“knowledge, and power, by revelation”

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.
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Divergent Tribes

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.
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Blessed Are the Dead Who Die in the Lord

boyd-k-packer-largeMy 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…]

Consequential changes

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…]

Understanding each other

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.
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Mormon History Association Conference weeks away

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.

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Mormon Jesus?

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.
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Elder Christofferson: The ascendance of the tripartite model #LDSConf

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.
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It is Maundy Thursday. Today is the day that for millennia Christians have gathered to consecrate oil for anointing. For my part I have made a point to revisit the related venerable rites. The oil. The garden. Life. Death.
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Seeing the sites, II

I recently was in St. George with my family. We have been there before, but this time we went to some new spots.
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Review: Religion of a Different Color

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.
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Death and the genesis of belief

Reading one of J Stuart’s recent posts over at the JI stirred a memory of a diary entry written several decades earlier by James Talmage. The limen of death is perhaps the greatest locus of ritual and theological innovation.

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2014 Christmas gift book guide

I’m starting to really believe that the older you get, the brain really does process time differently, the perception of it being accelerated. Welcome to another year of the BCC annual Christmas gift book guide. 2014 was a pretty fine year.

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It takes a long pull to get there.

I recently watched Porgy and Bess at the 5th Avenue Theater. My knowledge of opera is fairly limited, but this one is my favorite. I am aware of its problematic elements, but I’m a sucker for Gershwin.
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Review: Documents, Volume 1, 1829-1831 of the JSPP

I delivered this essay at the 2014 annual conference of the Mormon History Association as the critic in an author-meets-critics (or more accurately, editors-meet-critic) session for Documents, Volume 1, 1829-1831, in the Joseph Smith Papers Project.

Behold, there shall be a record kept among you.

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Council of Fifty Minutes

I was giddy when Matt Grow, Rick Turley, and Ron Esplin gave the first public details regarding the Nauvoo Council of Fifty minutes. [Read more…]

Mormon History Association conference next week

Next week is the annual conference of the Mormon History Association. It will be held in San Antonio, Texas (next year is in Provo). It is probably too late for a last minute trip plan, but if you live in the area, be sure to come down. (Register here; program here)
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The 1983 Mercer Island Ward Cookbook

I sometimes look at the used markets for research materials and I recently found a copy of the 1983 Mercer Island Ward Cookbook for sale on ebay. I remembered that my current ward was organized in the mid-1980s and that previously it was part of the Mercer Island Ward. A quick email to the ward list and responses confirmed my suspicion. Within a few weeks a friend lent me a copy from their own shelf.

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Providential tentacles, sacerdotal perseverance, and punishment for sin

Elder Bednar in the most recent Ensign (PDF) takes up a sensitive topic—the eternal fate of our children who turn away. This isn’t something that is uniquely Mormon. Faithful people the world over struggle with this, and it is at the root of some of the most interesting accommodations in religious history. Think the halfway covenant that bugged Jonathan Edwards so much.
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Priesthood ecclesiology, 1876 edition

A number of months ago, I read an interesting entry in Frederick Kesler’s diary. He was a bishop in Salt Lake City, and on October 19, 1876 he attended a bishops’ meeting and had summarized Brigham Young’s instructions. Bill Hartley briefly mentions this meeting as an antecedent to Young’s more comprehensive ecclesiastical reforms in 1877. [n1] Kesler’s reaction is quite imformative:
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New JSPP content now online

So, the Joseph Smith Papers crew has released another batch of content on their website. Included in the release are holograph images and transcriptions of the four contemporaneous accounts of the King Follett Sermon (plus the T&S version as a bonus). [n1] The chunk of early 1842 documents includes the minutes of the organization of the Nauvoo Masonic Lodge. Also some Nauvoo Legion minutes, and skads of letters and deeds. One page that has been out for a while but is announced today is the Calendar of Documents which lists all the known JS documents to 1833 along with forgeries, so you can easily check.

Solid work guys.

  1. I hereby proscribe (again) any reference to the TPJS in historical writing, when discussing anything before the time it was written.

Our liturgy of lives and deaths

WP_20130714_016I served a mission in France and Belgium. Though I have seen blessing gowns in the Church History Museum, my family has not made a tradition of the infant’s clothing. At the end of my time, I walked with my parents not far from the Grande Place of Brussels, and they found a white lace dress. It was not meant for me, but death and life sometimes intercede without expectation.

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2013 Christmas gift book guide

I’m a little late in getting this posted. I blame the 4:17 pm sunset time. And look, I wait for three years to have the Doctrine and Covenants as the topic of study, and now we are back to the Hebrew Bible. I guess this is how the rest of you felt last year. Also check out Ben’s fine recap of this year’s crop of Mormon Studies publications.

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Were church leaders “wrong”?

In the short time since the “Race and the Priesthood” section of Gospel Topics was added to lds.org, I have seen various reactions. Some people have asked if church leaders were wrong about the priesthood and temple restriction, then could they possibly be wrong about something significant today? Similarly, I have seen the syllogism rephrased for rhetorical effect: The ban was not wrong. If it were then church leaders could similarly be wrong about something today like [invoke pet topic here].

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Responses to Gospel Inquiries

I think this is a pretty big deal.

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Missionary Work

In a conversation with a friend from my ward, I made some comments regarding the current Missionary Program, based on my limited observations of the general and regional ecclesiastical bureaucracy and things on the ground. I’ll be honest in that I think that the church is struggling existentially with regards to missionary work. Church leaders clearly have the mandate to spread the gospel, but the standard methods are rooted in a culture that doesn’t exist (and hasn’t existed for over a century), at least in the US and many other countries. I think church leaders don’t know what to do (I should add that I certainly don’t, either). So it will be interesting to see how things play out.
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Open Position: MHA Executive Director

* Position Opening *
Mormon History Association
Executive Director/Business Manager

The Mormon History Association is seeking qualified applicants for the independent-contractor position(s) of Executive Director/Business Manager. The position(s) may be best filled by two people, one of whom serves primarily as Business Manager. The Executive Director/Business Manager serve as officers and members of the MHA Board of Directors. The term is for three years, may be renewed, and begins in early 2014.
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Self Reliance: A Response from My Mom

My mom read my post of a couple of days ago and sent this response to me.

Self-Reliance has been a topic for Visiting Teaching off and on for as long as I remember. The last time I was to give a lesson to the two well educated and affluent sisters whom I teach, I took the tack of being emotionally, physically and spiritually self-reliant instead of the garden/food storage track. I, who at the time felt very self-reliant, was quite confident that I could teach this principle very well.
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Self Reliance

I gave a talk similar to this yesterday.

My family left Bellevue twenty-three years ago. I now have a son who attends the same middle school that I did, when I didn’t imagine I would ever return. Every morning we drive up 148th just past my old neighborhood and then turn left on Main. We drive by the Bellevue Stake Center where [our first counselor in our bishopric]’s mom was my primary president and his dad taught me to play the clarinet. If you turn in, you will find that the back lot is bounded by a fence covered in grape vines.
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The Council of Fifty

The recent announcement that the Joseph Smith Papers will be publishing the Nauvoo Council of Fifty Minutes had history nerds celebrating, and everyone else either wondering why the nerds were ecstatic or shrugging. The Council of Fifty is an enigmatic organization, of which we have very limited knowledge and whose minutes have been extant but completely unavailable to researchers. Even in the halcyon day of Camelot no one saw the minutes and as such they remained a sort of holy grail for the disbanded knights and their followers.
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