The Risk of Embrace

Finally, there is the risk of embrace. . . . I open my arms, make a movement of the self towards the other, the enemy, and do not know whether I will be misunderstood, despised, even violated, or whether my action will be appreciated, understood, and reciprocated. I can become a savior or a victim—possibly both. Embrace is grace, and ‘grace is a gamble, always.

–Miraslov Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation

Much has been written about the classic prisoner’s dilemma scenario. To put the matter succinctly, a prisoner’s dilemma is created when two parties are faced with the choice of cooperating or not cooperating with each other in a situation with the following components:

  1. If they both choose to cooperate, they will both be rewarded.
  2. If they both choose not to cooperate, they will both be punished.
  3. If they make different choices, then cooperator will be punished more–and the non-cooperator will be rewarded more–than would be the case if both made the same choice.
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King Leere is one of our greatest novels

I’ve been rereading Steve Peck’s The Tragedy of King Leere and I’m convinced that it is one of the best works of Mormon fiction there is, but not just because Peck’s work is insanely creative or because his world-building is so hauntingly convincing. I believe it is a masterpiece because no one else captures the Mormon notions of stewardship, personal responsibility and family bonds better than Steve. This is your summer read. [Read more…]

Some Humor in a Hard Time: Liberty Jail

When Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, Lyman Wight, Alexander McRae, and Caleb Baldwin (Sidney Rigdon has been released on bail some months before after he delivered a touching sermon to onlookers at the jail) were released from Liberty Jail in the spring of 1839 to journey under escort to a Boone County trial court, the escorting officers let the prisoners escape. While they headed for Illinois, they traveled under the guise of land speculators. After they arrived in Quincy, Ill. where a large number of Saints had landed and were being helped by the local populous, they related one humorous story about their journey. Lyman Wight’s son (16 years old at the time of the Qunicy episode) told this story many years later (consider the usual memory fault warnings).

All the escapees took aliases. Alexander McRay [McRae] was “Mr. Brown”. They stopped at a ranch for some refreshment and hopefully to stay overnight. The next morning, everyone had gone outdoors except for McRay and the ranch owner. The owner “asked him his name said he had forgotten it. and Bro. McRay had also forgotten it- and it had the effect to cause Bro McRay to take a terrible cramp in his stomic [sic] it come near throughing [throwing] him into spasims. The man ran out where some of the other Brethren were and told them that their Friend was verry sick. They went in and said Mr Brown what is the matter with you. what have you been eating &c— that relieved Mr Brown to such an extent that he began to get Better right away. In the meantime the Proprieter had brought in a jug of whisky from some where and reccommended Mr Brown to take a glass of Whiskey—–thought it would help him. He down [did] so, and the others, they that were disposed that way—which were nearly all—took some for fear the desease [disease] was contagious. After they got to our house in Quincy and had been offered [a] stimulent of some kind to drink they [the escapees] would recommend to give Bro McRay some first, [as] he has the cramp and cant tell his name”[1]

I wonder how long it took McRae to live that down. And Whiskey: maybe it does cure a memory lapse.

—————-
[1] Orange L. Wight, Reminiscences, MS 405, LDS Church History Library. Wight suggested in his account that the sheriff was bribed.

Review: 1st Nephi: a brief theological introduction

Joseph Spencer, 1st Nephi: a brief theological introduction (Provo: Neal A. Maxwell Institute, 2020)

If you’re anything like me, you can relate the story of 1st Nephi in your sleep. Lehi, a goodly parent, has a dream that warns him to leave Jerusalem with his family. They go into the wilderness, at times grudgingly, at times not. His four sons return to Jerusalem twice, first to retrieve a record and next to retrieve a family. There are conflicts and blessings in the wilderness, they arrive at the sea, they build a boat, and they end up in a promised land. Lehi, in effect, leads an exodus of two families from the once-promised land into a new promised land.

And not infrequently, that’s the level at which we engage with the Book of Mormon. We take Nephi’s authorial voice as authoritative and objectively true. We find lessons in is obedience and his brothers’, well, grudging obedience. And we plow through the text again, annually or every four years, or when we remember.

In his brief theological introduction to 1st Nephi, Joseph Spencer doesn’t argue against reading the plot of 1st Nephi, and gleaning didactic lessons from it. It’s what we do, and there’s doubtless value in it.

