when describing it’s fulfillment, suggesting that Samuel’s curse and prophecy permeated not just the way Mormon and Moroni thought about their present, but the way they thought about the past. Mormon and Moroni appear to have seen Samuel as perhaps the major prophetic figure of the latter parts of the Book of Mormon. Jesus also arguably identifies Samuel as the major prophet for the descendants of Lehi (see 3 Nephi, 20:24, more on that below).

[Read more…]

The curse of the land: dragon-sickness in Tolkien and in the Book of Mormon.

There’s a handful of books that I return to again and again. Among that handful are the Book of Mormon, the New Testament, and Tolkien’s works. And a recurring theme that I find winding through both the Book of Mormon and in Tolkien’s stories is that of cursed, elusive treasure.

The prophet Samuel, the Lamanite, pronounces this curse on the Nephites in his day, prophesying that “whoso shall hide up treasures in the earth shall find them again no more, because of the great curse of the land.” Helaman 13:18. Samuel goes on at length: “[Y]e are cursed because of your riches,” he says. “And also your riches are cursed because ye have set your hearts upon them.” Helaman 13:21. To put in concrete terms the elusiveness of the riches, Samuel uses the highly evocative adjective “slippery.” God “curseth your riches, that they become slippery, that ye cannot hold them; and in the days of your poverty ye cannot retain them,” he says. Helaman 18:31. [Read more…]

The Sacrament: a (somewhat speculative) liturgical genealogy (Part V).

This is my fifth and final post in my series on where the sacrament derives from. In the first and second posts, we looked at how and why Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith took the sacrament prayers of the restored church from Moroni. The third and fourth posts argued that the account of Jesus’ visit in 3 Nephi 18 was the ultimate source of Moroni’s liturgy, but speculated that Moroni’s liturgy was the result of a tradition that began as extemporaneous prayers based on Jesus’ teachings in 3 Nephi 18, but that then settled at some point into a liturgy of set prayers based on those teachings (and on some things that were not explicitly part of those teachings).

In this post, I’m going to look at how the last supper relates to all this, and what it means for me personally, to (tentatively) think of the sacrament in this speculative way.

The Sacrament and the Eucharist: Children of Two Long Lost Brothers.

In tracing the “genealogy” of the sacrament, I haven’t mentioned the last supper. And that’s weird, isn’t it? [Read more…]

The Sacrament: a (somewhat speculative) liturgical genealogy. (Part IV)

This is the fourth post in my series on the sacrament’s origins. In the first and second posts we looked at how and why Oliver Cowdery used the sacrament prayers recorded in Moroni for the sacrament liturgy in the restored church. In the last post, I suggested that Jesus did not give set prayers to the Nephite disciples for the sacrament, but that the disciples developed what would ultimately become Moroni’s liturgy out of  Jesus’ teachings on the sacrament when he gave them bread and wine. I argued, though, that the account of the bread and wine recorded in what is now 3 Nephi chapter 18 is the ultimate source for Moroni’s liturgy, and that we can trace almost every line in Moroni’s liturgy to those teachings.

In this part, we are going to take a look at the places where Moroni’s liturgy differs from Jesus’ teachings in 3 Nephi 18. [Read more…]

The Sacrament: a (somewhat speculative) liturgical genealogy. (Part III)

This is the third post in my short series about the “genealogy” of the LDS sacrament. In the first we looked at Oliver Cowdery’s 1829 Articles of the Church of Christ as the “birth” of the sacrament in the restored church. In the second, we looked at the sacrament prayers that Moroni records as the source for the prayers that Olive Cowdery put in the Articles. In this one, were going to look at the account in 3 Nephi of Jesus’ post-resurrection sacrament meal as the source of Moroni’s prayers.

The Progenitor of the Line: Jesus’ Words in 3 Nephi 18

Oliver Cowdery got the sacrament prayers from Moroni, but where did Moroni get them? I think it is apparent, from a close reading of Jesus’ words in what is now 3 Nephi chapter 18 that the prayers that Moroni recorded almost four centuries later were a liturgy that developed out of those words, similar to the way that the Eucharistic liturgy celebrated by Christian churches in the middle east and in Europe around that same time developed out of the accounts of the last supper in the gospels.[1]

liahonlp-nfo-o-19ef

Third Nephi, Chapter 18 by A.B. Wright.

