Study hard, learn lots…and don’t slam the door!

When you grow up here, you need all the advice you can get.

I grew up in a rural area, so far away from the nearest bus stop that my dad would drop me and my brother off on his way to work. He would stop on the side of the highway, we would tumble out, and he would invariably holler after us, “Study hard, learn lots, be good, stay out of trouble, and don’t slam the door!” We would mumble, “Yeah, sure, Dad,” in reply, slam the door, and go find our friends. I guess his advice eventually rubbed off though, as I went on to at least study hard and stay out of trouble, even if I didn’t learn much or become very good.

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From Gold Plates to Gold Plating: Reaching for the Highest and the Best and Beyond Since 1827

It seems fitting that the being who guided our founder to the Gold Plates be memorialized in gold leaf. (Source)

The current center-right/far-right governing coalition in Austria has a problem—a robust social welfare state. Even though the social welfare state is responsible for channeling the post-war economic recovery into a relatively high quality of life for everyone in the country, the current government has plans to weaken if not dismantle it entirely. Rather than admit that the center-right party—which has been in uninterrupted power for over thirty years but recently “re-invented” itself under Europe’s youngest chancellor—may have anything to do with the status quo, politicians have been busy painting the European Union and its directives that member states are obliged to incorporate into their national legislation (only after their approval by a qualified majority of the same members states, of course) as the obstacle to prosperity:

[Read more…]

Discovering the Truth About Santa and Other Gift Givers

‘Twas the night before Saint Nicholas Day, and my wife and I blew it. We had stashed St. Nick’s gifts in the linen closet for easy deployment the next evening when the giver of gifts stops by unannounced to reward good children by leaving gifts on the doorstep. The closet doesn’t see a lot of traffic and I didn’t think twice about its suitability as a short-term hiding place until my daughter opened it up in search of a certain cuddly blanket. 

To make a long story short, she didn’t buy our explanations for why St. Nicholas would come early and go to all the bother of leaving the gifts in a closet when we all know that he leaves them on the doorstep. So we confessed the source of the gift. But even with one down, there are still two distinct gift givers to go whose reputations remain intact—the Christkind and Santa Claus—waiting in the wings of our Austro-American family tradition. 

Weiter zur Bescherung

In Whose Wisdom Do You Trust?

Would you trust this guy? (Source)

My mother went to the doctor with a stomachache. It was an admittedly vague symptom, and for months she received similarly vague diagnoses and remedies—could be ulcers, maybe gastric reflux; take some antacids and lose some weight. Finally, a visiting specialist ran a test and discovered that she had a cancer that had progressed to stage four. Thanks to this diagnosis and the care my mother subsequently received, she beat the odds for over a decade, each day a blessing. 

The author of an article in this month’s issue of the Ensign entitled The Book of Abraham, Revelation and You had a similar experience. At around the same time my mother’s body was being overtaken by cancer unbeknownst to the medical profession, he too was struggling with a medical mystery:

 

something in my knee started to cause me horrible pain. Deep within that knee I could feel a small particle grinding against other tissues. The doctors […] could not feel the lump themselves, so they took various kinds of X-rays and MRIs. Nothing showed up. As a result, none of the doctors believed there was anything inside my knee; they thought it must be some other problem, such as nerve damage. Some even tried to treat me for these other imagined problems.

Because I kept insisting that there really was something inside my knee, I was finally referred to the head of orthopedic medicine. He was willing to make an incision in my knee and see if he could find anything. Through this incision, he found a piece of cartilage that had been chipped off and had started to gouge the surrounding tissues. Its removal completely cured me.

[Read more…]

Is Competent Public Administration the Downfall of the Modern Miracle?

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The Imperial Chinese civil service examination became a model for selecting civil servants on their merit the world over (source).

Yesterday in Sunday school we talked about miracles. Participants argued that while “big” miracles like loaves and fishes and parted seas might be uncommon today, “small” miracles—the kind that only an individual or a small group might witness—abounded and in the aggregate amounted to a major expression of divine favor. Reasons given for this state of affairs included a growing tendency to keep such experiences private as well as the growing wickedness of the world at large.