But he argues—convincingly—that if our engagement with the text stays solely plot-focused, we’re missing important depths of the Book of Mormon. We’re giving up theological lessons that we could enjoy. [Read more…]

On Translating 1 Nephi 1:1 into Hebrew

Some years ago my friend Bryan Buchanan discovered a treasure in the Brigham Young office files. In January of 1846 an otherwise unknown man named Bernard Gadol sent Brigham Young unsolicited a translation of the first chapter of the Book of Mormon (equaling 1 Nephi 1:1 – 1 Nephi 5:22 in modern editions) into Hebrew. He offered to do more such translations into Hebrew, German and French in exchange for a team to take him with the Church into the wilderness. At the time Young was (as my first managing partner used to say) “up to his ass in alligators” and never responded. Absolutely nothing further is known of Gadol (although if Ardis sees this and takes it as a challenge, I won’t try to stop her from looking). His request might suggest he was a member, but he does not appear in early membership records.

[Read more…]

In Spirit and in Truth

I would have had the assignment this morning to speak in one of the branches in my area, but for the suspension of church meetings. So the branch president asked me to share an email message with the members of the branch. This post is based on that message.

The Woman of Samaria, image from churchofjesuschrist.org

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A Two-step Program for Going Back to Church

For the last few weeks, and for the rest of the summer, pretty much my whole day job is to plan various scenarios under which a university might open in the fall. It turns out this is a job with about a billion moving pieces, any one of which could blow up at any time and make it impossible to launch a semester. 

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(When) Are You Going Back?

In a letter dated 19 May 2020, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles announced “that meetings and activities may be resumed using a phased approach when local government regulations allow and Area Presidencies inform local leaders” (emphasis in the original). This comes as no surprise considering that a number of countries around the world never did impose a full lockdown on their citizenry or are now in the throes of a phased return to some semblance of life before COVID-19, and part of that now seemingly distant past involved things like large indoor gatherings with enthusiastic singing and food and drink passed among hundreds of people.

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“done in cleanliness”

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

Over the last couple weeks, a number of family and friends have renewed their temple recommends over Zoom.

You may remember that about a year ago (in the pre-pandemic days!), the church updated the temple recommend questions. For these friends and family, then, this was the first time they were asked the new questions. Out of curiosity (both over their experience and my upcoming renewal), I took a quick look at the new questions, and something struck my eye: Question 5. According to the church’s website, question 5 now reads:

The Lord has said that all things are to be “done in cleanliness” before Him (Doctrine and Covenants 42:41).

Do you strive for moral cleanliness in your thoughts and behavior?

Do you obey the law of chastity?

Now on the one hand, this is nothing new. The temple recommend interview has always asked about living the law of chastity. On the other, though, I don’t remember it having had a scripture attached to it before. So I took a look at D&C 42:41. [Read more…]

Some Reflections on Mormon Journal-Keeping

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This is Part 1 of a two-part series on journaling. Part 1 is a reflection on the changing role of journaling in Mormonism and my own experience finding my purpose and voice as a young journal-keeper. I end by asking: Do Mormons journal anymore? Part 2 will take up what it means to journal through the pandemic, with some practical suggestions and resources for starting or reinvigorating a journaling practice.

Early on during my own quarantine experience, about mid-March, I began to feel strongly that I’ll regret it if I don’t keep a record of how my life feels at this historic juncture. As difficult as it is to imagine, someday this pandemic will be behind us, a part of the past—even the distant past—and it won’t be as easy to summon the details of our thoughts and experiences as we may now assume. No matter how singular or memorable a moment feels, sooner or later it will recede with the tides of time and be difficult to retrieve without somehow preserving the memory.

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In My Ideal Foyer. . . .

Eugène Burnand, “The Disciples Peter and John Running to the tomb on the morning of the Resurrection” (1898)

Fair warning: this is going to be one of those posts where I ask you to do something at the end–to post YOUR ideal foyer art (or, at least, a link to your ideal foyer art if there are copyright issues) and explain why. Because I really want to know. And because I want to document a space on the Internet where BCC’s legions of readers register their preferences for the LDS foyers of the future.

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The Book of Mormon case for Black Exodus

This guest post is written by James Jones. James is the producer and co-host of Beyond The Block, a podcast centering the marginalized in Mormonism. He’s a musician and voice over artist based in Boston, MA where he serves as his ward’s interfaith specialist, liturgical arts specialist, and an ordinance worker.

This week, we in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be studying Mosiah 18-24. It is a curious case study on how the Lord helps the oppressed deal with their oppression. We have two stories highlighting the oppression of two groups of people. Both groups were in bondage and facing physical and emotional abuse. They couldn’t do much about it as they were outnumbered and outgunned. Both groups, unable to fight back or reason with their abusers, submitted to their subjugation and prayed to the Lord for help. This led to their deliverance in the form of exodus.

