“We” are going to law school

Each fall new families move into our university ward, and inevitably the husband stands up, introduces his wife, and then says that “we are here for law school” (or for some other medical, business, or graduate program). [Read more…]

Pragamatically reframing the question of women and the priesthood

Sometime around now, we have had or will have the Sunday School lesson on the priesthood.  If it is like my Sunday School class, then someone (in my case, an elderly man with a walker!) will raise the inevitable question of why women don’t hold the priesthood.  I am not sure whether or not women should have the priesthood, and, ultimately, it isn’t my decision to make.  But I am sure that as much as I would like to see gender issues remain alive within the church, raising the question often produces institutional anxiety and reveals that women themselves are divided on the issue.  [Read more…]

What should you do when the lesson manual is wrong?

Last Sunday, I had the lesson that spoke about Thomas Marsh and his apostasy. Being an informed reader of BCC, when the subject came up I whipped out my iphone, reviewed John Hamer’s excellent post on Thomas Marsh, and then proceeded to explain to the class that the story told in the manual was in fact incorrect. The moment the words came out of my mouth, I regretted them. I had put the teacher in a bad spot.  But, still, I KNEW the manual was dead wrong, and I felt I would be an accomplice in perpetuating slander if I didn’t speak up. [Read more…]

Why was Christ not a writer?

Although it pains me to admit this, it seems that Christ was not a writer.

Although he quotes scriptures in order to position himself within history, establish his credentials as a teacher, parry attacks, and occasionally radically reinterpret or restore meaning to those texts, he never appears to express any interest in recording (or asking others to record) his ministry and teachings in a written form.  He responds to humans’ questions more than he lectures; he is an interpreter rather than a writer.  His utter disinterest in controlling his legacy, teachings, and image through a written work becomes, in fact, somewhat astonishing when compared to stories and commandments within The Book of Mormon that highlight the vital importance of record keeping for posterity. [Read more…]

In praise of baptism

Although I have attended many baptisms for eight-year olds, today I attended my first adult baptism.  As an eight-year old, I recall seeing baptism through the lens of duty and right and wrong moral decisions.  I didn’t see baptism as an opportunity to enter and serve in a community, because I was already part of the Mormon faith.  I saw it as a duty to check off if I wanted to be exalted and free of sin.  But the adult baptismal service I attended emphasized being welcomed into the community more than duty, which caused me to see baptism in a new and refreshing light. [Read more…]

When our spiritual timeline doesn’t correspond to religious life events

Let me start with an admission that I have never publicly made: I didn’t want to get married in the temple.  At the time of my marriage, I had only recently had my endowment, and I was still struggling to absorb the ceremony.  I wanted my marriage to be a time when I could focus on my spouse and family; I didn’t want to relive a temple experience that I found more secret than sacred.  Although I ceded to my family’s desires that I be married in that only acceptable place, my memories of my temple marriage are primarily ones of panic, because I didn’t feel that I  could in good faith go through the ceremony and make covenants that I wasn’t ready to make. [Read more…]

Does God need us to experiment more with His word?

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the question of who said a statement is often more essential than the merit of the statement’s contents in determining whether or not that statement will be received as authoritative.  Our prophet is authorized to receive revelation for the church in a way that individual members are not, and while many of the things he says and we accept as doctrine are inspired and thus have high content merit, it is probable that we also canonize comments that he did not intend to be accepted as doctrine.   Due to the potential for each of the prophet’s words to take on doctrinal weight that can impact the course of Mormonism, the prophet and other authorities whose words carry similar degrees of weight must necessarily be restrained in their speaking in order to prevent the canonization of mere speculation, personal opinion, or off the cuff remarks. [Read more…]

If you could hie to Kobol: how science fiction adds to my faith

I don’t especially want to hie to Joseph Smith’s Kolob. The vision of Kolob in the Book of Abraham with its firm hierarchy of planets and intelligences does not appeal to my ego as fully as the other Mormon view that emphasizes how we can progress to become like God in power and knowledge. But, Joseph Smith’s vision of Kolob, along with its song and its latest off-shoot, Battlestar Galactica’s Kobol, thrill me nevertheless, because each of these works played or plays the crucial role of helping people bridge the gap between the world they see and their understanding of God, a role that contemporary Mormonism often largely cedes. [Read more…]

What happens in the temple when we run out of ancestors?

