The Reluctant Samaritan

No doubt that by now you have heard the reports about the stunning case of child neglect and abuse that came to light when one of thirteen children held captive in her own home was able to escape and notify authorities. The site of this indescribable ordeal was, perhaps contrary to expectations, a nondescript residence in a middle-class Southern California neighborhood. The perpetrators were no strangers but the children’s own parents who, according to a neighbor, seemed “just very normal“:

“‘They seemed like very nice people,’ [the neighbor] said. ‘They spoke often and fondly of their children.'”

With the benefit of hindsight, we now know that those appearances were deceiving—the parents have been charged with 12 counts of torture, seven counts of abuse of a dependent adult, six counts of child abuse and 12 counts of false imprisonment. The district attorney on the case appealed for witnesses to come forward: “Someone must have seen something, someone must have noticed something.”  [Read more…]

Update: 2018 MSSJ Pilgrimage – California Mission Trail

 

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A view of Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Carmelo as one approaches from the north

As announced last September, the Mormon Society of St. James (MSSJ) is gearing up for its annual pilgrimage that will take place over Presidents Day weekend, February 16–19, 2018, along the Central Californian Coast. All those who would like to share their appreciation of God’s beautiful earth with good company are invited to join.

Over the Christmas holidays, our man on point—friend of the blog and fellow Canterbury pilgrim, DCL—was hard at work scouting the trail and putting together an excellent trip booklet with an itinerary as well as a wealth of details about the trail, history, transportation, accommodations, and so on. A map outlining our planned route can be found here. The events page is likewise a useful resource, especially for coordinating with other participants as the walk draws nearer.

Compared to previous pilgrimages, this one will be short in terms of both distance and time—just 31 miles of walking over three days—but I expect it will be no less sweet than our past undertakings. In fact, I suspect that for many, a less strenuous and time-intensive trek may be a selling point. At any rate, there’s still plenty of time to fill your lamps and get ready to join us on the Monterey Peninsula. Buen Camino!

 

Family: Isn’t it about…time?

Like wage laborers all over the world, I spent most of my waking hours with other people’s kids. I try to compensate by spending “quality” time with my own when I’m at home by setting aside cares and electronic devices and playing, reading and making music, for example. I like to think this engaged approach makes a difference, though of course it’s difficult to measure the overall impact. Actually, that’s not quite true. In one area in particular—language acquisition—the impact has been quite clear: quality is no substitute for quantity.  [Read more…]

Going to Church on Christmas

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The local parish church with trees reaching toward heaven

You know how Mormons joke about Catholics who only go to church on Christmas and Easter? Well, as a Mormon, I didn’t start going to church on Christmas (well, barring the occasional Christmas that landed on a Sunday, in which case we would reluctantly attend the thankfully attenuated services) until I married into a family from an alpine village of some 3000 souls where the Catholic church is the only game in town and pretty much everyone goes. And I have to say, I kind of like it.  [Read more…]

Legally vs. Lawfully Married: No Distinction, No Difference

That Mormons attach great importance to (the right kind of) marriage is no secret, so the last thing that surprises me as a life-long Mormon are the efforts—at both the individual and institutional levels—to buttress this beloved and divine institution. In fact, I expect to hear regular references to the Family Proclamation as a relevant, even inspired document for our times and for temple marriage to be underlined at every opportunity as a goal for which all should strive to be worthy. And when leaders and laypeople alike promote the vital importance of marriage and their vision of the kind of eternal relationships temple marriage can help forge, I think to myself: “Indeed. This is the church I know and love.”

Yet as someone who over a decade ago chose to marry someone of another denomination and remain an active Mormon, I would like to gently suggest that attempts to promote eternal marriage relationships by delegitimizing all but temple marriages are an unproductive undertaking at best.  [Read more…]

God Bless the USA: Flags and Football

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A pillow my sister made out of my old band uniform

I come from a small town in the middle of nowhere that bills itself as “The Gateway to Death Valley,” so imagine my surprise when I saw my high school alma mater’s football team popping up in the media these last few days. Someone had posted a video of the homecoming game a week or so ago that went viral (7.6 million views!), though not as a result of the game itself—despite the high drama of a game in which the 5-2 Burroughs Burros took on the 4-3 Oak Hills Bulldogs and won 20 to 17!—but the team’s flag-festooned entry onto the field accompanied by the stirring strains of Lee Greenwood’s perennial favorite, “God Bless the USA.”

I thought the F-18 flyby following the national anthem was pretty cool, but overall the pre-game spectacle and the resonance it found in certain circles did not make my heart swell. [Read more…]

Making Hay While the Sun Shines

CanyonlandsLiving half a world away from ageing parents, I’d spent most of my adult life steeling myself for the day that they would precede me in death. Even so, it was a jolt when the message came on a quiet Sunday morning in September:

Dad had a stroke at about 8 pm tonight affecting his right side. He is being flown down to [a regional hospital] soon to see if the clot can be removed. He will open his eyes and move his left arm a bit, but doesn’t respond otherwise.

