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, 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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“How do you utilize the priesthood?”

I have been working on Mormon conceptions of authority, power, priesthood, and related ideas for a while. In fact I am currently wrapping up a paper on new ways to look at authority throughout church history. It was consequently with interest that I read comments by the church’s highest female ecclesiastical officers on similar topics.

On April 5, 2013 the Church Newsroom published a transcript of a conversation entitled “Top Mormon Women Leaders Provide Their Insights into Church Leadership.” In this conversation Ruth Todd, a member of the Church’s public affairs teams posed questions to RS General President Linda Burton, YW General President Elaine Dalton, and General Primary President Rosemary Wixom. I’d like to review sections that treat priesthood and draw some tentative conclusions.
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My History

A long time ago, I wrote that one of the grand narratives of Mormonism is discovery, and that knowledge often requires modifications in world-view. I’m not sure that I like the term world-view anymore, but it can be a useful short-hand. I wrote that a world-view could be imagined as a structure that incorporates points or anchors in a three dimensional space. When new points are realized a modification of the structure is sometimes required. At times this modification is simple and expansive, at others it may be violent and painful. [Read more…]

Review: JSPP, Histories, Volume 2: Assigned Histories, 1831-1847

I thought I was an outsider to begin with—fourteen years old. [Read more…]


I would to know when we started this.

I would love to know when we started this.

We believe that through the atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel. We believe that these ordinances are 1st, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; 2d, Repentance; 3d, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; 4th, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
– Joseph Smith, the Wentworth Letter, 1842

It is the privilege of all Sisters living as they should to administer the ordinances to their Sisters in sickness & the little ones in faith & humility even being careful to give God the Glory.
– Zina D. H. Young, discourse at the first Annual General Relief Society Conference, 1889

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Really old timey

Saint Phoebe, Ancient of Days

Saint Phoebe, Ancient of Days

On March 30, 1842 Joseph Smith addressed the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo. I think that his statements on that day as recorded in the official minutes are among most misunderstood statements of the Restoration:
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Gospel Doctrine Lesson 22, The Word of Wisdom: “A Principle with Promise”

Barley for what?

Barley for what?

The following is some contextual material related to the Word of Wisdom, Doctrine & Covenants 89, Revelation, February 27, 1833. As current Mormons, however, I think that it is worth noting that there are many Words of Wisdom. There is the revelation text, there is the Temple Recommend rule and then there are personal rules by which we live. E.g., the text allows for mild barley drinks, and the Temple recommend rules allow for Diet Coke. I have friends who are vegetarian because of this revelation. The Word of Wisdom is many things and they are not all the same. [UPDATE] Also check out Jed’s article just published at the Church’s Revelations in Context.
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A new reading of the “Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood”

Michelangelo's Moses

Michelangelo’s Moses

What follows here is an alternate reading of the “Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood,” viz., D&C 84. I realize that this reading differs from the traditional reading. I think that this is okay, mostly because the traditional reading is different than the contextual reading. Section 84 is based on a revelation delivered on September 22, and 23, 1832, when organizational concepts such as the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods had not yet been revealed. See WVS’s extended treatment of Section 107 for more on that. I tend to think that the common reading today translates the text into a 1836-era framework of administrative priesthood. The following is a reading based on Joseph Smith’s revelations and cosmology of the Nauvoo-era. Basically it starts as a contextual reading and then shifts to a translation of the text into the Nauvoo-era cosmological priesthood. I’m not saying that this reading should be normative, but I do think it works with from the Nauvoo perspective quite well and is more egalitarian. Your mileage may vary.
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Scouting and Gay Youth in the Church

Today, the BSA’s 1,400 national delegates voted to rescind the ban on openly gay young men from participating in Scouts. According to the resolution, “Any sexual conduct, whether homosexual or heterosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting.” However, the BSA director of public affairs stated in response to a question as to wether the BSA will ask scouts about their sexual activity that “we do not ask now and will not if the resolution passes.” [ibid] The LDS Church released a response to the vote, which indicated the continued sponsorship of LDS Scouting and included the following statement:
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