Winter Quarters in Omaha #PioneerDay

MTCExterior4_DetailWe didn’t plan on being in Omaha on the day before Pioneer Day. To be frank, the approach of July 24 doesn’t generally trigger anything in my mind. I mean, the ward I went to when I was a kid usually had a picnic at Lake Poway sometime around the end of July that was loosely inspired by Pioneer Day, but it was mostly baseball and hamburgers and hot dogs, and rarely made any mention of 1847 or pioneers or anything.

But months ago, we’d decided that Omaha was a decent halfway(-ish) point between Rocky Mountain National Park[fn1] and Chicago, and so that was our stopping place on Friday night.  [Read more…]

Encountering Mormonism on Route 66

IMG_3884(This post isn’t really a Fourth of July thing, except that there’s something distinctly American about Route 66. So we’ll go with it.)

We talked about taking a Route 66 vacation this summer. After all, we live in Chicago (and Route 66 starts across the street from the Art Institute!), and it ends in L.A., just north of my parents’ home. But with this year’s Every Kid in a Park (which, btw, if you have a kid who just finished fourth grade and you haven’t enrolled yet, I don’t think it’s too late), we switched to a visit-National-Parks trip.

Still, our National Parks roadtrip ended up overlapping briefly with Route 66—we were going to Petrified Forest National Park, which is on historic Route 66, and we decided to stay in nearby Holbrook, in Wigwam Village #6.[fn1] [Read more…]

How Much Accommodation?

130114152903-abc-schoolhouse-rock-just-a-bill-horizontal-large-galleryLast week on The Surly Subgroup, I wrote about a bill making its way through the House right now. The last section of that bill would make it even harder than it already is for the IRS to audit churches it suspects have campaigning for or against candidates for office.

Reading the bill (and writing the post) crystallized for me a question I’ve had at the back of my mind: how much accommodation should we push for? That is, should there be an upper to the exceptions churches and other religious organizations seek from the law?  [Read more…]

LDS Inc.

mormons incSo the first thing to do is admit that I don’t always get internet-speak. That said, is there any way that “LDS Inc.,” written in implicit (or explicit) disparagement of the church isn’t stupid?[fn]

I mean, I see it occasionally. And I kind of assume that its provenance is the Aug. 4, 1997, Time magazine cover.

The thing is that while contextually, the use of “LDS Inc.” is clearly meant as a criticism, I can’t figure out what is being critiqued. Saying “LDS Inc.” may make a (vaguely) factual assertion, but it makes no substantive moral or ethical assertion.  [Read more…]

The Mormon Church in the @PanamaPapers?!? [Updated]

[Update below]

Yesterday, the ICIJ released its searchable Panama Papers database. (For some background on the Panama Papers, you can look my BCC post or my Surly Subgroup post. Or the ICIJ’s site.) Some enterprising individual appears to have plugged Mormon-related words into the search bar, and came up with at least two hits: Bonneville International and Deseret Investment.

Now, this is exactly what we’re supposed to be doing with this database: searching for those who think they can use tax havens to avoid meeting their obligations. So should you be outraged that the church is doing this?

Short answer: no. But I’m a law professor, so the short answer is never enough.   [Read more…]

Review: The Mormon Jesus: A Biography

Mormon JesusJohn G. Turner, The Mormon Jesus: A Biography (Cambridge: Harvard UP 2016).

Just this month, Turner followed up his excellent biography of Brigham Young with something almost entirely different: an intellectual history of Mormonism’s approach to Jesus. And, just so that I don’t bury the lede here: you need to read this book.

Turner approaches the Mormon Jesus thematically and relatively comprehensively (or, at least, as comprehensively as he can in a 350-page book). He spends the bulk of his words on 19th-century Mormonism, but he touches on events as recent as Denver Snuffer’s claim to have seen and spoken with Jesus (83-84) and as ancient as Clement of Alexandria’s view in the late second century that “the gospel had abrogated polygamy, not monogamous marriage) (220).  [Read more…]

Happy Tax Day! (Unless You Live in MA or ME)

Brigham Young, c. 1870

Brigham Young, c. 1870

Most years (at least when I remember), I like to do a Tax Day post.[fn1] (And yes, I get that Tax Day statutorily falls on April 15 for calendar year taxpayers, and I get that April 15 was Friday. But Friday was also the observation of Emancipation Day in D.C., which pushed Tax Day to today. Except in Massachusetts and Maine, where today is apparently Patriots’ Day, which means Tax Day is tomorrow.)

