Advice for matrimonial tourists

A few Sundays ago, we had an American visitor in English language Sunday School. He was starting a three-month trip around Scandinavia and the Baltics. Travelling around for thee months sounds good to me, but he felt the need to tell us the motivation for his journey: ‘I’ve come here to find a wife.’ [Read more…]

Preparing the sacrament

So we’re talking about the priesthood in Sunday School today, and a fairly recent convert asks the following question:

If the priesthood is the authority to act in the name of God and to perform acts that have eternal significance, why do you need to the priesthood to prepare the sacrament? What authority is necessary to get some slices of bread in a tray and fill those little cups? Or do those trays and little cups have a significance that means that only the priesthood can handle them?

As the answer to the last question is clearly no, a missionary suggested it was because the sacrament required a high level of respect because it was a sacred ordinance — but as the questioner pointed out, you don’t need the priesthood to show respect.

Any ideas? I came up with an answer, which I’ll post later. A hint: it was historical rather than doctrinal.

Today’s morality lesson from the world of sports

The Dodgers beat the Padres 3-2, but I was interested in this buried lead from the LA Times:

There was plenty of pregame chatter about still images of Padres ace Jake Peavy that surfaced on the message board of a Dodgers fan site the previous night. The still picture was taken from Fox’s national broadcast of the Padres’ 4-1 victory over the Dodgers on Saturday, when Peavy held them to two hits in a complete game.

The images show a black substance on the thumb, forefinger, and middle finger of the San Diego Padres ace’s right hand and didn’t appear to be doctored, as it was part of a sequence that was included in a highlight video posted on The black substance was also visible on the video.

They asked Dodgers manager Joe Torre about it. [Read more…]

Special music, part 3

When we called a new ward music leader and ward pianist, we wanted to see the music in our ward change. We very rarely had any special music in our meetings, and always from the same source. The bishop told me he trusted my judgment and the three of us sat down and started to talk.

Besides the abstract brainstorming I’ve discussed before, we wanted to establish what we saw as the purpose of church music. We purposely ignored the CHI, wanting to generate these ideas ourselves and then compare them to the guidelines afterward.

We decided church music should have two goals:

1. Music in church ought to help listeners have spiritual feelings.

2. Music in church ought to allow the musicians to make an offering of their talents to God and the community. [Read more…]

Special music, part 2

‘E’ is 25 years old. She received training as a singer at the pop/jazz conservatory and sang with a commercially viable pop group and a prestigious Lutheran cathedral choir before her mission. She now serves as the ward pianist.

‘V’ is in his early thirties. He has worked in several performance-related fields, including arranging music for television and stage managing for alternative theatre groups. He plays several instruments and sings. He serves as the ward music leader.

‘N’ is in his late thirties. As a hobby, he plays the trombone, and he has played in a big swing band, a ska band and a jazz trio. He is the bishopric member responsible for music in the ward.

It was at a meeting between these three that the idea for the ‘choir planted in the audience’ concept was discussed. All three thought it was interesting because it broke down the barrier between the audience and the singers and because it encouraged a measure of spontaneity, both which seemed like opportunities for emotional and spiritual interaction with music. N thought it was too manipulative, but both E and V argued that everyone would know it was a performance and appreciate it from that level: but we all realized most Mormons, especially in Finland, would never spontaneously stand and sing. (V pointed out that men had to be told to take off their jackets in hot weather.) We agreed to sit on the idea and to perhaps split the two concepts of a congregation-based choir and the encouragement of spontaneous involvement. (I showed them the comments from the first post, and they laughed at how seriously people took the concept of standing up to sing.) [Read more…]

Special music, part 1

A few of us in my ward have been talking about the possibilities of church music. These posts have grown out of those conversations with the permission of the participants.

In sacrament meeting, a piano solo is announced. Brother H goes up to the stand and stops at the podium. He says, ‘ “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” is one of my favorite hymns, and if you would like, you could follow along with the words as I play the music. It’s number 136 in the hymnbook.’ And he proceeds to the piano. [Read more…]

BYU prostitution rackets

Recently I was chatting with a young man who as thinking about attending BYU, and a third person chimed in to let him know it wasn’t all purity and goodness there, and told the following tale: [Read more…]

The missionary and the priest

The posting of this was inspired by Ardis’ post.

In September 1988, I was a missionary in a small city in western Belgium. There were twelve active members in the branch, and ten of them could be described as eccentric; the other two were crazy. My companion and I were were both quite relaxed and happy to find interesting things to do that we could call missionary work, but inevitably we had to spend many days tracting. [Read more…]

A question from an ignoramus: Mormon scholarship

If you hadn’t noticed yet, I am the cute but stupid one at BCC. So here’s what I’m wondering:

How has Mormon scholarship affected the average member of the church? [Read more…]

Strengthening my family

So last night I left my wife and three small children at home for three hours to go to the stake center to hear the message that I should spend more time with my family. (Irony level: 5.4 — surprisingly low because it happens about twice a year.) [Read more…]

Latter-day Snitches

(I posted another version of this earlier today and decided I didn’t like the tone and specificity of it. This is a revised version.)