When people press you to begin your long-neglected genealogy work, they typically remind you that you have hundreds of ancestors just waiting for their temple work to be done. However, my experience with what I believe to be one of the Church’s most brilliant initiatives, New Family Search, has lead me to a different conclusion, which I had not previously entertained since I am the child of a parent who is the only member in her family: maybe I have no ancestors whose work has not yet been done. [Read more…]

I’m moving back: dreaming of a smaller, more urban house

After several years of living in a roach-infested, non-air-conditioned, 5th floor walk-up apartment in a bad area of a NYC, I rejoiced at the opportunity to move to to a more suburban setting.   Sure, I had met my closest friends and had my biggest learning experiences while in the city, but the poor quality of life and thoughts of eventually having children there were making me depressed.  My dreams became suburban: I wanted plenty of space, a home surrounded by nature, and a car so that I no longer had to use public transportation.  But now that I have lived that suburban dream for a year, I understand that some of the things I enjoyed most about life in a NYC were tied to the same cramped living conditions that I had come to abhor. [Read more…]

Sometimes, they don’t live long and prosper

I know, of course, that children and infants frequently died in our past. As a former student of Victorian literature and history, I am comfortable with the fact that perhaps most children in the history of the world have died young and unpleasantly.  And I’m sure that heaven will be centered around the under 8 crowd – just like church!  I have sometimes even thought that perhaps the single most significant development in allowing women more life choices was scientifically advancing to the point where they did not need to have many children to ensure that at least some survived to adulthood.  But I didn’t realize how many infants are still dying — and how many women still struggle to conceive them at all. [Read more…]

Time to reconsider BYU’s YouTube policy

In Fall 2006, BYU announced a policy that would ban YouTube from campus.  BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins explained the decisions in The Daily Herald: “We use the filtering process for two reasons.  First to protect students from inappropriate material. The other is because of our limited bandwidth. That bandwidth is used for academic purposes.”  [Read more…]

Consecration: it’s not just a spiritual law

“But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin” (D&C 49:20).

Mormons, it seems to me, are uneasy with the law of consecration.  Although it is something that we covenant to live, it is also something that we struggle to understand.  When Mormons discuss the law of consecration, within moments we are typically discussing how the law of consecration is not just a temporal law, but also a spiritual one.  This law is spiritual in the sense that real financial sacrifices are required for the gospel to thrive.  But I am concerned that we shift attention to the spiritual side of the law, because this helps us rationalize our real failures to grapple with the temporal side of this commandment.  [Read more…]

Why we can’t talk about gender, cont.

Last week, I was preparing a mailing for an organization where I volunteer, and I saw that one of the intended recipients was an action-group that contained the word “family.”  For a few seconds, I caught myself wondering if this group would be an appropriate recipient for this particular mailing, because the word “family” attached to an action-group instantly brought to my mind associations with social conservatism, Prop 8, and the Republican party.  Now, I realize that this initial response was silly on multiple levels, but it is indicative of another reason that makes it so difficult to speak productively about gender: the vocabulary surrounding gender and families has become too politicized.  [Read more…]

Talk to her (or him): moving beyond our impasse on gender

One day, a man in my family who I love and admire offered the opinion that I simply had a “personal” issue with gender in the church and that I should deal with it.  I’ll skip over my immediate reaction to that comment and go directly to the thoughts that followed that conversation.  Why, I wondered, do both men and women have such a difficult time speaking about gender and the expectations that we associate with it, especially amongst the people we care about most?  Why do almost all attempts to discuss gender in blog posts disintegrate into traffic-garnering exchanges of unproductive emotion (anger, hurt, etc.) and even accusation?  This post is my attempt to offer one explanation and to open a debate not on gender, but on how we can talk about gender more productively. [Read more…]

Revising the Joseph Smith manual

Ever since my calling in Young Women’s ended a year ago, I have enjoyed the lessons on Joseph Smith that we are studying in Relief Society and Priesthood.  I appreciate this attempt to understand our founding prophet’s life within a historical context, and, until recently, I felt touched and awed at hearing the prophet’s own recorded voice.  What changed?  Well, it suddenly dawned on me that I wasn’t actually hearing his voice. 

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Looking forward to Easter

“Luck,” a Korean friend explained to me, “does not just represent mere chance in my culture.  It is a concept designed to further the idea that everything that happens must have had a motivating cause.”  [Read more…]

The case for not being aware of suffering and death

Everyday human morality – the kind of morality based on our instincts and our common sense rather than on theorizing – is quite often rooted in our response to the physical or emotional suffering of other living creatures.  But, in a recent post on eating animals, I confess that I was surpised to discover how many of us share the belief that the most ethical way to honor an animal’s sacrifice is to witness or imagine that animal’s death and suffering.  This post attempts to make sense of my confusion as to whether or not it is valuable to live with such attention to suffering and death as a means of being ethical. [Read more…]

Is it better for one cow to die than for a nation of fish to perish?