For this year’s Mormon-y Tax Day celebration, we’re going back to the Civil War-era income tax. It only lasted a decade, from 1861-1871, but, in that time, it managed to ensnare itself with the Mormons out in Utah.  [Read more…]

Sampa

ipiranga-saojoao-575x431Last week, as I waited in the car to pick my daughter up from school, I heard an All Things Considered review of the recently-released album from Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. And, as these things do, it got me thinking about my mission.

When I got my call to the Brazil São Paulo East mission, I knew three things about Brazil: first, it was in South America. Second, they spoke Portuguese there. And third, it was the home of Bossa Nova.  [Read more…]

Tl;dr: The #PanamaPapers

Note: if, for some reason, you’d rather get this information in the style of a morning newscast rather Panama_Skylinethan read it, I’ve got a link for you at the end of the post.

You’ve probably heard by now about the Panama Papers leak: basically, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists got 40 years of documents (about 11 million documents, or 2.6 terabytes of data) from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

Mossack Fonseca apparently specializes in creating offshore entities and otherwise providing the tools people need to hide their money. (Note that the law firm claims it didn’t do anything wrong, and that there are non-illegal and -immoral reasons for putting money offshore.)

Even though there’s nothing Mormon about the leak, it’s a big enough thing that Mormons (and, frankly, everybody else) should know something about it. In Q&A format. [Read more…]

Elder Holland: We Get Credit For Trying #ldsconf

Back when I was in high school, I was warned not to guess if I didn’t know the answer to an SAT question. It’s been years, so my memory may be off, but I believe the test awarded points for correct answers, no points for blank answers, and took away points for wrong answers. If you weren’t at least reasonably certain that you were right, not answering the question was better than risking choosing a wrong answer, and losing points.[fn1]

As of last month, apparently, that changed: wrong answers still won’t get students points, but they also won’t cost students points. Where before, students had a strong incentive to refrain from participating, now the incentives have changed.  [Read more…]

The Best of All Possible Worlds

I remember once, as a teenager, asking my dad how he stayed in the church back when the church wouldn’t allow black members to hold the priesthood or attend the temple. I was probably 16 or 17, because I’m pretty sure I was driving. I don’t think I was asking an accusatory question, though I was 16 or 17, so who knows. And I don’t remember how my dad responded.

I do remember, though, that his response was complicated, both a bearing of testimony and an acknowledgement that the pre-1978 racial policies of the church were bad. It was messier than the black and white world a teenager craves. [Read more…]

Presidential Elections, Churches, and the IRS

This month, I’m guest-blogging over at PrawfsBlawg, a law professor blog. Most of what I blog there will be tax law-oriented, without any connection to religion, but occasionally there will be a religious angle. Like today, where I talk a little about the prohibition on churches’ (and other tax-exempt organizations’) endorsing or opposing candidates for office. If you’re interested, pop on over and tell me what you think.

Is My Religion Going to Get Me Audited by the IRS?

irs-audit-red-flags-the-dirty-dozenShort answer: no.

Longer answer: actually, still no.

Context:  [Read more…]

Bankruptcy and a Book of Mormon

Note that this isn't the Book of Mormon the debtor got to keep

Note that this isn’t the Book of Mormon the debtor got to keep

I was walking through the mailroom at work today and, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the word “Mormon” in newspaper headline. Mormonism doesn’t come up much in the news around here, so I took a second look. On the front page—in fact, above the fold—of the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, a legal newspaper here, was the headline “Debtor can keep rare Book of Mormon.”[fn1]

Now, I’m not a bankruptcy person,[fn2] but the story is too good to pass up, so here goes: [Read more…]

Tithing, “Interest,” and D&C 119

tithingThe modern Mormon understanding of tithing is rooted in D&C 119. According to Joseph Smith’s revelation, after the Saints contributed all of their surplus property to the bishop, they were to pay one-tenth of their “interest” annually.

And what does “interest” mean for tithing purposes? It turns out that, whatever we thought it was, we were wrong. We have new information that gives us a better idea of the original intent, and the kind folks over at Juvenile Instructor invited me to write about it over there. If you’re interested, check it out!

Ted Cruz and Tithing

TithingOkay, so this post isn’t actually about Ted Cruz; it’s more inspired by an article McKay Coppins posted today on recent Evangelical criticisms of Ted Cruz. In short, Cruz, a Baptist, is courting the Evangelical vote. But he’s facing pushback from some Evangelicals (including Mike Huckabee), who argue that his charitable giving (roughly 1% of his income) belies his claim of authentic Christianity which, according to them, demands a 10-percent tithe.

