At the dawn of the restoration, there were three primary views of the Atonement that swirled around Joseph Smith’s family and other early Mormon believers. [Read more…]
I don’t feel educated enough to truly appreciate the Hebrew Bible. The New Testament is probably the most poignant scripture for me. It calls me to a deep and severe repentance, while filling me with hope. The Book of Mormon gives me Alma 7, what I believe is Mormonism’s greatest gift to Christianity—an empathetic atonement. It is a powerful call to Christ. But, the Doctrine and Covenants is the door to something wholly different—an exploration of the mechanics of religion and its making. Because we have so many of the documents and so much of the context within reach, we can truly witness the restoration. On the one hand it is a book of revelation texts with little if any context or story. On the other it is an invitation to find it. It takes work, but there has never been in the history of the Restoration a better time to do this work. This process makes simple stories complicated, but it consequently makes them more real.
2017 brings to Adult Sunday School the Doctrine and Covenants and church history. Let’s just take a moment and offer up thanks that the plan for topical Sunday School lessons was scrapped. Now, the Doctrine and Covenants is a great opportunity, because we have more context for it than any other scripture in our canon. There is also a fair amount of terrible material masquerading as study helps out there. This post is an outline of the best resources we have for approaching the text and preparing lessons in the coming year. Also, as a bonus, BCCers will be putting up lessons throughout the year, including lesson-specific resources.
I never met Ed Kimball face-to-face, and I regret that. He passed away yesterday, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family.
I don’t talk to people on planes. I think it is terribly rude. In the past couple of years and hundreds of hours in flight, I have spoken to only a couple of people who don’t work for the airlines. I rarely even make eye-contact. However, recently I ended out sitting next to someone and somehow a conversation emerged that I found not only interesting, but illuminating. I later learned that the person sitting next to me was something of a rising star, but I didn’t know that at the time.
Dear friends of the Mormon History Association:
Due to recent requests, we have extended the deadline for proposals for the 2017 MHA conference to be held in the St. Louis, Missouri metro area, to 1 November 2016. Please see the Call for Papers HERE for additional information. We will still send notification of acceptance or rejection by 15 December 2016.
We remember young Mary Elizabeth Rollins for grabbing scattered pages of the Book of Commandments and running into the fields. As Elder Stevenson shared, there is much more to remember than this admittedly memorable act. She left for Zion where she became a regular interpreter of glossolalia. Her mother, ever faithful, anointed and healed her in Nauvoo, and angels ministered to her in her greatest moment of anxiety (when Joseph Smith proposed to her). She eventually wended her way West, but not immediately with Brigham Young. It was Young who confessed to her that “he would give anything to have seen what I had.”
If Mary is someone you would like to remember, here (PDF) are some excerpts from her autobiography. She was a great human being.
The Mormon History Association held its annual conference at Snowbird at the beginning of June. It was a fine affair, and I thought I would post a few items highlighting some of the fun things that went down. First a quick primer:
The Mormon History Association is the single best source for information about Mormon history and to engage in Mormon studies. Every year the association holds a conference where professional scholars, engaged non-professionals, and interested observers gather to present and interact with the latest research on topics ranging from Pioneers to Race, and from Liturgy to Gender. This year the conference will be held on June 9 through 12, at Snowbird, Utah. And to be fair it isn’t the cheapest thing in the world, but it is absolutely worth it. Discounted early bird registration is open until May 7. I encourage you to join us.
It is a rare thing for a church leader to describe something so personal. [Read more…]
It has been a very long time.
Next week, BYU and the History Department of the Church are hosting a free conference on women and Mormon History. Thursday will be at BYU in Provo, and Friday will bat the LDS Conference Center in Salt Lake City. Both events are open to the public–just show up. The program is available here.