Meal times are uncomfortable at my house.  For the past few years, I have rarely been able to cook without realizing that every time I select meat from the grocery store, I am participating in a slaughter of animals that takes place far away from sight and all too often from mind.  I am not a vegetarian, which would be the easiest solution to my guilt.  Currently, I’m the “eat meat sparingly” kind, though I do it in times of summer and plenty as well as winter and famine.   But our Word of Wisdom and scriptures make it clear that we should eat meat sparingly and that we have stewardship over the earth.  So, my question is, excluding the possibility of vegetarianism, how exactly should we decide which animals die so that we can live?  I’m taking it as a given that we should only buy meat from those who treat animals ethically. [Read more…]

What the church does well…

Recently, I have noticed that while I blog about problems (they’re just so much more interesting), I rarely blog about the reasons I appreciate my Mormon faith.  Yesterday, my ward had an open house for the community, and I had ample time to think of things our church does really, really well.  Here is a partial list: [Read more…]

Eclipse, or dating into the eternities

When I first read the sensational young adult book, Twilight, certain parallels between the book and Mormon culture caught my attention.  The heroine, Bella, longs to join the eternal family that her vampire boyfriend belongs to, she drinks Coke (not coffee) to stay awake, she longs for a perfect, immortal body, and her sensual relationship with Edward is technically chaste.  But after I posted on Twilight, some readers wondered if I would still feel these books have Mormon parallels once I read books three and four.

Book three, Eclipse, continues to focus on Bella’s desire to join her eternal family, but I would agree with those who suggest that as the series continues its parallels to Mormonism, if extant, are less obvious.  In a refreshing reversal of gender roles, it is the vampire Edward who insists on marriage and chastity while Bella wants just one thing.  Such a frank discussion of sexuality is uncommon in Mormon culture, even if the conclusion the characters reach, that sex must wait for marriage, is utterly in-line with a Christian worldview.  But while the plot of Eclipse is by no means a direct reflection of Mormon culture, it raises questions that are applicable to us.  In particular, Eclipse queries a worn idea in an insightful way: what exactly does eternal love mean and how does the idea of it influence our choice of partners? [Read more…]

Converting to Christ or to the church?

In the community where I am currently privileged to live, many churches abound. These churches fill various niches: some serve students, some serve the low-income community, others are historically black, some are conservative, and others are liberal. Many are Evangelical, but there is a large diversity of brands. While having a diversity of churches in an area might seem unsurprising, I have recently been startled by the perspectives of many people who attend these churches. [Read more…]

Wearing faith on (or under) our sleeves

The following summary of a study on Mormons and beards recently appeared in The Atlantic’s “Quick Studies” page.

Although Brigham Young wore a beard, today’s Mormon leaders insist that a clean-shaven face shows piety and obedience. But some bearded Mormons are resisting: they say they feel shame and resentment when told to shave, because their beards express “deeply felt, even intimate, identities.” Appearance is a “highly charged” marker of loyalty in the church, and growing a beard is increasingly becoming “a serious breach that sets in play a uniquely Mormon social drama.”

“Men’s Grooming in the Latter-Day Saints Church: A Qualitative Study of Norm Violation,” Mental Health, Religion & Culture [Read more…]

The fallacy of appealing to intellectualism

We hear repeatedly throughout our educations that appeals to emotion are forms of argumentative fallacy.  In many cases, they are exactly such, and the interjection of emotion obscures the underlining problem and makes it difficult to resolve productively.  However, in other cases appeals to emotion operate as (the only) viable forms of evidence.  In these cases, the interjection of emotion into an argument should not be seen as a fallacy, but as evidence needed initially to push a conversation forward.  Of course, we are familiar with the risks that come when we voice emotion, and, as a strategy, we should strongly consider looking for non-emotional forms of evidence in order to avoid these problems.  But in this post I’m not interested in the good reasons to avoid emotion.  Those are discussed enough.  I’m concerned with the often-overlooked phenomenon that occurs when emotion used as evidence is dismissed by the fallacy of appealing to intellectual tones or modes of argument. [Read more…]

A brief rhetorical suggestion

In our culture, we claim to enjoy the privilege of belonging to the only “true” church.  However, the language of truth leads us into uncomfortable positions when we attempt to share our faith, when we are uncertain about which aspects of our complex, bureaucratic church are truly “inspired,” and when we might feel the word pressures us into feeling that anything short of certainty about our beliefs is unacceptable.  So, could we use a better term for describing the restored church? 