I reread these stories in the middle of yet more black death, this time, the young man Ahmaud Arbery. Just in the last five years, we’ve seen literally hundreds of headlines about unarmed black men being gunned down by police officers and white vigilantes under questionable circumstances. There have been few arrests, even fewer convictions – I can count the latter on one hand – and no significant reform as a result of any of the killings. Each one hurts, but this one hit different. As an incident on video where the victim is an unarmed black man posing no threat to anyone and the killers are armed civilians, it might be the most glaring example of the intoxicating power of whiteness in recent memory. [Read more…]

The Graven Image in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

An analysis of art in the age of mechanical reproduction must do justice to these relationships, for they lead us to an all-important insight: for the first time in world history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual. To an ever greater degree the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility. . . . Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice – politics. –Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”

As of today, it appears, the art in meetinghouse foyers in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be limited to 22 officially approved reproductions. Most of the paintings will be familiar to Latter-day Saints. They are mainly the ones by Del Parson and Harry Anderson that Mormons have been using for years. But there are a few newer ones too, including one of Jesus in what appears to be the African Savannah holding a black child. I call this one “Diversity Jesus.”

All of the Jesuses in the approved collection are lilly-white and vaguely Scandanavian. Diversity Jesus is the whitest of all, with shoulder-length hair and piercing blue eyes highlighted by his equally blue robe. If someone told me that this was a painting of Kenny Loggins circa 1975, rather than a Middle-Eastern Jew from the Ancient Roman period, I would not be terribly surprised.

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Consecrating Attention: The Two Great Commandments

Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”
–Simone Weil, Letter to Joë Bousquet, 13 April 1942

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Attention is an economic good. We know this intuitively because we almost always talk about it in financial terms. We can pay attention. We can grab it, hoard it, and monopolize it. We can also be robbed of it, and, if we don’t have enough attention, we call it a “deficit.” Every day, thousands of companies spend millions of dollars to try to get us to trade ours for something shiny.

And also, what you give, or sell, your attention to almost entirely defines who you are.

Perhaps nobody thought as much about attention as a commodity than Simone Weil, the French philosopher and theologian that Albert Camus called “the only great spirit of our times.” I have read Weil’s great essay about attention–“Reflection on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God”–perhaps a dozen times, and I still don’t really understand what she is saying. But it strikes me as more important than ever in a world whose attention is almost completely focused on COVID-19.

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The Paradoxical Appeal of Conspiracy Narratives

Becca Robinson has been teaching college-level rhetoric and writing since 2008 and raising backyard chickens since 2011. She lives in Eastern Idaho.

By now anyone who reads this blog has probably seen someone they know share the “Plandemic” video on social media, or at least seen references to it. This post is adapted from a Facebook post I wrote in response to several of my own family members and friends who had shared it (with varying degrees of credulity) on their social media feeds within the past few days. While it is important to address the video’s falsehoods, that’s not what this post is really about. Rather than respond to the specific claims of the video, my purpose is to explain why sharing it is dangerously irresponsible (which is why I haven’t linked to it here) and why conspiracy theories like it flourish especially in times of crisis.

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When Moroni Symbolized the Rising Generation

This guest post is from Madison Daniels, of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

In the opening hours of March 18th, the Wasatch fault groaned and let out an exasperated sigh. She is dealing with a lot and she is tired. A 5.7 earthquake thundered across northern Utah and rattled a people already anxious about so much. Not two weeks later, the Earth shuddered once more, with a 6.5 quake in Idaho. It was one hell of a March.
While the Coronaquakes of 2020 didn’t claim any lives or injure any people, they did cause a fair amount of property damage. The most obvious and photogenic being Angel Moroni dropping his golden trumpet. Photos of the trumpetless Moroni spread like wildfire through the news and social media. The iconic symbol of modern Mormonism stood, if only for a moment, without his single solitary voice.
At the risk of reading too much into symbolic (herbal)tea leaves, let me speak to what has been swirling in my mind for a while now. [Read more…]

Excluding Our Fellow Saints From the Sacrament

In Illinois, we’re now halfway through our sixth week under a stay-at-home order (and my family’s seventh week at home). And the stay-at-home order looks like it’s going to last at least another month here. That means at least 12 Sundays in Illinois without meeting together at church (and, even when the stay-at-home order ends, some people may make the eminently responsible and defensible decision to continue social distancing, and delay their return to church).