So tithing. As Mormons, we’re squarely in the 10-percent-(of-gross-or-net-or-something)-to-the-church camp. But is ten percent (a tithe, after all) to the church the inevitable conclusion for what represents appropriate religious giving? Not surprisingly, no. [Read more…]

Celebrating Dr. King

 

martin-luther-king“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Two years ago, as part of the Mormon Lectionary Project, John offered us a remembrance of and a powerful sermon on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.[fn1]

Today is, again, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. And, while I can’t add to what John said, or make it more powerful, I can offer this quick reflection:  [Read more…]

Happy Intergalactic Bowie Day!

bowie2_blogToday is David Bowie’s 69th birthday. Today David Bowie released ★ (“Blackstar”), his 26th studio album in his five decade-ish career. And Seattle’s KEXP has declared today Intergalactic Bowie Day.[fn]

I’m not part of the Bowie cognoscenti. I mean, I’m familiar with him in the way that anybody who’s part of American culture is familiar with him—I know about Ziggy Stardust, I’ve seen Labyrinth, I’m familiar with his classic rock radio staples, I laughed at Vanilla Ice’s claim that “Ice Ice Baby”‘s baseline differed in some substantial way from Queen and Bowie’s “Under Pressure,” but I never really dug in deeply to Bowie’s oeuvre. [Read more…]

Should the Church Excommunicate Ammon Bundy?

No.

I mean, I get why people think otherwise. Recently, people have been excommunicated, among other reasons, for advocating women’s ordination to the priesthood and for marrying the person they love.[fn1] Ammon and his cohort have adopted the grammar of Mormonism and Mormon scripture to justify their armed trespass (or sedition or terrorism or whatever—let’s just say their lawbreaking), a justification that the church forcefully and unequivocally rejected.[fn2] Their actions are a clear violation of the 12th Article of Faith and certainly do more harm, both socially and to the reputation of the church, than trying to get into the Priesthood session of Conference or marrying a same-sex partner, and it seems unfair that Bundy et al. won’t face any ecclesiastical consequences.[fn3] [Read more…]

Christmas Music Discoveries

Let’s take as a given that the essentials of any Christmas music collection are Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald, maybe Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, Vince Guaraldi. You add in some Mariah Carey and you’ve basically got an FM radio station’s all-Christmas-all-December playlist. And, in all honesty, all the Christmas music you need. I mean, if a musician releases a Christmas album that’s not at least as good as these albums, the album isn’t really all that necessary.[fn1]

TreeODeerFranKaufmanRS
And yet. Every now and then, I hear a Christmas album that does something new. Yesterday, for example, I heard Matt Wilson’s Christmas Tree-O. And then I listened to it again. And a third time.[fn2]  [Read more…]

The Rise of Zuism

sumeranu14_17For the last day or so, English-language media has been awash in news of a new-old Icelandic religion: Zuism.

Okay, maybe “awash” is the wrong word; still, Zuism has captured the media’s imagination.

What is Zuism? It’s a recent Icelandic religion that focuses on the worship of ancient Sumerian gods. Originally established in 2013, in 2014, it only had four registered members. Today, though, it appears to have roughly 3,000 members (or 1% of the Icelandic population), an explosive growth rate. What’s leading to that crazy growth?

If you believe the media, taxes.  [Read more…]

Financial Planning for Children With Disabilities

Hoffer family pictureWe’re honored to have a guest post from Stephanie Hoffer. Stephanie is a professor at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. She is an educator, a scholar, and an advocate, and arguably the preeminent authority on the ABLE Act. We’re excited that she’s agreed to introduce us to this important new law.

My son George is a bright shining star. He is almost five, and he loves to read out loud, play the harmonica, and paint. He also happens to have Down Syndrome. He is smart, funny, and loving, and I can’t imagine life without him. I am grateful every day for the privilege of being his mom. And like any other mom of any other child, I worry every day about his future.

Our life with George hasn’t always been easy. On the day that he was born, a social worker came to our hospital room and told me that we should do two things right away: apply for Medicaid and write George out of our will. I was stunned. I choked back the inevitable tears and asked why. “Because,” she replied, “they are really expensive.” Stung by the label “they,” and hurt by the thought of not being able to save for my precious baby’s future, I asked her to please leave.  [Read more…]

All the More Jarring

On a friend’s Facebook this morning, and in light of yesterday’s policy change forbidding the minor children of gay couples from being blessed or baptized, a friend of a friend asked why anyone would stay in the church.

For me, the answer is complicated and messy, but it has a couple parts. The selfish reason is, it has been a force for good in my life. It has helped me become the person I am, it has helped me develop a relationship with the divine, it has helped me establish my moral compass.