I read Ardis’ recent report on her Gospel Doctrine introducing the Book of Mormon (you should too). Her section documenting the shifting language about the ancestry of Native Americans reminded me of a couple of relevant documents. I don’t know how many Mormons believe that Lehites are the primary ancestors of Native Americans; I would suspect that most of the readers here don’t. But I’ve heard people in my ward talk about the “heartland” theory, and I’ve spoken to more than one person who found the admissions in the Book of Mormon DNA essay released by the church to be incongruous with the worldviews expounded in their childhoods. I think it is worth pointing out that church leaders haven’t really held unanimous and monolithic views, though some have been very influential. [Read more…]
Another year, another Christmas gift book guide.
I gave a talk similar to this today.
Twenty years ago today, I woke up early in the morning. After showering and getting dressed I fixed myself the same breakfast that made every morning for the next eighteen months. Baguette with Nutella and hot chocolate. I read the Book of Mormon for half an hour, studied my French Gospel lessons and then sat down with my fellow-traveler to study a handbook of Missionary practice designed to hone our proselytizing efficacy. There in the cold apartment near the French-German boarder we were the apex of a century-long process that transformed every facet of Mormonism.
This morning as we made breakfast, packed lunches, and got our little ones dressed, my wife and I talked about the policy change, the reactions of friends and family, and the national news coverage. My twelve year old overheard me say “this is really bad,” and asked what it was that was bad. I choked and walked around picking up socks and packing the lunches, even after he asked two more times. If I tried to speak I would have cried. My wife saved me and I walked into the bathroom and just wept.
I have been working on a chapter about baby blessings and the sources are fresh on my mind.
“In some minds there seems to be an idea that there should be a different form of blessing for children born of non-members and for those who are identified with the Church; and it is from such sources that in the case of children belonging to members of the Church ‘the blessings of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’ and all the attendant favors are frequently conferred upon the child. This is all wrong. If we take the example of our Lord and Redeemer, who is our pattern and whose example we cannot too closely follow, we find that He blessed all who were brought to Him. We have no hint that He asked whose children they were, or the standing or faith of their parents. His remark was, ‘Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven;’ and He laid His hands upon them and blessed them. All little children, no matter what their parentage may be, are innocent in the sight of heaven, and they should be received as such and blessed as such.”
The Editor [George Q. Cannon], “Topics of the Times,” Juvenile Instructor 34 (March 1, 1899): 137-138. Reprinted in Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star 61 (March 30, 1899), 198-199; Latter-day Saints’ Southern Star 1 (April 29, 1899): 170.
In Gospel Doctrine we hit on the first part of 1 Corinthians this week. In chapter 5 Paul is fairly irritated that Church hasn’t done anything about the guy who is shacking up with his stepmom. This was clearly verboten in the Torah, but it is also apparently one of those things we are going to keep. A good call, I think. Paul’s instructions are pretty clear: kick this guy out.
Michael Austin will be speaking on Job at the home of Molly Bennion on September 12 at 7:00 PM. You may know his book on Job won the Association of Mormon Letters Award for Nonfiction for 2014. He is a fine man and a fine Mormon. He’s also a man of wit and charm, an excellent speaker. He is currently working on a book about the over 100 19th century novels by or about Mormons. You can check out his posts here at BCC for a sample of his keen and humane acumen. Here is the deal: first come, first served so RSVP with Molly (email@example.com). No charge but donations for airfare are always appreciated.
Saturday Night Fireside:
“The Book of Job and the Challenge of Scriptural Poetry”
One of the disadvantages of the King James Translation, which Latter-day Saints use as our official version of the Bible, is that it makes no distinction between poetry and prose. Every line is printed as straight prose, and every sentiment is elevated to the high linguistic register of poetry. But the Old Testament is made up of a mixture of prose and poetry, and of a blending of styles and registers, that readers are supposed to notice. Nowhere are these interpretive difficulties more evident than in the Book of Job, which alternates between prose and poetry—and between simplistic prose and elevated poetry—in ways that readers are supposed to notice. This presentation will explain the structure of Job and explore how understanding its shifts in style and register can help us make sense of one of the ancient world’s greatest works of literature.
Michael Austin received his Ph.D. in English at the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1997 and taught English literature for many years. He has written or edited nine books, including Re-reading Job: Understanding the Ancient World’s Greatest Poem, which won the 2014 Association for Mormon Letters Award for Nonfiction. He currently lives in Wichita, Kansas, where he is a Provost, whatever that is.