[Read more…]

2018 MSSJ Pilgrimage – California Mission Trail

Friend of the blog and fellow Canterbury pilgrim DCL has graciously undertaken the planning for the next Mormon Society of St. James (MSSJ) pilgrimage scheduled for Presidents Day weekend, February 16–19, 2018.

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The Central Californian coast in February 2017

For all those who have been deterred by the trip to Europe from participating in the past, this is the pilgrimage you’ve been waiting for—in 2018 the MSSJ is coming to California. [Read more…]

On Mass Murder and the Divine Orchestration of Speaking Assignments

Never one to let a good deed go unpunished, I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow over an account included in Elder Bednar’s new book, One By One:

In “One By One,” which consists of five chapters, Elder Bednar uses the scriptures, quotes from church leaders and compelling accounts to identify this “fundamental pattern” and show how the Lord blesses and works with people in a personal way.

[…]

Less than a week after a mass shooting on the campus of Virginia Tech University in April 2007, Elder Bednar was assigned to speak at a stake conference in Blacksburg, Virginia, home of Virginia Tech. He was grateful to give “spiritual assurance and succor” to students, faculty members and others affected by the tragedy on that occasion.

“Was it merely a coincidence that a member of the Quorum of the Twelve had been assigned many months earlier to preside at a stake conference in Blacksburg, Virginia, only days after such a horrendous event? Was it a random occurrence that an authorized servant of the Lord was in a place with people who needed blessings, solace, and comfort?” Elder Bednar wrote. “Or was this episode divinely orchestrated by a loving Lord who knew the distress of victims and the unsettledness of a community? I believe that in the work of the Lord there is no such thing as a coincidence. On this occasion, my companion and I were blessed to deliver tender mercies to many individuals — because the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.”

[Read more…]

Teaching the Language of the Gospel in Trump’s America

A BCC reader contacted us with a request for help navigating potential pitfalls in preparing to teach a lesson based on a talk by Elder Valeri V Cordón. This is my response, and I hope you will join the discussion too. 

Introduction

That language isn’t simply a vehicle for, among other things, communicating feelings but also the source of powerful emotions became abundantly clear to me one evening in 2002 when I attended a public discussion on the theme “Decline of the German Language?” in Salzburg, Austria.  [Read more…]

Second Guessing the Call to Serve

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t thank the Lord for having the courage to second guess the call to serve. Let me explain.

When I turned 19 in the spring of aught-ninety-eight (a show of hands if you’ve never heard the expression), I joined the throngs of other nineteen-year-olds (there may have been three of us at my venerable undergraduate institution) and went to the university clinic for a physical, filled out the paperwork, and submitted my application to serve a mission. A few weeks later I received a call with a reporting date the next fall.

In light of the distance to the Missionary Training Center, missionaries in my stake were traditionally set apart on Sunday to allow them and their families plenty of time to travel to Provo by Wednesday. When the appointed hour came, my twin brother and I were set apart and on Monday we left for the MTC. We arrived in Provo that night, and on Tuesday morning we went shopping for a few last items. While walking through the parking lot to the store, I felt like it was going to be now or never and told my parents: “I’m not going.” [Read more…]

“Beautifully Covered”: What it’s Like to Live in a Country with Socialized Health Care

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Vienna General Hospital in 1784 (source)

While the Grand Old Party kicks the can down the road—and seemingly ever farther from the then President-elect’s promise of “insurance for everybody“—amid turmoil about how much health care to strip from relatively many Americans to pay for a tax break for relatively few Americans, I figured there would be no better way to honor the 4th of July than to celebrate the freedom of living in a country where no political party opposes the goal of universal health care.

That probably sounds obnoxious on this tender occasion, but I’m actually not trying to gloat. Instead, I offer the following in the spirit of expanding horizons and to provide food for thought for what I hope will be a continuing and constructive debate about health care reform in the United States. I should also note that my experience hardly makes me a policy expert, and I don’t have the foggiest idea about what would and wouldn’t work given the lay of the land in the US. That will be for you to decide! [Read more…]

Naming the Dead

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The site of the Ebensee concentration camp today

Several weeks ago I visited the site of the Ebensee concentration camp, part of the network of forced labor camps managed from the more notorious Mauthausen camp. In less than two years of operation, which ended when American troops liberated the camp, 8,412 known inmates were murdered or died in the course of digging tunnels into the nearby mountains to shield armaments production from Allied bombing.

Today little remains of the site. Walking through what has become a leafy neighborhood of single family dwellings nestled peacefully in a scenic alpine valley on a sunny morning, it’s hard to imagine the suffering the camp’s inmates once experienced—the present feels far from the past, even when standing upon the very place where the bones of those who perished rest—if one can say such a thing about the remains of the victims of such gross injustice. In fact, it would be easy to imagine that nothing out of the ordinary had ever happened here at all. But for those who venture off the beaten path and follow the signs to a parking lot that might fit ten vehicles in a pinch, a memorial reminds us that something did. [Read more…]

What License to Shun Those who Choose a Different Path?