Ultimately, I don’t think putting church meetings on hold is optimal. (To be clear, it’s both necessary and good. It’s just not ideal.) We need human contact, and we need the spiritual benefits that come from gathering together. That said, it’s necessary, and on net, saving the lives and the health of our fellow Saints is both beneficial and will bless us and them.

Still, this extended time away from church means that some people—single women and families without priesthood holders in the home, for example—won’t have the ability to take the sacrament for three months or more.

The church has made a tentative stab at recognizing the position these women and families are in. On April 16, the church provided instructions for administering the church during the pandemic. The instructions provide that “In unusual circumstances when the sacrament is not available, members can be comforted by studying the sacrament prayers and recommitting to live the covenants members have made and praying for the day they will receive it in person, properly administered by the priesthood.” [Read more…]

or caused it to be divided

Genesis 1:4 reads as follows: “4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.”
The parallel passage in Abraham 4:4 reads: “4 And they (the Gods) comprehended the light, for it was bright; and they divided the light, or caused it to be divided, from the darkness.” The parenthetical  “or caused it to be divided” is fascinating, as we can be fairly certain that these words derive from an academic source.

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Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair!

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair
!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

–Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Ozymandias” 

Shelly’s great poem “Ozymandias” teaches us that civilization is a fragile thing. Human history is not a march of progress from barbarism to shopping malls. We do not always move forward in wisdom, intelligence, and technology, or in economic or political accomplishment. Sometimes we go backward. And sometimes we collapse.

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When Should We Reopen Church?

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Among my ongoing quarantine hobbies is one I’m sure many of you share: obsessively reading articles and listening to podcasts about the pandemic, the public response to stay-at-home orders around the U.S., and debates over what the new normal will look like—and when it will come. I’ve seen lots of well-meaning comments on social media imploring people to observe social distancing strictly for the few weeks it’s being asked of us so we can get back to regular life in time for summer. I wholeheartedly agree that we should all be doing our part by staying home and flattening the curve, but this sense of the timeline is woefully optimistic. Most experts seem to agree that there is no way this will only be a few weeks, and even strict adherence to stay-at-home orders won’t magically hasten the return to anything most Americans would deem normal.

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Social Isolation as an Expression of Community

Taylor Kerby, a full-time educator, is an alumnus of Claremont Graduate University, where he earned Masters’ degrees in Education and Religion.

My wife and I were in Puerto Rico when the world shut down. Somehow we had talked our parents into watching our two daughters for the duration of our trip and were in paradise enjoying what was essentially a second honeymoon. When we left Phoenix, the coronavirus was still something happening somewhere else; one of those very real world problems that existed only on news reports. The island got its first case of the virus just before we left, being about a week behind the continental states. During our stay, our experience with the virus came only through news of school closures and travel restrictions back home, all of which contrasted sharply with the island’s continued normalcy, which left us with the false impression that these stories were obviously temporary. I am a school teacher and even joked that I hoped I’d end up with an extra week on top of our spring break.

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Easter is not the answer

Wading thigh-deep through the world’s sadness one archetypal spring, I wanted Easter to come. I was winding once again through the cycles of winter and summer and the spaces in between. In retrospect, that season portended this terrible pandemic in its sadness and in its timing. I remember craving the glory of the empty tomb, the wet eyes eternally dried, the Jesus of Nazareth now undeniably the Christ. I needed Easter to be the answer to my woes.

But Easter is not the answer. It’s something else entirely. [Read more…]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Saturday Saints

Just a quick meditation on Easter, and why Saturday speaks to me most. [Read more…]

Is not this the fast I have chosen?

Breanne loves hiking and biking and traveling.  She is a friend of all faiths.

Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?

 Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?

Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward.   (Isaiah 58:6-8)

Fasting is a shared religious tradition.

I remember when I first learned that Jews have yearly fast days beyond just Yom Kippur. I was a graduate student in Jerusalem and was talking to a friend, who mentioned that he was fasting that day for one of the annual fast days commemorating the destruction of the Second Temple.

I was familiar with Yom Kippur and thought I understood a lot about fasting, so I asked him what he was fasting for. He looked confused, so I explained that in my religious tradition, we fast for something…perhaps something that requires greater faith than just prayer can provide. There is generally a goal of something that we want or need, so we sacrifice to show God that we truly desire that thing and hope to open ourselves up to further blessings. So what was he fasting for?