The unselfish reason is, I’ve seen the church work wonders in others’ lives. The lives of people who aren’t as fortunate as me, who financial or familial situations would impede the best of us. I’ve seen members reach out to those in pain, to lift those who have struggled. I’ve personally been on both ends of that comfort and that lifting.

So I’m deeply loyal to the church. [Read more…]

Once I Was a Beehive in Chicago

beehiveGod’s Army came out my senior year at BYU. And it was a revelation. Fifteen years later, I can still remember the impact of seeing a movie, an actual real live movie, about my people, about my experiences. One that took those experiences seriously.

At the time, I was studying English, with a focus on creative writing. And I was thinking seriously—or, at least, as seriously as I could—about Mormon art. I mean, there was plenty of kitsch, plenty of inspiring-but-not-artistic stuff out there. But Richard Dutcher created a Mormon movie without the kitsch, something quality.[fn1]

After I graduated, though, and moved away from Utah, Mormon filmmaking had almost zero impact on me. Some Mormon cinema was great—I have New York Doll sitting in my DVD collection. Some of it wasn’t. Most of it I never saw, because it never came to New York or Chicago, where I lived. So I was excited to hear that Once I Was a Beehive was going to make its Chicago debut on Friday, October 30.  [Read more…]

Book Review: How the Other Half Banks

How the other half banks coverBy Common Consent may seem like an odd place to review Mehrsa Baradaran‘s excellent How the Other Half Banks: Exclusion, Exploitation, and the Threat to Democracy (Harvard University Press, 2015) [Amazon]. Although Professor Baradaran is Mormon, the book has little explicitly Mormon content (I mean, it does mention a couple of Sen. Wallace Bennett’s interactions with the regulation of banks, but that’s as close as I remember it getting).

That said, as Mormons, we’ve been encouraged to become informed and involved in our communities. And understanding banking, especially as it relates to the poor, is, if not absolutely essential to that charge, at least tremendously important.  [Read more…]

How Offended Should I Be? Humanitarian Edition

impact_financial

The Church just released its UK financial statements.[fn1] And with the release has come a fair amount of internet hand-wringing about some of the details.[fn2] Two details, in particular, seem to be bothering people: salary information and the lack of spending from the British Church’s humanitarian fund.

So should these things bother you?

Honestly, I can’t say. But I can say that, before you decide to be bothered (or, for that matter, before you decide not to be bothered), there are a couple questions you should ask.[fn3]  [Read more…]

“Through a Parent’s Eyes” (Elder Renlund) #ldsconf

dale-g-renlund-largeUnlike Elder Renlund, my career has not put me in contact with death. And yet, I understand, on a more modest scale, the need and impulse to develop emotional distance from people and problems. Being able to detach myself allows me to function in a world where things don’t always go the way I would have them go. [Read more…]

Did You Watch Saturday Session? #ldsconf

I realized the other day that, until I went to BYU, I had probably never watched a Saturday session of Conference (other than Priesthood session).

The thing is, my parents were (and are) tremendously active and participatory in the Church. I can probably count the number of Sundays I missed as a kid on one—or at most, on two—hands. And two of those Sundays had me in the hospital after an appendectomy.

I mean, when I was really little, suburban San Diego didn’t get Conference over cable, so my parents would have had to have bundled the three, then four, of us over to the Stake Center. But even when the station that carried nothing 50 weekends out of the year started showing Conference on the other two, I don’t remember watching Saturday sessions.  [Read more…]

Survey: Defending the Family and Parental Leave

[Note: there’s a link to a survey at the end. But if you don’t want to wade through the post first, you can access the survey here.]

I’d been practicing law for about a year when my first daughter was born; when she was born, my law firm offered one week of paid paternity leave. A couple years later, when my second was born, it had upped its paid paternity leave to four weeks.[fn1] (It offers 18 weeks of paid leave for primary caregivers, and up to another 18 weeks of unpaid leave.)  [Read more…]

Finding God in the City

Last month, my mom was in Chicago, visiting us. On the last day of her visit, we took her on the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Historic Treasure of Culture and Commerce tour. Over the course of about ten blocks and two hours, we learned about and saw a number of amazing buildings in downtown Chicago. I’d seen all of them at least in passing, of course, but I now know the history, the reasons, and the thought that went into them.

Chicago Cultural Center Tiffany Dome

Chicago Cultural Center Tiffany Dome

For me, the highlight was probably the Chicago Cultural Center’s giant Tiffany dome. But you could make a plausible argument for the Art Institute of Chicago, the Tiffany dome in the Marshall Fields (now Macy’s) store, the metalwork of the Sullivan Center, or basically anything else we saw that day.  [Read more…]

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