I silently added that today even churchgoers are children of the Enlightenment with a better grasp of how the world works and less of a need for supernatural explanations than the authors of our scriptures. After having slept on it, however, I wonder if there isn’t another, more prosaic explanation for the dearth of miracles in the modern age—namely, a well-functioning state.  [Read more…]

What Outcomes do We Expect of our Faith and Obedience?

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It finally rained today. The last six weeks or so have been quite dry—locally we received just 14% of the long-term average, some places received just 2%. In the midst of this dusty season I’ve found myself thinking that maybe I should go wash the car, clean the windows or wear my leather-soled dress shoes to work—surely tempting fate on such a grand scale like this would coax a few drops of moisture from the fleeting clouds!

So I did all three and voilà—rain! Ok, today’s showers have been forecast for the last week or so, but still, you never know—weather can be a fickle thing. Of course, I know perfectly well that attempting to control the weather by invoking some version of Murphy’s Law is unadulterated foolishness. Sometimes, though, when nothing else seems to be going your way, flights of fancy offer an appealing alternative to helpless reality.  [Read more…]

How a Mormon* ended up taking a Protestant religion class

*Yeah, I know.

Anyway. Back-to-school night yesterday was a two-hour marathon of filling out forms and learning about the new government policies that enter into force this year (a highlight: 4 unexcused absences over the 9 years of compulsory education carries a minimum fine of $125). In addition to the filling out the emergency contact form, signing the permission slip for administering potassium iodide in the event of a radiological emergency (Chernobyl has cast a long shadow over Central Europe) and reviewing the paperwork related to a study of children’s media and food consumption, we also had to sign up or exempt our children from religious education. And this at a public school!

See, in Austria, the legal recognition of churches and religious communities entails “the right to […] provide religious instruction in state schools” (source). Twenty organizations enjoy legal recognition, though in practice only the largest—the Catholic, Protestant and Greek Orthodox churches as well as the Islamic Religious Community in Austria—offer religious instruction at public schools, with the state picking up the tab for the personnel costs. [Read more…]

Bearing One Another’s Burdens: Summer Vacation Edition

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A vacation doesn’t actually require the bishop’s input to turn out nicely.

Elder Holland recently observed that

For me, bearing another’s burden is a simple but powerful definition of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. When we seek to lift the burden of another, we are “saviours … on mount Zion” (Obadiah 1:21). We are symbolically aligning ourselves with the Redeemer of the world and His Atonement. We are “bind[ing] up the brokenhearted, … proclaim[ing] liberty to the captives, and … opening … the prison to them that are bound” (Isaiah 61:1).

When I read this a couple of months ago I nodded my head in firm agreement—what a great Christian message—and redoubled my resolve to be the kind of person that willingly bears another’s burden. And then summer vacation happened. [Read more…]

Calling Nightmares

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Consequences of War by by Peter Paul Rubens (source)

Early this morning I got into fight with a visitor at church who took umbrage at my reply to his mother’s assessment of my overall fitness to fulfill my calling. She was like, “What kind of executive secretary are you who can’t even respond to simple requests?!” Feeling pretty put out, I replied that, hey, we’re all volunteers around here, just trying to muddle along. Then her son got into my face and told me to back off. Epithets started to fly and fists weren’t far behind when I woke up in a sweat (well, that part was probably just the temperature—we’re in the middle of an epic heatwave at the moment).  [Read more…]

On Being a Social Mormon

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Marching against the 12-hour workday, 60-hour workweek

A while back I met a friend (I’ll call him Steve) and several of his colleagues for lunch. Steve is a good member missionary and his colleagues know he’s a Mormon, and I eat often enough with the group that they know I am too. Anyway, I mentioned that I’d seen a recent article in The New York Times featuring the work they do and even a photo of someone from their department. Steve’s boss exclaimed:  “What’s a Mormon doing reading the Times?!” His jaw dropped further when I told him I’m not just a reader but a subscriber to boot.  [Read more…]

A Few Remarks about Refugees and Asylum on World Refugee Day

On the occasion of World Refugee Day, and in light of the current US administration’s family separation policy, which apparently applies to those seeking asylum as well, I thought I’d share my (limited) experience with refugees as well as clarify some misconceptions about who qualifies for asylum under international law.  [Read more…]

Crosses by Decree: Ladders to Heaven or Stumbling Blocks?