I just learned that a twenty-two-year-old friend of our family died in a car accident this morning. I was immediately wrenched back seven years to when my nephew died. I can still hardly talk about it. I wrote this short piece after I came home from his funeral. In the time since I have researched and written on related topics, I’ve had two more children, and the pain still smolders. God be with my friends as they walk through the valley of the shadow of death. May they know that they are never alone.
A bit ago Kevin fielded a question from the BCC inbox relating to the meaning of tribal assignments in Patriarchal Blessings. I liked his response. It reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend a couple of years ago. We went out for some overpriced burgers and chatted about his declared lineage to one of the more uncommon tribes. I’d certainly never met anyone who professed a similar assignment. He wondered what I thought it might mean.
My first clear memory of Elder Boyd K. Packer, beyond an awareness of his existence and position, was mediated through my father. Fresh off of my mission my dad had attended Stake Presidents’ training by Elder Packer and taken copious notes. The text was nitrous oxide to the engine of my post-mission soul. In the time since that moment, through my training as a critical observer of our history and as believing member, I have consistently viewed our recently deceased Quorum of the Twelve President through those pages. He rightly understood our tradition to be venerable, and confessed the primacy of revelation. [Read more…]
I live in a State where gay marriage was legal before the Supreme Court ruled on the matter. My day-to-day Mormonism did not change when my State adopted it, and I don’t think that it will change now. With the national attention, however, I did start thinking about some of the eventual issues that the church will need to adjudicate. Naturally I thought of matters liturgical. [Read more…]
I’ve spent a decade researching and writing Mormon history, focusing primarily on church liturgy—our rituals and ritualized patterns of worship. And with every additional project, I am more convinced that the voices, records and stories of women are not only important, but necessary to comprehend our past (and present). Even with topics we often associate with men, like “ordinances,” we fail when we don’t account for the experiences of women. One cannot understand Mormon healing without understanding the integral participation of women in the liturgy. And even where male priesthood office holders are the sole administrators, often women are the majority of recipients.
In a couple of weeks, the Mormon History Association will be hosting its annual conference in Provo. It is $170 for the multi-day conference per person if you register by Tuesday. MHA also got special rates on the hotel ($99 a night plus ability to share rooms). I’ll be there to attend and present and I am involved with organization more broadly, but I don’t hesitate to say that MHA is the best source for information on Mormon History.
Some months ago, I sat with a close friend just outside of Heathrow airport. We shared the Chinese food that was apparently prepared by Malaysian chefs, but we also shared deep interests in religion and theology. It was just the most recent meal of dozens over the years, and as was common, our conversation drifted in and out of chemistry, scripture, and belief. Quite appropriate to the context of our discussion, my friend asked, “Now, Mormons believe that Jesus was not always God, right?” Without blinking I replied that while some Christians might reject our formulation of the Trinity, Jesus was most certainly God from all eternity to all eternity. It was only later—some hours after we separated ways—that I reflected back on my response and wondered if I had mischaracterized some Mormons’ beliefs.
In the spirit world where the dead await the glorious Resurrection of the just, B. H. Roberts is currently giggling to himself, trying not to smile too conspicuously. Bruce R. McConkie wants to go over and wipe the smile off his face with his spirit fist.
I recently was in St. George with my family. We have been there before, but this time we went to some new spots.
Paul Reeve’s book, Religion of a Different Color, arrived in time for me to take on my trip and I finished before getting home. I wanted to write something up quickly; this is not meant to be an exhaustive review. Still, I think there is a lot worth saying. Paul opens and organizes the volume with a handy conceit, namely the cartoon from Life magazine that adorns the cover, and he uses the various children as sections to discuss the complex interplay between Mormons, Americans and race. From today’s perspective it does seem absurd that Americans denigrated Mormons as more black, or Native American, or Asian than white. Handy and tremendously perspicuous. Religion of a Different Color is the most sophisticated and penetrating treatment of Mormonism and race to date.