The Author and Finisher of our Faith: Reflections On #NaNoWriMo

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” – George Orwell

November 30th marked the end of #NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, an online write-athon where writers all over the internet attempt to finish a novel in November. The word-count goal is 50k, which in 2019 came out to 1,667 words a day. There’s a whole website dedicated to helping motivate writers through the slog that is putting words on a page, and a whole other website called Twitter where writers go to complain about how hard writing is. (George Orwell would have had plenty to add.) 

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“Rejoice With Joy Unspeakable and Full of Glory,” 1 and 2 Peter #BCCSundaySchool2019

I misread the calendar and did not post this last week. I apologize that it’s late, but I hope it may be useful to some.

I. 1 Peter

Peter’s first epistle has some of the most interesting and some of the most misunderstood passages in the new testament. And we’ll look at those passages, but in my view, the more interesting and more overlooked thing to look at is the overall themes and structure of Peter’s first letter.[1] It’s a short letter, but it is dense, and it refers in just a few words or lines to complex ideas that take up whole chapters in Paul’s letters. [Read more…]

The Evils of the Dole: What Is This “Dole” Thing, Anyway?

Last week, Kristine A wrote an excellent post from last week, highlighting the BYU-I Medicaid omnishambles. In the post, she mentioned that one rumored reason for the policy was to get students “off the dole.”

Now, I’ve been meaning to write about church (and government) welfare for a while, and that comment got me thinking: variously in lesson manuals and other church contexts growing up, I’ve heard about the evils of the dole. But outside of church contexts, I can’t say I’ve heard the word “dole” very often.[fn1]

Originally, I had a long, comprehensive post vaguely mapped out in my head. But it turns out this is the holiday season, and also the writing-and-grading-finals season, so in place of the comprehensive exegesis of church welfare, I’m going to look at use of the word dole. [Read more…]

The Voice of the People: A Review

The Voice of the People: Political Rhetoric in the Book of Mormon, by David Charles Gore. Maxwell Institute: Groundwork Books, 2019.

The Voice of the People is something that we need a lot more of in the Mormon Studies world: a book about the Book of Mormon that does not try to prove anything about its historical nature, or use it to illustrate a particular theological point, but rather makes it the basis for a productive engagement with an academic discipline and a cultural value.

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The Christ Child

The Church has just put out a new video on its You Tube Channel: The Christ Child: A Nativity Story #LightTheWorld, available here . On Facebook Daniel McClellan had high praise for it, so I thought I would check it out.

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The Bear River Massacre, an Editor’s Perspective

This week, BCC Press launched Darren Parry’s The Bear River Massacre: A Shoshone History. It is a deeply personal book, a wholly unique book, and we’re proud to publish it. It is a history book, but it is a personal history, the story told of one’s own family through several generations and in the storytelling tradition of that family and people. Darren is not describing with anthropological detachment; he is telling us the story of his people and how they have survived — and thrived. [Read more…]

Naked, and Ye Clothed Me: On Nudity in the Home

The Fall of Man (source)

The local paper of record has a feature called “Family Council” where family therapists weigh in on reader questions. Today’s column revolved around the issue of nudity at home and whether—and if so, at what age—it harms children to see their parents nude. The concerned reader described the situation like so (translations here and below my own):

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2019 Christmas gift book guide

There were a lot of books published this year. Good ones. But first, not included in this list are Book of Mormon related volumes in anticipation of the new curriculum. For that, see my list from earlier this week, which includes lots of book ideas. If you are in SLC area, swing by Benchmark and support your local bookseller. I hope everyone does indeed have a merry Christmas.
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The BYU-Idaho Medicaid Controversy: A View From the Ground

Kristine A is a 2004 BYU-Idaho graduate and an accountant who was preparing for grad school to be a Mormon historian until 3 kids under 2 disrupted her plans. She is a Wheat and Tares blogger on hiatus, reluctantly lives in Rexburg, and is extremely online. 

Why were the LDS Church, DMBA, and BYU-Idaho in the New York Times over the weekend? The drama began, as most things do up in this neck of the woods, in the Rexburg community Facebook group. On November 11, the mother of a student posted that her son had been told Idaho Medicaid no longer counted as adequate insurance for the mandatory insurance coverage rule and that he’d be charged for the DMBA student health plan. Most people didn’t believe the claim from the student’s mother, but by the end of the day a student had posted a copy of the waiver her husband had picked up at the school that confirmed the rumor. When the husband picked up the form the employees at the health center told him the decision was from SLC and would be applying to all CES schools. Other students throughout the day contacted the Student Health Center (SHC) and were told the decision was from the Church Board of Education.

