Remember way back last week when the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang at the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States? I was one of those hand-wringing liberals (see here) who thought it was a bad idea before it even happened. Viewed through the lens of that president’s shameful yet totally predictable executive overreach, I am now convinced that it was a bad idea. But judging past events in light of present knowledge is a fraught endeavour, so in assessing the Choir’s participation at the inauguration let’s start with what spokespersons for the Church and the Choir itself had to say before the event took place. [Read more…]
When did Mormons get so allergic to judging? As of September 2016 everything seemed fine. But sometime in the late fall/early winter an allergen spread like wildfire throughout the ancestral home of Mormonism and by January 2017 its immune system was generating antibodies like a The Piano Guys video racking up likes on Youtube–lines had been crossed and it was time to retire judgment for good! This is what Jesus would do, after all, when faced with the prospect of a religious-freedom hating casino magnate becoming the president-elect, and how could we do other? [Read more…]
Church authorities have been at pains lately to emphasize that neither the participation of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir nor two apostles is an endorsement of the casino magnate cum president-elect. Instead, their participation is a celebration and reaffirmation of the peaceful transfer of power. Now, the peaceful transfer of power is certainly a pearl of great price, but is it a feature of American democracy that warrants celebration above all other considerations? I submit that it isn’t. [Read more…]
In the week since the Mormon Tabernacle Choir announced its decision to accept an invitation to perform for the casino magnate and strip club pioneer cum president-elect at his inauguration, an enticing but nevertheless misleading narrative has emerged in response to the kerfluffle:
[T]the choir has performed at five other inaugurations for presidents of both parties, beginning with Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson’s inauguration in 1965, according to a news release from the choir. If the choir had turned down Trump, that would be a partisan decision. It would also open the door to every appearance of the choir being viewed through a political lens, which would add an unnecessary complication to an organization that is committed to spreading goodwill across the globe, regardless of political affiliations. [Source]
The implication is that since the Choir sang for the inauguration of a Democrat over 50 years ago, singing for a nominal Republican in 2017 couldn’t possibly be a partisan decision. I believe the historical record shows that this conclusion is not well founded. [Read more…]
I look forward to the Advent and Christmas seasons each year with great anticipation, but where there is light, there must be shadow. This year’s holiday season has been especially poignant in light of our ward’s efforts to serve a visitor whom I regret won’t be returning, not in this life anyway. [Read more…]
Twenty years ago when I was in the mission field, the Lamanite Generation came to town. It was a big deal at the time, and the powers that be were determined to make the most of this missionary opportunity. So the missionaries received stacks of flyers and were commanded to be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth with them. For several weeks, our first contacting efforts centered around passing out these flyers to unwary pedestrians downtown. When the day of the concert arrived, we were also roped into singing “I am a Child of God” in the local language in a bid to ensure that the universal message of God’s love in the universal language of music didn’t get lost in translation. [Read more…]
One of the best known episodes in The Odyssey addresses a universal truth—namely, mankind’s struggle with deadly but irresistible appeal:
“Now pay attention to what I am about to tell you—heaven itself, indeed, will recall it to your recollection. First you will come to the Sirens who enchant all who come near them. If any one unwarily draws in too close and hears the singing of the Sirens, his wife and children will never welcome him home again, for they sit in a green field and warble him to death with the sweetness of their song. There is a great heap of dead men’s bones lying all around, with the flesh still rotting off them. Therefore pass these Sirens by, and stop your men’s ears with wax that none of them may hear; but if you like you can listen yourself, for you may get the men to bind you as you stand upright on a cross-piece half way up the mast, and they must lash the rope’s ends to the mast itself, that you may have the pleasure of listening. If you beg and pray the men to unloose you, then they must bind you faster.
