What I Wish My Prophet Would Say

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Kenneth Merrill graduated from BYU with a degree in Philosophy and now works as a cinematographer in Los Angeles, CA. He’s married, with two boys, and in his spare time he likes to play music, rock climb, practice sleight of hand, and read/write—but mostly he just ends up staring at glowing screens.

It was a warm summer day in Long Island City, an area of Queens just across the river from Manhattan. My companion and I were on our way to an appointment in the Queens Bridge Projects when we stopped to talk to two older ladies on their way back home from the grocery store.

“Hi, I’m Elder Merrill, and we’re out here to tell people that we have a living prophet on this earth today. Would you be interested in hearing more about that?”

With frightening directness, one of the women turned to me and asked, “Oh really, a prophet? What’s he been prophesying lately?”

I probably stood slack-jawed for a decent 5 seconds before the next words tumbled uncontrollably out of my mouth:

“Drugs are bad.” [Read more…]

Christ’s Hands

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Elle Mae is a queer Mormon feminist who recently gave this talk in her ward.

In a BYU devotional by Dean Carolina Nunez titled “Loving Our Neighbors,” she said: 

Loving our neighbor requires getting close to our neighbor and giving of ourselves. In Spanish, the term for “love of neighbor” is amor al prójimo, or “love of the one who is in proximity.” The term prójimo connotes a physical closeness and personal touch that neighbor simply fails to capture for me. We follow the good Samaritan’s example not by abstractly loving from afar but by truly connecting and spending time with each other, by genuinely giving of ourselves. This is not always easy: getting close often involves sacrifice and discomfort. It can be awkward, time consuming, and emotionally draining. Surely the Samaritan had other plans for his day, but he stopped to love someone who needed him.

Genuinely giving of ourselves cannot be done just because we want to “be righteous” we have to be vulnerable enough to love those around us without a reward in mind or box to check. Opening our hearts to people is part of building Zion. Our love can’t be conditional on certain outcomes. [Read more…]

The Meetinghouse and the Temple

Michael Haycock has a bachelor’s from Yale and a master’s in religion from Claremont Graduate University.  He currently serves as the Ecumenical/Christian Life Coordinator at Georgetown.  Views are, of course, his own.

LDS theology is like the double helix of DNA, unzipped:  it has two parallel strands that circle around each other, but which rarely connect. 

DNA

On one strand rests the Meetinghouse, with much of the Christianity we received through scripture ancient and modern and which we share with much of Christendom. 

On the other is the Temple, the divine anthropology of the eternal family, and eternal progression, which we hold unique among Christian faiths. [1]

I am convinced that much of the theological friction within the LDS Church is born of the gaps between these two theological strands, amplified by official near-silence on how to bind them together. [Read more…]

I’m terrified about having kids.

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I just spent the holidays with family. I’ve been married a year. I’m approaching my mid-30s. And due to an unrelenting year at work, I’ve gained some weight. So perhaps unsurprisingly, the last few weeks have featured a conversational dance of hinted “are-you-pregnant” questions.

I’ve ignored the hints and laughed off the passing comments about future grandchildren. What I haven’t responded with is my honest answer: I’m terrified about having kids. [Read more…]

So You Have $100 Billion.

There has been a lot of talk over the last couple weeks (interrupted, of course, for impeachment and Christmas) about the church’s $100 billion endowment. And I want to add to that discussion. Specifically, I want to think about the question of how the church could change with a $100 billion endowment.

I’ll note that in the earliest iterations of this post, I thought about freaking this as some sort of (unsatiric) modest proposal.

But that has a couple significant problems. What I’m going to lay out here is not at all modest; it would represent a sea change in church finances. Moreover, it’s not a proposal so much as it is brainstorming. But a $100 billion endowment absolutely requires brainstorming. And my brainstorm?

[Read more…]

The Church of Contrition

“And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost.” (3 Nephi 9:20)

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Note:  During the last few General Conferences, I’ve pondered what message my spirit most yearns to hear.  Today I’m writing out that message for others, as if I had been asked to speak during General Conference.  This writing requires a suspension of disbelief: I do not purport to actually have any authority to speak on behalf of the Church. 

I speak today to apologize.

I believe a sincere “I’m sorry” is second only to “I love you” as the most powerful sentence anyone can utter. [Read more…]

Women Witnesses for Ordinances

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced this morning that women can now serve as witnesses for baptisms and temple sealings.

I’m thrilled about this change.  As I wrote two years ago, the Church’s longtime refusal to let women serve as witnesses contradicted Jesus Christ’s own example of choosing women to be the first witnesses of his Resurrection.  And as co-blogger Jonathan Stapley  details, women as witnesses has long precedence in the modern Church as well.