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Corpus Christi Procession in Hofgastein by Adolph Menzel (source)

Yesterday was the Feast of Corpus Christi, a public holiday in the Catholic strongholds of Austria and Bavaria, and starting today all public agencies* in Bavaria are required by decree to prominently display a cross in the entryway of the approximately 1,100 buildings they occupy “as an expression of Bavaria’s historical and cultural character.” Crosses have long been a feature of elementary schools and courthouses in Bavaria, but the legal basis for their presence has been a mere recommendation; this decree marks the first time that displaying a cross is mandatory**.

The decree has been opposed by the usual suspects—including atheists, artists, academics and the Green party—but also by prominent religious figures. [Read more…]

There’s a time and a place to rat out your neighbor, but church isn’t it

As a followup to Sam’s post on Mormons referring other Mormons to the ICE, this post is directed to those who feel called to enforce the law in their spare time (or who feel pretty good about other people doing so): Regardless of where you stand on (il)legal immigration, church is simply not the venue where we gather to police civil infractions.

Before rolling your eyes too hard, note that what this post does not do is suggest that the law stops at the chapel’s door. In my experience the Church strives to be in compliance with every jot and tittle of the law, including zoning laws and building codes; we’ve even recast the kitchens in our meeting houses as “serving areas” in order to comply with safety and health regulations! Certainly there is no obligation to sit on our hands and let Zion go to hell in a hand basket with expired tags. Nor am I suggesting we have no debate about the moral implications of, say, an immigration policy that calls for separating families who cross the border illegally as a deterrence. At the same time, however, worshiping and ministering are not first and foremost about law enforcement.

In making my case, let me begin by sharing what I hope is an illustrative example of the importance of the proper venue for our undertakings.

[Read more…]

Cling to your guns if you must, but leave the Holocaust out of it

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The fruits of irregular armed resistance against a fascist state: Following the defeat of the Warsaw Uprising, the civilian population was expelled and the city systematically destroyed. (Source)

Recently, a friend on a popular social media site shared a photo of the pile of shoes at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum that was accompanied by the following text:

To all the kids that walked out of school to protest guns. These are the shoes of Jews that gave up their firearms to Hitler . They were led into gas chambers, murdered and buried in mass graves . Pick up a history book and you’ll realize what happens when u give up freedoms and why we have them.

I hadn’t pegged him as someone who would fall for such a cheap shot in the gun control debate. We had served together as missionaries in Austria where most of us had been to the Mauthausen concentration camp. Although primarily a forced labor camp for political and “antisocial” prisoners—in contrast to the death camps farther east that served no other purpose than mass killing—Mauthausen was a sobering and context-rich enough example of the Nazi regime’s horrifying crimes against humanity that I was surprised someone could visit the site and still believe that the problem with the Holocaust was that the victims simply “gave up” their freedom.

But maybe he hadn’t been there. [Read more…]

Finding Religious Joy

This guest post comes from Nathan Steiger, a postdoctoral research scientist at Columbia University and a friend of BCC.

Over two years ago I stepped into a synagogue on the Jewish sabbath in New York City and witnessed one of the most foreign religious rituals I’d ever encountered: dancing. Twenty-year old men, eighty-year old women, whole families with preschool-age children, dozens of people all holding hands, dancing and singing with liberated gusto. That experience, along with many others, radically changed my life. [Read more…]

Report: 2018 MSSJ Pilgrimage – California Mission Trail

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Mission San Juan Bautista

Well, we broke the polar vortex [fn 1], though the 2018 pilgrimage from Mission San Juan Bautista to the Carmel Mission began auspiciously enough. [Read more…]

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…]