So how do you respond to the overwhelming complexity of the universe? If you’re like me, you get up, put your pants on one leg at a time, and try not to think about it too much. But from time to time, you’ll wonder what the point of life is, why you are here, how soon is now and who ate the last piece of cheesecake. You will not be content with a life lived uncertainly–you will look for, and find, answers. Well, at least what will pass for answers. [Read more…]
If life were a football game, I’d be receiving a penalty for excessive celebration tonight. [Read more…]
Today’s the (last) day–time to make your choice if you want to secure complaining rights for the next four years! But easier said than done, right? Never before–if my carefully calibrated social media feeds are any indication–has the presidential election posed such a dilemma to women and men of faith. It seems that both candidates from the major parties are morally flawed–some claim in distressingly equal measure–but we also know that single-member district plurality voting systems raise nearly insurmountable barriers to third-party candidates–a vote for them may appease your conscience but it won’t elect a president. [Read more…]
Way back in February, a piece by David Brooks referenced the work of Matthew MacWilliams, who[se editor] claimed that he had discovered “The One Weird Trait That Predicts Whether You’re a Trump Supporter”:
If I asked you what most defines Donald Trump supporters, what would you say? They’re white? They’re poor? They’re uneducated?
You’d be wrong.
In fact, I’ve found a single statistically significant variable predicts whether a voter supports Trump—and it’s not race, income or education levels: It’s authoritarianism.
Despite growing up during Peak Journal [fn1], I didn’t start keeping one until we had a baby. It begins when she is 17 days old: “Right now we are in [the baby’s] room crying. We are in here so [my wife] can sleep for a couple of hours.” Two weeks later: “Overall, she doesn’t sleep as much as I expected newborns would. Last night she slept on my shoulder for about four hours. I had picked her up to give [my wife] a break and thankfully [she] took the opportunity to sleep. It’s not especially restful, but if [she] is quiet I’ll take what I can get.” [Read more…]
Just before our gospel doctrine class concluded its consideration of Lesson 31 “Firm in the Faith of Christ,” the teacher distributed a two-sided handout. On the one side were quotations used in the lesson outlining a kind of Mormon just war doctrine. On the other was a statement by the teacher–a missionary who was probably inspired by the lesson’s suggestion “to create your own title of liberty“–on the state of the world. [Read more…]
Note: This post was submitted by Christy, a participant in this year’s pilgrimage along the Via Francigena who was instrumental in the creation and execution of the recipe described herein on the third day on the trail in a rustic cabin on the shores of Lac de Champex.
Take stock of everything in the available kitchen. Ask yourself key questions such as “Do I have salt? Pepper? Oil? Random utensils for reducing vegetables from their whole selves into smaller units? A very large pot?” If the answer to all of those questions is yes, proceed as follows:
Walk to the nearest grocery store. Take care to not trip on the steps down the hill. Once you have arrived, after traversing crowds of similarly hungry hikers, determine what ingredients interest you most, and purchase accordingly: [Read more…]
Members of the BCC community have been embarking on an annual pilgrimage since 2013. The first took us along the famed Camino to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. It was such a success that we founded the Mormon Society of St. James and decided to do it again, choosing Olav’s Way to Trondheim as our next project. In 2015 we walked to Canterbury, where we picked up credentials for the Via Francigena, which, if you follow in the footsteps of Archbishop Sigeric, begins there and ends in Rome.
We did so until Dover. But lacking a boat and sufficient time, we decided to return in 2016 to tackle the portion of the “road that comes from France” that crosses Switzerland. Next year we plan to walk the final 100 kilometers of the Via Francigena to Rome; details will follow as plans solidify. But for now, watch this space for updates on our travels in the coming week from the Rhône valley to the Great St. Bernard Pass.
I’m not sure what prompted this burst of holiday cheer—probably the stress of a high pressure job—but it left us looking like sheep with a secret sorrow that evening, and in the months to come we came to learn he meant it—concerns were routinely dismissed on the grounds that the employee was alone in his or her concerns.