This change matters.  It’s not just a technical hand-waving exercise.  Women witnessing our saving ordinances matter. [Read more…]

A Conversation with my Catholic Husband on the Word of Wisdom

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“Did you see your Church just officially banned green tea?”

“And vaping. That’s days-old news.”

“Mormon news isn’t real to me until the Washington Post covers it.”

“Fair enough. The best take I’ve seen so far is Jana Riess’s.”

“The Washington Post agrees:  they quote her. The Word of Wisdom is ‘not necessarily a slam-dunk in terms of clarity.’ That seems accurate.”

“The problem is our cultural norms surrounding the Word of Wisdom have strayed so far from its literal text that we’re all left wading through layers of shame and confusion.”

“You know what Jana or you or some other sassy Mormon feminist should do? Write a Rachel Held Evans style book: ‘A Year of Word of Wisdomhood.’ It would be hilarious.[Read more…]

Book Review: Bridges: Ministering to Those Who Question

David B. Ostler
Bridges: Ministering to Those Who Question
Greg Kofford Books, Salt Lake City, Utah
July 2019, xiv+183 pages, Appendix, endnotes, index.
$32.95 hardcover, $18.86 paper (Amazon), $17.99 Kindle.

Bridges is a short volume that addresses one of the issues facing most religions in many parts of the world: people dropping out. Surveys suggest that there are many reasons for what has been called “the rise of the nones” an especially pertinent phenomenon among young adults. The relevancy of that Old Time Religion seems to be in question.
[Read more…]

Clearance vs. Cancellation

From the Women’s Bible Commentary:

Deuteronomy prohibits the husband, who sought to secure for himself a cheap divorce from his spurned bride, from ever divorcing her. To our ears, this provision sounds appalling, binding a young girl for the rest of her life to a man who “hates” her. In patriarchal ancient Judah, where women’s social status and economic survival depended on membership in a male-headed household, the provision was probably intended to guarantee her security.

The Deuteronomic law relies on some assumptions that don’t match our modern interpretation of marriage:

  • Women in marriage are entitled to protection because they are unable to protect themselves.
  • Men in marriage are obligated to protect the women they marry because those women are otherwise unable to protect themselves.

In the iron age society of Deuteronomy, marriage entitles women but obligates men. Restricting men from abandoning their obligation is the objective of restrictions on divorce, not an intention to protect women from harm within the marriage relationship (which isn’t addressed), but to require men to protect women from a patriarchal society in which they have no standing or power and are financially and physically vulnerable. [Read more…]

Book Review—Jana Riess, The Next Mormons

41VNW2NVATLRichelle Wilson is a PhD student in Scandinavian studies and comparative literature at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She is a talk producer at community radio station WORT 89.9 FM and a member of Dialogue’s editorial staff.

When I first heard Jana Riess was undertaking research about Millennial Mormons, I was ecstatic. I couldn’t wait for this book to be released. Given the heightened sense of generational divide in America right now, thanks in no small part to deepening political polarization and an ongoing series of culture wars run amok, research like this is vital for the health of our communities. 

The Next Mormons doesn’t disappoint. Riess writes in a clear, engaging style that is approachable to non-specialists and folks who don’t know much about Mormonism. In spite of its seemingly niche topic, I hope this book receives a wider audience since Riess’s findings are important and have broader implications for religion in 21st-century America. [Read more…]

Love: A Proclamation to the World

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Today’s Proclamation is courtesy of best-selling author Mette Ivie Harrison.

I proclaim to my family of Latter-day Saints today that love is the organizing principle of the universe and that it is the most important value of all previous generations, all future generations, and of this generation. The pure love of Christ is the foundation of all that we do as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is what teaches us to find the divine in ourselves. It is what allows us to see ourselves and others more clearly. It is the only thing that enables us to become better people: kinder, more compassionate, more understanding, more expansive in our views, wiser, more learned, and more capable of serving others truly—without judgment or superiority. [Read more…]

Linguistic Curiosity and Mormon Culture

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A few years ago, I found myself enmeshed in a long afternoon conversation with a linguistics professor.  His area of expertise includes analyzing changes to English wrought by internet communications.  As he opined on the etymological drift of a verb’s transitive and intransitive forms during the last twenty years, I was fascinated by his approach to grammar and language.

“It must drive you crazy to be so precise with your usage,” I remarked, “and yet be surrounded by people who use words incorrectly all the time. Do you ever feel like Henry Higgins?”