I would like to suggest that instead of claiming that we belong to the only “true” church that we say more frequently that we belong to the only “authorized” church.   This rhetorical shift seems both to better express what we mean by “true” when referring to our institutional and founding contexts and to avoid the divisive pitfalls that applying the word “truth” to an organization rather than to specific principles entails.
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Searching for Chieko Okazaki

This Christmas, my mother-in-law mentioned in passing how much she liked the books and other writings of Chieko Okazaki.  Now that I have read her book, Aloha!,  I share her positive opinion.  But at the time, my first question was, “Who is Chieko Okazaki?” 

Despite the fact that Sister Okazaki was the first non-Caucasian to serve on a general board and called to be a member of the Relief Society General Presidency in 1990, I do not remember learning about her before or after I graduated from high school in 2000 and entered Relief Society.  The fact that I grew up with little-to-no knowledge of this remarkable sister merits scrutiny. [Read more…]

The reluctant missionary

Just about the time I had given up on being a member missionary, the missionaries showed up at my neighbors’ door.   On November 3, we had discussed the gospel with our neighbors who seemed interested, and then, on Election Day, the missionaries just happened to track their door.  A few weeks later, they attended church services with us, and they were so impressed by the discussion of tithing and fast offerings that they donated a fast offering to the ward.   The next week, they asked me for a copy of D&C, because they already read The Book of Mormon, but were now eager to defend our faith to a non-member who chided them for attending our ward and told them to watch out for what is in D&C.  I don’t know where their spiritual journey will take them — they already exemplify the qualities of Christ and defend our faith.  But I do know that this opportunity to engage in missionary work has changed me. [Read more…]

Revealing truths: is modern day revelation different?

Sometimes when combing through pages of the Ensign to read recent Conference talks I have felt disappointed.  Although our arguably most powerful belief as an organization is in our leaders’ abilities to receive continuing revelation, a glance at recent addresses makes it clear that our mode of receiving revelation is no longer that practiced by Joseph Smith.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, but whereas Joseph Smith spoke directly through God’s voice in his numerous public outpourings of revelations, current leaders very rarely make such claims of authority. 

Given the central importance of our claim to continuing revelation, some explanation is needed as to why we have shifted so much in our capacity to and our mode of receiving revelation.  Again, I am not arguing that it is desirable that Joseph Smith’s revelations be models for today or that we receive more revelations, but it intellectually troubles me.  While I cannot pretend to know how our current leadership understands their unique callings as revelators (though I am eager for them to explain), analysis of their public addresses suggests that they more frequently couch their remarks as merely strong advice.  They also tend to rely on citations of previous authorities or scriptures, suggesting that their role is more one of interpreting and preserving past revelations for our times than of revealing new principles. [Read more…]

Facebook frenemies: is social networking making us kinder?

Several months ago, I joined Facebook after being pestered by my close friends to do so.  Some parts of Facebook I find stressful: I’m painfully aware of what I put on my “status” updates, always balancing the desire to share news with close friends with the desire to market myself to newer friends in particular ways.  And, I confess, I am driven insane by certain statistical issues that Facebook reveals: how is it possible that nearly all of my friends know a certain “Melissa” who I had never heard of?  But, on the whole, I enjoy rekindling connections with friends –- and enemies.   [Read more…]

My blogging life: how blogging continues to change my faith

I started blogging one and a half years ago.  Perhaps like many of us, I started blogging as a form of therapy.  I wanted to anonymously vent frustration and voice opinions that I didn’t feel I could say in church.  Blogging, however, has rapidly become something more meaningful and more complicated to me.  This is a post about both how my perspective on blogging has changed and how blogging has changed my perspective of the LDS church.

I started my first (and now inactive) blog, Mormon Rhetoric, with little expectation that anyone would read my musings and with the assumption that my identity on the web was entirely anonymous.  However, within a few months I was shocked to discover that people in fact did read the blog and that the blog was traceable to me.  Through a series of connections, I was invited to blog on BCC, and I thus ceased to be a private blogger.  In a startlingly short amount of time, my experience shifted from one of anonymity to one of community.  With this shift came a parallel shift in my focus as a blogger: knowing that I had a readership caused me to think of blogging less as therapy and more as an act of community building. [Read more…]