“No, no, no,” he said, shaking his head. “Fasting isn’t for something. It’s…” and here he paused, trying to think of the right way to explain it to me. [Read more…]

Eugene England’s “Easter Weekend” Fast

Some of you are fasting today. In recognition of that, and in recognition of Good Friday, I am doing what I often do this time of year: return to what is, in my opinion, the finest, most powerful, and most Christian personal essay which Mormon-Americana has yet produced: Eugene England’s “Easter Weekend,” which is the story of a very different–and yet also, very universal–kind of fasting. It was originally printed in the Spring 1988 issue of Dialogue, was reprinted in the Autumn 2001 issue of Irreantum, and is available in full in The Quality of Mercy, a collection of his essays long out of print. You can read the whole thing here. I will include some excerpts below.

Gene has been dead for nearly 20 years. I didn’t know him well, though there are many members of the BCC community who did. But whether you knew him well or only a little or not at all, we all can re-read his words, and look forward to someday hearing his voice again.

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Flowers and Face Masks

This guest post is from BCC blogger emerita Christina Taber-Kewene. Christina is an admissions coach, writer, recovering lawyer and wrangler of four locked-down kids just outside NYC.

When I arrive home from my evening walk with my older son, six new cloth face masks are tied to my porch railing. My FIT-graduate friend has sewn them for our whole family and left them for us. I don’t sew, but another friend has pulled out her sewing machine and started production, so earlier in the day I put out my giant Ziploc bag of thread for her to pick up from my porch. I don’t know why I have approximately 78 spools of thread in a rainbow of colors, but now they can be put to good use. That same afternoon my younger son and our next door neighbor chase a bike thief all through the neighborhood and then run down a police officer in an attempt to rescue our neighbor’s bike. And earlier that morning another neighbor leaves me a bag of fresh dry erase markers so I can continue to teach my students online using my whiteboard. Through all these interactions we keep our distance, bleach exchanged items, and express gratitude profusely. [Read more…]

Exclusivity and the True Jesus Church

Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye is a Senior Lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of Auckland. She is the author, among other books, of Crossings, published by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship.

On Sunday, 29 March, Russell M. Nelson, president of the 16-million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, released a video from Salt Lake City calling on church members everywhere to join in a fast “to pray for relief from the physical, emotional, and economic effects of this global pandemic.”

Some 71 years before, on 6 April 1949, members of the True Jesus Church around the world responded to the call of their leader, Wei Yisa to fast and “pray for peace.” Communist forces were advancing on the city of Nanjing, where the church headquarters was located. Shortages were severe and prices were skyrocketing. [Read more…]

Mourning with Those Who Mourn: COVID-19 Edition

I have been thinking about Job a lot lately. No surprise, really. I think about Job a lot. It’s kind of my schtick.

But I have been thinking specifically about Job’s Comforters–Zophar, Eliphaz, and Bildad–who spend most of the poem portion of Job saying stupid things to make themselves feel better about God. These men have become, collectively, a term for false friends–people who pretend to comfort you when all they really want to do is comfort themselves by telling you all the reasons that what happened to you won’t happen to them.

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Monday in Holy Week: Cleansing the Temple

I am pulling this one from the archives to celebrate Monday in Holy Week today. This was first posted on March 30, 2015. So much has changed in the world and the Church since Holy Week five years ago. The Spring of 2015 seems like a downright idyllic time now, just five years later. But the example Jesus set in cleansing the temple of the money changers remains as powerful today as then. In fact it is ever more powerful today.

Jesus Cleanses the Temple

* * *

Jesus likely knew that he was sealing His fate when he “cleansed” the temple by casting out the money changers after his “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. In the Gospel of Mark, this cleansing of the temple occurs on the Monday of Holy Week (Mark 11:15-19). [Read more…]

The Temporal Urgency of Faith

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Photo by Wonderlane on Unsplash

Introductory Note:  Several years ago during General Conference I started journaling the messages my soul most longed to hear.  I posted one of those last Conference.  I’m doing so again now.  This requires a suspension of disbelief:  it contains a mix of true and aspirational content, and is written as if I had been asked to speak during General Conference.  I do not purport to actually have any authority to speak on behalf of the Church. 

Faith without works is dead.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to cast our spiritual burdens upon the Lord, rely on the grace of his Atonement, and put our faith in him during adversity.  But the Gospel also preaches that our spiritual health is intertwined with the physical welfare of our neighbors.  Pure religion looks not just to eternity but to now.

“If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them:  ‘Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled’; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.  (James 2:14-17)

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