My sister coined the term ‘Latter-day Snitches’ after a ward member informed my mother that my sister had been seen canoodling with a boy. (I called them ‘concerned citizens,’ like when Boss Hogg made anonymous calls snitching out the Duke Boys to the state police.) Indeed, there were enough snitchy ward members around our SoCal suburb that I couldn’t be sure any misdeed would go unnoticed. (Which is why we started hitchhiking over the hill to anonymity.) [Read more…]

Sacrament meeting talks: form and structure

I’ve been asked to participate in a fireside about how to give a church talk. I was invited because I teach composition and oratory classes and because I do a fair amount of public speaking around town, so my presentation will focus on process and structure, while others will handle other aspects, such as spiritual preparation. I thought I would approach it in much the same way I teach students to write a strong speech. I am not saying that this is the only way to give a talk in church, only making suggestions.

Here are some points I’m planning to make: [Read more…]

Elements of faith

Last Sunday I was browsing in the institute library (also known as ‘English language Priesthood Meeting’) and starting skimming Bruce Hafen’s The Believing Heart. In an early chapter, he identifies three elements of an individual’s testimony: the test of reason, the test of spiritual feeling and the test of experience. [Read more…]

PDA in wedding announcements

We get a fair number of wedding announcements from returned missionaries we’ve known and fed, and I’ve seen a trend emerging. In the last year or so, several of them coming from the Utah/Idaho area have the invitation printed on a montage of photos of the couple, and they include a picture of the couple kissing. Last week we had some missionaries over and passed a recent one around that featured a 4×6 shot of the couple in lip-lock, and I made a snarky comment about it; their response was that it was much better than the ones they’ve seen in Finland, where the couple just stand together politely smiling, usually in the forest. Hmm. [Read more…]

On the Articles of Faith

Just like most people who grew up in the church, I memorized the Articles of Faith and can still mumble through a few of them. (Although I’m a bit too old to have sung them, thank goodness.) But as I think about them now, I’m not quite sure to make of them. [Read more…]

Is my child prophetic?

In the thirty-fifth week of her pregnancy, my wife had some complications. She was ordered to bed for the rest of the pregnancy, and obviously we were worried. I prepared to give a blessing with fasting, seclusion and prayer. The resulting was an outpouring of spiritual gifts that left us all breathless. It gave my wife a tremendous boost of hope and faith.

Just after this, as we all stood around the bed blinking, one of my two year old sons said, very clearly, ‘The baby is a girl. Her name is Emma.’ [Read more…]

In which a Mormon goes to a Bar and faces Temptation

A few months ago, a few of the fathers I’ve met while watching our kids in the park decided to get together, sans children. A location was chosen: a posh bar in the neighborhood. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in bars in my day — listening to music, playing music, meeting friends — so I didn’t think twice about meeting them there, especially as it was a warm evening and I knew the terrace would be pleasant. Is this the primrose path? Maybe. [Read more…]

On goals and souls

I got a copy of an email from the stake high counselor over missionary work asking for our goals for next year, including our number of baptisms. This is familiar territory to anyone who served a mission, I think. And before I get into my reservations about this practice, let me say that I support the idea of setting goals generally; it is a process that can help us become more like God.

But the idea of setting a numerical goal related to conversion (or reactivation) has two problems with it, as far as I can see. [Read more…]


In Finland, the first Saturday of November is Pyhäinpäivä, or All Saint’s Day. It’s not easy to miss — all the shops close and public transport runs on the Sunday schedule. Aside from special church services, it is traditional to visit grave sites with candles and wreaths or boughs of evergreen. My friend Lloyd asked if I would like to go with him to visit his wife’s grave. I was happy to go. [Read more…]

The Great Church Metaphorathon

To be successful in the church, it’s pretty obvious you have to know how to spin a good metaphor. Who can forget Elder Bednar’s pickles, or the moral significance of the fact that Idaho Falls is built on a pile of rubbish?

So, as an improving exercise, I have listed three mundane objects and events. Choose one and create a church-related metaphor, suitable for use in a talk. Extra points will be given for dealing with the specific details of the object or event and for the obscurity of the principle you are using it to explore. [Read more…]

Are the three Nephites funny?