Instead of agreeing, he challenged me.  “There is no such thing as incorrect word usage,” he responded. “Rather, when I hear others use a word in a non-standard way, I ask myself: what is the cultural context and experience in which they were raised that led them to that usage?  I’ve found asking that question leads to a wealth of productive research.” [Read more…]

When in Romans

We’ve been getting a lot of online discussion lately as a result of the legalistic view of the gospel that’s been presented in General Conference, and particularly the introduction of a new term: qualification. The term may be new, but this is the same Mormon discussion we’ve been having since the get-go: grace vs. works. Mormons have a tough time comprehending grace as a gift, assuming that works are necessary to “qualify” for God’s grace, which leads to checklists of actions required to qualify, worthiness interviews to ensure we have done the things on the checklist, and at least doing the mental calculus to see if we’ve done enough, and sometimes just for personal gratification, noting that others have not done what we deem is “enough.” As a faith tradition, we are very works-focused. The idea that our puny efforts matter at all in the grand scheme of things is because we care so very much about no unclean thing entering, and we’re willing to tackle them personally at the Pearly Gates to prevent it. [Read more…]

Latter-day Saint Parents, Please Stop Apologizing for Your Child’s Wedding

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Emily B. grew up in New Hampshire but currently lives in Maryland, where she spends most of her time writing and teaching writing classes. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from BYU and just finished a PhD in English at the University of Georgia. She and her husband have no children but two very spoiled cats.

Last summer while attending a conference for work, I met a woman from Utah, Trudy (not her real name). It was one of those contexts where we quickly figured out that we were both members of the Church and started chatting, just making small talk. Trudy asked if I had attended this conference before, and I explained that I had meant to attend the previous year but that my sister’s wedding plans had changed, preventing me from going. She then told me all about her adult children and her son’s upcoming wedding.

“Congratulations!” I said. “That’s exciting!”
“Well…” Trudy said, grimacing a little. She sighed.

Instantly, I knew what she was about to say. It’s a sigh and grimace I’ve seen on many occasions when a Latter-day Saint parent, or perhaps even a sibling, mentions an upcoming wedding. [Read more…]

The Presiding Authority of President Eubank

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Photo from Church News profile of President Eubank.

President Sharon Eubank gave a masterful sermon this morning on being Christlike. She effortlessly spoke with power and authority, quoting scripture (while adding gender parity), admonishing us to lift and light together, and reminding us that Jesus Christ reached out to all.

President Eubank is a force for good, both as a member of the General Relief Society Presidency and as the Director of LDS Charities (the first woman to hold that position). When she proclaims: “You are making progress. Keep going. He sees all your hidden sacrifices and counts them to your good and the good of those you love. Your work is not in vain. You are not alone. His very name, Emmanuel, means God With Us. He is surely with you,” she knows of what she speaks.

A few weeks ago, President Eubank also spoke as the featured guest at a stake women’s conference. Her message was a similarly powerful one on the themes of love and service.

And yet who presided at this stake meeting?  As listed in the program, it was the stake president. [Read more…]

Personal Revelation and Sustaining Prophets

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Rachel Allred lives in California and loves her husband, her toddler, and ice cream (not necessarily in that order).  She generally tries to make the world a more empathetic place.

I literally started crying in the cab Thursday. It was a Lyft. The driver asked if I was okay; I told him I was.

I knew The Policy was wrong. I knew it, I knew it, I knew it. I felt like death when it was announced. My heart sank. My lungs filled with lead. My mind started screaming. My soul recoiled. I don’t know how else to say it. I was just completely numb.  I walked around in a vaguely ragey, disbelieving fog for days.

That weekend in November 2015, my beloved husband and I (this was back when he went to church; I’ve wondered since if the policy was the beginning of the end) went to a thrift store to buy clothes with rainbow patterns.  We specifically chose a thrift store whose proceeds are donated to LGBTQ support organizations. We wore our rainbows to church that Sunday. We went with subtle patterns. Too subtle, maybe, because we had to tell people that’s what we were doing, but I was playing the organ so at least some people noticed.   [Read more…]

Let Love be Love

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Nicole is a mother, feminist, and activist living in the Salt Lake Valley with her partner Kerstin and blended family of seven. She credits the women in her life for shaping her values and her hope for a world filled with compassion, authenticity, and uncompromising love.

It’s so hard to find any words to express my feelings about the news about the changed policy.

I type and delete and type and delete.

I couldn’t find the right words because I couldn’t find words that were true enough to myself, but that I thought would be safe from hurting or offending my family who are still members.  I love my family very much and they have been so great with Kerstin and me.  Since they’ve been so careful not to hurt us, I really, really don’t want to hurt them.