[Read more…]

The Sacrament: a (somewhat speculative) liturgical genealogy. (Part II)

In the last post, we took a look at the “birth” of the LDS sacrament in Oliver Cowdery’s 1829 Articles of the Church of Christ. That document was the predecessor of the 1830 Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ, which eventually became what is today section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

In this post, we’re going to take a look at why Oliver Cowdery chose to use Moroni’s liturgy as the liturgy for the sacrament for the new church. [Read more…]

The Sacrament: a (somewhat speculative) liturgical genealogy.

I’m going to write a series of posts that trace the Book of Mormon origins of the ritual we call the sacrament.

I’m calling this a “genealogy” in  sense similar to the sense that Princeton describes its “lives of great religious books” series as “biographies” of the “lives” of religious texts.

A “biography” of the sacrament would be a liturgical history of how the church has performed and adapted the ritual since its “birth” in the 1829 Articles of the Church of Christ. It would include things like the August 1830 revelation permitting the use of water in place of wine, the history of church-owned vineyards for producing sacramental wine, the use of wine up to the early 20th century, the history of the relief society taking charge to bake sacramental bread, the practice of praying the sacrament prayers with uplifted hands, the shift from adult men administering the prayers to teenage priests, the development of a tradition of teachers and deacons preparing and passing the sacrament, the strange practice that arose in some place in the mid-20th century of only using white bread, and of cutting off crusts, and countless other facets of how we observe the sacrament. [Read more…]

“A man among the gentiles”: Questioning our assumptions.

In the early chapters of the Book of Mormon, Nephi sees a vision of, among other things, events that readers have interpreted as the then future history of the colonization of the Americas. At one point in his telling of the vision, Nephi says this:

“And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land.” (1 Nephi 13:12)

Traditionally, readers have interpreted this verse as a prediction of the voyages of Christopher Columbus. And some latter-day saints have felt the need to defend Columbus from “political correctness” when Columbus’ serious sins (slavery, brutal oppression, etc.) are discussed.
[Read more…]

Elder Meurs: The Sacrament Can Help us Become Holy. #ldsconf

peter-f-meurs-large

Elder Meurs.

In the Sunday Morning conference session, Elder Peter Meurs [1] spoke about worshiping God through the sacrament. (Watch his talk here.) This is a theme that church leaders have been hitting pretty hard for over the past year.
[Read more…]

Book Review: Joseph Smith’s Seer Stones by Michael Hubbard MacKay and Nicholas J. Frederick.

5159794_keyartLike many things, this book is a product of its time. As the Joseph Smith Papers project has continued its work, increased availability of early sources has inspired renewed conversations about Joseph Smith’s seer stones. In 2013, the church published a Gospel Topics essay about the Book of Mormon translation, which discussed Joseph Smith’s use of seer stones. Last year, the church released photographs of a stone believed to be one of Joseph Smith’s seer stones, and published an short article in the Ensign with the photographs that attempted to put the use of seer stones in context for church members. Seer stones are having a bit of a moment.

Taking advantage of this moment, a pair of BYU religion professors, Mike MacKay and Nick Frederick, have written this book as a “friendly introduction” [1] to Joseph Smith’s seer stones. This is MacKay’s second book that has grown out of research from the Joseph Smith Papers. He wrote the first, From Darkness Unto Light: Joseph Smith’s Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon, with Gerrit Dirkmaat, another BYU religion professor who, like MacKay, has worked on the Joseph Smith Papers project. It was published by the BYU Religious Studies Center in 2015, not long before the church released the seer stone photographs. That first book is basically a longer, more detailed, and free-ranging version of the 2013 Gospel Topics essay on the Book of Mormon translation. In a similar way, this book could be considered a longer, more detailed version of the October 2015 seer stones article. [Read more…]