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…]

Poll: Authoritarianism at Home

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.

[Read more…]

“Tell me a story, Daddy!”

dsc_1657Despite 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…]

The Collateral Damage of Cable News Talking Points at Sunday School

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AMIRITE? (Source)

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…]

How to Feed a Crowd

 

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.

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Meal preparation and enjoyment site

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…]

Via Francigena Liveblog

 

Via FrancigenaMembers 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.

[Read more…]

The Dismissive Shepherd: Leaving the One for the Ninety and Nine

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The Good Shepherd [credit]

One of the most memorable office Christmas parties I attended featured our boss sharing his management philosophy. While conceding that management problems are possible, at least in principle, he emphasized that “If you’re the only one with a problem, it’s your problem,” punctuating the air with his index finger as he spoke.

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…]

Sometimes We Need–and Get–Help Getting It Right

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.”[1] 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…]