I think I’d just like to describe my dream world. [Read more…]

On Chastity and Closed Doors

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I have a fondness for cheesy Christian romance novels.   Their plots feature all of the emotional turmoil and external drama of harlequin romance novels – but they add faith crises and subtract sex.

One trope in these novels is to set up a wicked foil to the wholesome protagonist.  In-need-of-repentance characters lurk in the subplots, steeped in dark allusions and transgressed boundaries.  Think of Mr. Wickham in Pride and Prejudice.  Jane Austen evinces plenty of scandal, yet there are zero explicit mentions of sex.

In order to stay “clean,” Christian novelists have learned to invoke religiously-tinged shame by writing proxies for sex.  All “sin” happens off-screen.  A common scene is the chance encounter after dark.  A woman stands in the shadows, heart pounding, face lit by candlelight.  A man with a half-unbuttoned shirt leans against a doorframe.  After two pages of banter, he steps across the threshold.  The door shuts.  The chapter ends.  At that moment, the reader is cued to assume the characters had sex. [Read more…]

Review: Thunder From The Right: Ezra Taft Benson in Mormonism and Politics

Matthew L. Harris, ed. Thunder From the Right: Ezra Taft Benson in Mormonism and Politics.
Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2019.
Hardcover, 260 pages.
Footnotes. Bibliography. Index.
Cloth: $99.00. Paper: $27.95. Kindle: $14.95. [Kindle not paginated.]
ISBN-10: 0252042255
ISBN-13: 978-0252042256

Ezra Taft Benson, whose life spanned most of the twentieth century, was an important figure in US politics and religion. Several times a candidate for president of the United States, he was a prominent anti-communist and John Birch Society supporter. An LDS apostle from 1943 until his death in 1994 (Benson became the 13th president of the church in 1985), he was a powerfully conservative voice on traditional roles of women at home rather than the workplace and was the founder of an influential thread of Mormon political philosophy. These themes and others are explored in a new volume edited by historian Matthew Harris (Colorada State Univ-Pueblo), from the University of Illinois Press. Harris recruited a number of familiar voices from the world of Mormon studies, including Gary Bergera, (noted Mormon author), our own Matthew Bowman (assoc. prof. of history, Henderson State Univ.), Newell Bringhurst (emeritus prof. of history), Brian Q. Cannon, (prof. of history, BYU), Robert Goldberg (prof. of history, Univ. of Utah), J. B. Haws (assistant prof. of history, BYU), Andrea G. Radke-Moss (prof. of history BYU-Idaho).

Each of the eight essays provides penetrating scholarship on various aspects of the career of one of the most important and influential Mormon figures of the last century.
[Read more…]

Mourn, Comfort, Stand: How Mormons Can Respond to New Zealand

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The baptismal covenant in Mosiah 18 is why I call myself a “Mormon.”  There, by the Waters of Mormon, a beggarded group of refugees promised to “preach nothing save it were repentance and faith on the Lord” and to “knit their hearts together in unity and in love one towards another.”

These original members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Prior-day Saints expressed their desires to “bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;” to “mourn with those that mourn;” to “comfort those that stand in need of comfort;” and “to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things.”

I’ve spent the last day reflecting on how I, and my Mormon community, can live up to those same covenants in order to demonstrate love and unity towards our Muslim brothers and sisters in the wake of the white nationalist terrorist attack on Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. [Read more…]

Exhausted Heaven

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Mette Ivie Harrison is a well-known mystery and young-adult novelist and frequent BCC guest.  She is the author of The Book of Laman, and the forthcoming The Book of Abish, published by BCC Press.

Sometimes Mormons joke about the reality of what heaven looks like, especially for women.  I suspect this is doctrine that the institutional church may be turning away from (like the doctrine of ruling planets that makes us just look really weird to other Christians), but the idea that heaven will just be a continuation of all the work women do now is, well, exhausting.  In heaven, women will have billions and billions of children, as if gestation happens there as it does here on earth.  Women will continue to do visiting teaching (at least that’s what my last Relief Society President said).  They will continue to make a lovely home for their husbands and their already birthed children, grandchildren, and so on.  There will be no rest or respite in heaven, at least not for women. [Read more…]

“Thy Faith Hath Made Thee Whole” #BCCSundaySchool2019

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Readings:   Matthew 8-9; Mark 2-5

Whenever I read the Gospels, I’m amazed all over again by the layers of wisdom in each and every 3-verse vignette of Christ’s teachings, parables, and actions.  This week the Come Follow Me manual asks us to cover 6 chapters worth of them.  That’s difficult to do in a single blog post.  But after reading everything repeatedly, I’ve chosen to focus this week’s discussion on two patterns: how Christ heals, and how Christ responds to criticism.