Well, in a world where the ground is cursed and we are doomed to eat bread by the sweat of our faces until we return unto the ground, it goes without saying that time is short and resources are scarce. And when you consider that problems are like a gas—at least they have a way of filling the available volume regardless of how significant they are in the overall scheme of things—I can understand the pragmatic inclination to tamp down on individual complaints in order to focus on the big picture, even if I think the approach reveals less than heroic leadership qualities. [Read more…]
One of the basic insights of pragmatics, a subfield of linguistics, is that “in attempting to express themselves, people do not only produce utterances containing grammatical structures and words, they perform actions via those utterance.” That those speech acts can wield great power is hardly a new concept; consider the declaration recorded in Genesis: “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.”
Closer to our own experience, declarations of an ecclesiastical authority–perhaps a temple sealer, mission president or bishop–likewise have great influence over the course of our lives: We might be joyfully united for time and eternity with a dear loved one, assigned to a challenging companion in the mission field or, perhaps, suspended from a Church-affiliated school as a result of declarations made in a particular context by a speaker with an authorized institutional role.
In contrast to declarations made under the auspices of a divine being or an institution, individuals are at a relative disadvantage, which may be magnified or minimized according to the ways and means society has developed for stifling or amplifying individual voices. [Read more…]
Back in January the The Mormon Society of St. James announced its fourth annual pilgrimage in August 2016, this time along the Swiss Road of the Via Francigena (St. Francis’s Way), the ancient trading and pilgrimage route from Canterbury to Rome.
Since plans have solidified somewhat since the initial announcement, I’m posting this update to encourage those who may be on the fence to consider joining us. [Read more…]
Last Tuesday the Swedish ambassador to Austria and the permanent representative to the international organizations in Vienna gave a presentation on Sweden’s foreign policy. Yeah, I know you’re thinking–another empty suit regurgitating prefab boilerplate. Yawn. But this was a rather unusual presentation for the standards of Viennese diplomacy (which is a lot like the standards of diplomacy everywhere else–a bunch of greying men debating the future of the world). First of all, it was an all-female panel and secondly, the topic was Sweden’s feminist foreign policy. [Read more…]
Nearly every day I have occasion to cross the busiest street in the city. Given its eight lanes, I usually chose to do so at a convenient crosswalk that is regulated by a traffic light. As is the case with most of Vienna’s 1,286 traffic lights, this one is controlled by a timer. It also features an audio and tactile system for guiding visually impaired persons over the street. Basically this system consists of raised lines on the sidewalk and across the street for guiding the tip of a cane and a box about a meter off the ground that has a raised pictogram of the number of lanes to be crossed and, hidden from plain view, a button that can be depressed to activate an audio signal that sounds while the light is green.This is important–the box pictured below does not turn the light green or in any other way influence the timer; it simply activates an audio signal whenever pedestrians are given the right of way according to preprogrammed intervals. [Read more…]
It was just the two of us at the dinner table. We were eating my daughter’s favorite meal and talking about the kinds of things that concern preschoolers.
After a lull in the conversation–part of which took place in a make-believe language–about her stuffed animals, drawing, playing in the gym and funny things other kids said at preschool, she turned to me and said: “I don’t want to die.” I was taken aback–her closest brush with death was when her grandmother died nearly two years ago when she was, I thought, too young to remember. [Read more…]
As far as Mormon scriptures are concerned, children are holy, they are alive in Christ, and they need no repentance. If we are converted and become as little children, we might enter the Kingdom of God and be called the children of Christ. As far as some Mormon adults are concerned, however, children suffer from a fatal flaw: they sometimes act like children during sacrament meeting.
At least that’s what I heard the other day in a talk that recounted the speaker’s experience with a four-year-old relative. The scene opened with a meltdown over shoes. In response, silent prayers were spoken, faith was exercised, “and the child was healed and acted normally for the rest of the meeting.” [Read more…]
During the month of December, the first rule of BCC is: Advent is not Christmas.