A collaborative online effort of like-minded female members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently took a public stand on what it characterized as a “protected class” of sin: gay marriage [Edit: please search the site yourself to find the post in question if so inclined]. See, “some members of the Church have […] been ‘drawn away after the persuasions’ of the world and support same-sex marriage” without realizing “that their support for it inadvertently supports serious sexual sin.” In case you didn’t pick up on it, the author goes on to hammer home the message that gay marriage = “sexual sin” several more times: [Read more…]

Reflections on the MSSJ Pilgrimage to Rome

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The Pope delivers his Urbi et Orbi address and blessing in April 2017

On Easter Monday 2017, the Mormon Society of St. James commenced its fifth major pilgrimage, this time to Rome. It was actually our third stage on the Via Francigena which we started in 2015 by walking from Canterbury to Dover and then through Switzerland to Great Saint Bernard Pass.  [Read more…]

Satan is Silent Notes Taking

We take for granted that angels are silent notes taking, but did you know that Satan is too?

As a youth, I recall having vague notions about the actions that were necessary to avoid temptation, but if you would have asked me, say, last week, I don’t think I would have had the temerity to assert that “Avoid vocalizing your thoughts!” is one of them. I mean, that’s just magical thinking that I can hardly pin on the church, right? [Read more…]

Consecrated Oil in 7.62x39mm Vials or Mormons Missing the Mark

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A 7.62×39mm bullet fulfilling the measure of its creation (Source)

I don’t know that I’m eminently qualified to address a topic related to Mormons and guns. But as a Mormon and very likely the only BCC blogger who owns and enjoys shooting guns, well, let’s just say you go to war with the army you have.

Anyway, growing up in rural California offered great opportunities with plenty of wide open spaces and ranges in which to plink and shoot at targets. My dad devoted a career to developing weapons systems and all residents owed their livelihoods to a military installation that has been designing, testing and evaluating more effective ways to kill the enemy since World War II. Guns were in the air, and I still have fond memories of the family tradition of getting together after Christmas dinner to go shooting. So feel free to dismiss what I’m about to say, just not on the grounds that I’m a liberal snowflake who hates guns.   [Read more…]

Don’t Shoot the Messenger!

In response to Ashmae’s thoughtful reflections on the dearth of women’s voices at the last General Conference, a reader shared the following comment on a popular social media website:

You are all focused on the wrong thing. Why does it matter who said it as long as it is truth? The message is far more important than the messenger.

Someone else made a similar comment here on the website, so it must be a thing:

I don’t think it matters who speaks to be quite honest. It’s what is spoken about that is important and it applies to everyone.

I admit that my first response was to heave a sigh of exasperation. After all, as members of a culture steeped in the rhetorical traditions of our fathers, we all know that the credibility of the messenger matters at least as much as logical arguments and emotional appeals as a mode of persuasion. [Read more…]

A Tale of Two Cities: The State of Utah Welfare

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Fruits of the Mormon way of life. Draper Temple (Photo credited to “LDS church” by this source)

Something remarkable happened in Draper last night–yes, that Draper, the well-heeled Salt Lake City suburb where you can buy a $10 million faux chateau overlooking the Draper temple:

After a pummeling from nearly 1,000 residents, Draper Mayor Troy Walker pulled two of his city’s proposed homeless-shelter locations off the table. (Source)

I know what you’re thinking: “Local politics? Remarkable? Please, BCC, you’re better than this.” (“Ha!” replies the chorus from the peanut gallery.) But follow me like a hungry toddler—there’s more: [Read more…]

Trusting in the Lord: In Theory and Practice

Leap of Faith

I’m curious what trusting in the Lord amounts to in the lives of BCC’s readers.

I hadn’t thought about it much myself until a relative shared the following anecdote. The family was out shopping when the kindergartner asked if it would be possible to stay in the car with Jesus. No, came the reply which the child protested, “But why! He always watches over me and keeps me safe!” [Read more…]

Ye Heralds, Sound the Golden Trump: A Postmortem of MoTab’s Inauguration Performance

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Silver lining: unisex outfits! (Source)

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…]

The Best Judgments are Made in Trump Tower Grill

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Wicked vs. righteous judgment—is there such a thing? (Source)

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…]

The Peaceful Transfer of Power: At What Cost its Celebration?

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Believe it or not, power transferred peacefully between these two men. (Source)

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…]

Support for Freedom, Civility and the Peaceful Transition of Power: A Noble Vision, Built on Sand

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A preview of the 2017 presidential inauguration (Source)

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…]

Lifting, Carrying and Pushing to Holy Places

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Wilt thou be made whole? (Source)

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…]

Please, MoTab, don’t sell your birthright for this mess of pottage

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The Mormon Tabernacle Choir performing in happier times (Source)

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…]

Outsourcing Morality or: Watching Deadpool on VidAngel

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Ulysses and the Sirens by H.J. Draper (Source)

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.

[Read more…]

Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents?

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Try wrapping your mind around this. Source

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…]

Celebrating Advent

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If life were a football game, I’d be receiving a penalty for excessive celebration tonight. [Read more…]

Exit Poll: Choosing between Pest and Cholera

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Decisively punched chad (Source)

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…]