A few months ago, we had a mysterious stranger coming to our ward. He had a heavy beard and was not Finnish, although he spoke the language passingly well. He knew all about the church and had scriptures, but said he was not a member — he referred to himself as a ‘friend of the church.’ He kept conversations short and was polite but firm in response to the advances of the missionaries.[1]

In a ward council meeting, we were talking about him, speculating a little about his situation. I made a joke: ‘I think he’s one of the three Nephites.’ A few people laughed, but one of the older members asked, basically, what I was talking about. Except those who had served missions (with American companions), few members had heard of the Three Nephites ‘being spotted,’ as it were. [Read more…]

The power of beauty

I noticed today that the world is full of beauty. [Read more…]

St. John, the adulteress and me

I was asked to speak in Sacrament Meeting on a scripture that has helped me understand Christ. As I thought about it, the same idea kept coming to me: John 8:1-11, the story of the woman taken in adultery (aka Pericope Adulterae).
What strikes me is the focus on mercy and the charity and patience with others that the atonement requires of us. We focus on the issues of obedience (which are necessary) to the degree that we forget about the quality of mercy that this story reinforces. I’m deeply moved as I contemplate Christ offering mercy to her and by extension, me. I like the idea of seeing ourselves and others in the way that Christ and the Father do: defined not by our sins, but by our potential to be like Him because of the Atonement.
But there’s a complication: [Read more…]

William Henry Harrison Sagers: a brief history

When my father joined the church in Chicago in 1966, he was confident he was the first and only Mormon in his family. Much later, while doing family history research, he discovered his great grandmother was born in Tooele, Utah; and her mother was a wife of William Henry Harrison Sagers. [Read more…]

High Priest Sauna Night

High Priest Sauna Night was last night, and it’s the best ward activity of the year.

The men of the ward have two sauna nights, each quorum responsible for one. We hire a beautiful sauna by the sea, where we can also swim and grill. The RS does one or two Enrichment night saunas as well. Oh, and there is ward family sauna, but it’s lame on three accounts: 1. You have to wear a swimsuit. 2. The sauna has to be set at child-friendly levels (below 80C). 3. One’s wife is likely to respond negatively when one reaches for that second or third sausage. [Read more…]

Cribbin’ the ‘nacle

It was my turn to write an article for our ward newsletter, and it started like this:

Tässä on pieni testi. Täytä puuttuva sana:

Oh, wait. In English:

Here’s a little test. Fill in the blank:

Joseph Smith said, ‘_______ is a grand and fundamental principle of our religion.’

While many people would say ‘obedience’ or ‘revelation,’ what he said was, ‘Friendship is a grand and fundamental principle of our religion.’

If that sounds familiar, I plagiarized it from a BCC post. It’s the first time I’ve done this, but I doubt it will be the last. I felt a little bad about not giving Mark Brown and/or BCC as the source, but I couldn’t think of a way to do this that would make a lot of sense.

So has anyone else borrowed from the blogs for a talk or lesson? Did you give a reference? Will the search box on BCC or MA become the next refuge of the lazy church speaker?

Teenagers and Mormon friends

We now have one Mormon kid in our high school (out of 150). He’s in the tenth grade and although I don’t teach him, he dropped by for a chat on the first day of school. He just moved here from the west coast of the US and has a great attitude, the kind one hopes for in an expat teenager. He’s understandably anxious about being in such a small school with high academic expectations, and of course being the only Mormon. Then he said something that surprised me: ‘Back home, all my friends were members.’ [Read more…]

The reluctant correlator

Part of my ward calling is to publish the monthly ward newsletter. (I do the layout, and my wife proofreads.) The ward decided some time ago that a weekly bulletin was a waste of paper, and it would be more interesting to publish something monthly produced by the ward for the ward. There is a message from a bishopric member, a calendar for the next month, profiles of new members, excerpts of letters from missionaries and other articles from members. [Read more…]

Home Leave

This is about honoring my parents.

As you may know, I live with my wife and sons in Helsinki, Finland. My parents and siblings live in the Los Angeles area, where I was raised. My children are my parents’ only grandchildren. Since the boys were born, we have seen each other once a year for two or three weeks at a time. I’ve recently returned from a three-week visit to California, my first in four years and our first ever as a married couple. (My brother had not yet met my wife.) [Read more…]

The ward and the community: A dispatch from the suburbs

My family and I are spending some weeks of holiday in Southern California to visit friends and family and enjoy the weather. We’re attending my parents ward, which was the ward into which I was born, baptized, etc. My ‘hometown’ in the southeast corner of the San Gabriel Valley has always been an ethnically mixed neighborhood; in the last few years the Chinese and Korean residents and businesses have dominated the area in a way some might find threatening, but it has improved property values and (from my point of view) made a bland suburban vacuum something more interesting. [Read more…]