These six chapters cover a core segment of Christ’s miracles and ministry – healing illnesses, forgiving sins, casting out devils, condemning hypocrites, preaching goodness.  This is the mission Christ called us, as Christians, to continue.  I hope we all can use this lesson to reflect, perhaps somewhat uncomfortably, on how our actions align with Christ’s injunction to believers. [Read more…]

Women with Minor Children can now Serve as Temple Ordinance Workers

A year and a half ago, I wrote about changes to the weird restrictions on temple ordinance workers.   Specifically, I explained that longstanding church policy forbade divorcees within five years, single men over 31, and women with minor children from serving as ordinance workers.   (The same individuals were permitted to “volunteer” for temple shifts, just not perform ordinances.)

In August 2017 the Church removed the restrictions on divorcees and single adult men.  Today, the Church removed the restrictions on mothers.  I am thrilled for the thousands upon thousands of women this blesses.

Equity and Justice in Church Courts

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Seminary students are currently studying lesson 107, which covers D&C 102 as an exploration of the church courts.  D&C 102 provides the handbook for our actual Church Handbooks.  It outlines the whys and hows church courts are set up (at least for men) and declares “In the Church of Jesus Christ, disciplinary councils are to be conducted according to equity and justice.”

Equity and justice.

Yet the church’s spiritual judiciary system does not involve women at any level, unless they are on trial.  [Read more…]

My Valentine to the Church

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It’s Valentine’s Day, and I’ve felt inspired to take a moment and write some reflections on my gratitude and love for the Church.

My last few weeks have sparked a renewed joy in the gospel.  Two years ago I left my cluster of friends in the one and only true ward (thanks California!).  Ever since, I’ve felt a little aloof from the heart of Mormonism.   Yet recently, my Sabbath experience has been refreshed as a delight.

The new two-hour block and Come Follow Me curriculum seems to have galvanized my ward — gospel doctrine discussions have increased in thoughtfulness; Relief Society lessons have increased in vulnerability.  I’ve heard raw and inspiring commentary from the pulpit during Sacrament Meeting; slightly shorter talks have focused the content on Christ.  My family created a listserv to discuss the Book of Mormon; my friend circle Mormon Studies book clubs are going strong.  An intimate discussion on the temple overflowed with wisdom and hope.  I love the emphasis on ministering and the ways I’ve begun connecting with every individual in my ministering circle.  Then last Sunday, I had a conversation with my Bishop that embodied the best of pastoral care.

When the body of Christ is healthy, it is truly divine. [Read more…]

A Faithful Shift Toward Evolution

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Robert Lawrence was once a free-range kid in Utah. He spent a couple years learning from wonderful people in Guatemala and later moved to Arizona where he spent a lot of time in the lab with viruses. He is now a science writer and research developer living in Binghamton, New York, with his wife and toddler. You can connect with him and find more of his work at: www.robertlawrencephd.com

BYU students are more accepting of Darwin’s ideas than they used to be, according to a new study. [Read more…]

“Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” #BCCSundaySchool2019 (Part 2)

Come Follow Me Manual Recommended Readings:  Matthew 3 (quoting Isaiah 40); Mark 1Luke 3John 1.

Upfront Note:  In preparing my BCC Sunday School lesson this week, I realized my content was divided into two major chunks — one whimsical about Godspell, and one academic about the history of baptism.  For ease of use and commentary, I’m publishing them as two separate back-to-back posts.

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[Read more…]

“Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” #BCCSundaySchool2019 (Part 1)

Come Follow Me Manual Recommended Readings:  Matthew 3 (quoting Isaiah 40); Mark 1; Luke 3; John 1.

Upfront Note:  In preparing my BCC Sunday School lesson this week, I realized my content was divided into two major chunks — one whimsical about Godspell, and one academic about the history of baptism.  For ease of use and commentary, I’m publishing them as two separate back-to-back posts.  Part 2 is here.

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[Read more…]

The God Who Stoops

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In discussing the advance of women’s rights, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has often remarked that when we set women on a pedestal, we actually lock them in a cage.

I’ve been wondering lately whether the same could be said about God.  (And even more so, Heavenly Mother.)  When we consign our Heavenly Parents to a throne of glory in the distant heavens, we’re actually locking them behind human constructs of divinity.  We’re building a wall of checkpoints and purity standards, then barring all we deem unholy or unclean from approaching their mercy.

Our all-to-common vision of God on a celestial pedestal gets it all backwards. To borrow a phrase from Rachel Held Evans’s latest book Inspired: our God stoops. [Read more…]