So I’ll be going out on thin ice by jumping the gun and writing about Christmas decorations with the third Sunday of Advent still looming. But you see, I have made a remarkable discovery; rather, my sister has, and I would like to share it. [Read more…]
Yesterday, in an uncharacteristic–yea, wholly unprecedented–fit of introspection, the powers of BCC asked what we could be doing better. One follower responded that he would like “to see the intersection of the blog community and helping the poor and needy.”
And so, in the spirit of Elder Christofferson’s talk about the role of the Body of Christ in achieving needful things that individual members cannot, allow me to suggest as an initial response to this request that we head over to Kickstarter and multiply our efforts to help USA for UNHCR help the poor and needy affected by the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the Middle East and Europe. You have until 13 October 2015 to donate as often as you like, and most fees usually associated with Kickstarter campaigns will be waived or donated.
Do any of our valued readers have additional suggestions about how to help?
As noted by a valued reader, donations to the Humanitarian Aid Fund administered by LDS Charities–which is partnering with, inter alia, UNHCR to address the European refugee crisis–can be made here for those preferring that modality.
The European refugee crisis is hardly a bolt from the blue–it’s long been in the making–but when streams of refugees started pouring over the border from Hungary into Austria in early September it caught me flat-footed. [Read more…]
The term “church” seems straightforward enough, but I suspect that in explaining to someone what it means you will quickly find that it’s a convenient shorthand for a slippery bundle of denotations and connotations. Of course the word refers to a building as well as a meeting schedule, a body of teachings and practices, and a group of people that more or less shares those teachings and practices. But its usage may also evoke what a church does does–inform, convert, reaffirm, succor, challenge, etc.–as well as the objects of such actions–the seeking, the repentant, the converted, the wounded, the complacent, etc. Those who invoke the term also swim in cultural currents–some strong, others tepid, but always present, and are variously affected by ignorance and prejudice in communicating with others.
The net result of all of this is that ambiguity is introduced and more is communicated than is said. The accompanying potential for communication breakdown presents speakers with a challenge: How to bring listeners up to speed with the user’s intent or vision in a way that doesn’t lose them? Enter the figure of speech–a staple of scripture, General Conference talks, Sunday school lessons and, well, daily life. And so for this post I would like to do three things:
- Present examples of metaphors for the Church by General Authorities;
- propose one of my own; and
- solicit your suggestions.
So, on to the non-exhaustive yet authoritative list! [Read more…]
It’s been really hot here in Vienna. Like hottest-month-ever-recorded hot. By the end of this week, Vienna will have seen more “desert days” (temperatures above 35°C/95°F) in 2015 (15) than in the previous ten years together (14). Despite all this record breaking, however, air conditioning is still rare (back in the good (and not so) old days you didn’t really need it, plus it’s widely believed to be unhealthy). So once the thick brick walls of your fin de siècle apartment heat up–even sooner for those inhabiting less substantial modern structures–the only escape from the heat is to one of many outdoor swimming pools or more rustic bathing areas along the Danube. [Read more…]
Last month I had the pleasure of visiting Stockholm over a long weekend, and the city was positively abuzz with marriage. Sure, there was the royal wedding featuring Prince Carl Philip, Duke of Värmland, and Sofia Hellqvist that weekend, which drew much interest and caused parts of the city to be shut down for the festivities. But the ado about weddings wasn’t limited to the hustle and bustle of rubbernecking tourists and television crews in the inner city—that same day Stockholm’s famous Skansen outdoor museum hosted a drop-in wedding. A drop-in what, you say? Well, follow me like a leopard and find out: [Read more…]
Today is the deadline for filing an electronic tax return here in Austria, but you’d hardly know it because most tax payers, i.e., employed persons, are not required to file at all: declaring and withholding income and social security taxes are employer responsibilities. As a result, most people don’t file a return; if they do, it is to claim one or several of a limited number of deductions. If members of the Church bother to do it, they will be able to deduct a portion of their tithing—currently capped at EUR 400/year—and that’s about it as far as charitable contributions to the Church are concerned. But fifteen years ago, a local member of the Church blazed the way for an additional deduction related to missionary service.