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2020 Book of Mormon supplemental readings

About a month ago I described the group I have met with this year to study the New Testament. Along with a regular Bible reading, we have generally included a chapter or two from Raymond Brown’s An Introduction to the New Testament. I would definitely recommend this volume for anyone doing something similar. It can be a little dense, but it consistently is helpful. As we look forward to next year’s study of the Book of Mormon (and in anticipation of my annual Christmas book list), I have started to think about what, if anything, will match the utility and perspicacity of Brown. I’d appreciate any thoughts and pointers of where to go.
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Struggling to Believe: John Berryman’s “Eleven Addresses to the Lord”

The Holiday Seasons are a time for us to deepen our understanding of, and appreciation for God. And for me at least that means poetry. Not all poets are prophets, but all prophets are poets–and a few of them even got anthologized in the Bible. But there has been a lot of prophetic poetry since then, and a good bit of it is in the 2013 anthology Before the Door of God, edited by Jay Hopler and (Amazing BYU English Professor) Kimberly Johnson. The book covers devotional poetry from the ever-popular “beginning of time” through the present focusing, not entirely exclusively, on the English tradition. This is easily enough work for a lifetime, and I plan to make it my work during this year’s holiday season.

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New Missionary Handbook

Last week, the church announced the publication of a new handbook for missionaries, Missionary Standards for Disciples of Jesus Christ. Gone is the “White Bible” of yore. I kept one in my shirt pocket for my entire mission. I’m not exactly sure why. The new one is too big (and too blue) for that, so that is at least one change. Substantively, though, this is a really great update, and includes skads of advice I want my kids to take to heart. Also the art is pretty good.
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The LeBarons and the Making of the All-American Mormons

By now you’ve probably seen the news. On Monday, November 4, nine members of the LeBaron family were shot, burned, and killed in a violent ambush in the Mexican state of Sonora as they were driving in a three-car convoy to visit extended family. The entire group was made up of women and children, including two eight-month-old twins who died in a burning car with their mother. Five of the surviving children managed to escape and walk fourteen miles to get help.

The story made national news in the U.S., and headlines like this started cropping up: “Mormon Family Massacre Stuns Mexico, Laying Bare Government’s Helplessness” (New York Times), “What we know about the attack on a group of Mormon families in Mexico” (CNN), “Mexico ambush: How a US Mormon family ended up dead” (BBC), “The murders of 9 Mormon family members spotlights Mexico’s spiraling violence” (Vox), “The Brutal Murder of the Mormon Family in Mexico Was Almost Inevitable” (Slate). The list goes on. [Read more…]

Faith without Works Is Impossible

I’m not completely sure, but I am pretty sure that the first two scriptures I ever memorized came from the Book of James. James 1:5 (“if any of you lack wisdom. . . .”) is the standard starting point for the Joseph Smith story. And James 2:20 (“faith without works is dead”) was the standard retort (for a Mormon growing up in a Southern Baptist town) to the claim that we were “saved by faith.”

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“Mission President and His Wife;” or Why Titles Matter

President, Bishop, High Priest, Priest, Mission President, Assistant to the President, Deacon, Teacher, Seventy.

Titles matter. Titles matter in the church, but only for men.

Because in the past few months, we’ve lost (or in one instance not gained) titles for women in the church.

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Some Personal Thoughts About the Book of Mormon as a Text

Last Sunday, I completed my march through The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text, a version of the Book of Mormon edited by Royal Skousen. Published 10 years ago, it is employs multiple critical analysis tools to account for every textual variant found in the badly damaged original manuscript of the BoM, the printer’s manuscript, and several early printed editions as well, all with the aim of reconstructing, as much as possible, exactly what Joseph Smith recited to his scribes during those “days never to be forgotten,” as Oliver Cowdery put it, 190 years ago. I started through The Earliest Text about a year and a half ago, and it’s been a fascinating read. I’m by no means a scholar of the BoM’s historicity, but I think I’m fairly well-read in the many interpretive arguments which surround the book (which in different versions I’ve read all the way through perhaps a dozen times). Skousen’s achievement didn’t settle any of those arguments for me, but it did give me a new way to think about them–a way that I had, over the past several years, come think I could never apply to Mormon scriptures. [Read more…]

What Family History Means to People Like Me

Michelle Franzoni Thorley’s work focuses on the ancestral power to heal. She is a self-taught artist who has claimed power through embracing her Mexican-American heritage and her experiences as a LDS woman artist. Her work has been displayed at the Writ and Vision gallery, LDS Church history museum, Abravanel hall and the Springville art museum. She spoke at the Center for Latter-day Saint Art in New York City in June 2019 and at BYU family history conference in Provo Utah in October 2019. She is passionate about plants, family history, and the stories of women. Her work and words can be found on Instagram at @flora_familiar. She lives in Utah, with her spouse and three young children.

Michelle Franzoni Thorley “Family History and Temple Work”

My name is Michelle. I am a Mexican-American artist who loves genealogical healing, which is also known as family history.

I grew up as a minority in my community. My parents were divorced, I lived under the poverty level, and my hair and skin were different than all the other kids. I had a hard time dealing with a lot of sadness. I now recognize that some of the sadness I carried was generational trauma, and I have healed a lot of that pain through therapy, family history, and temple work. 

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HB 1 16:13

In April of this year the First Presidency repealed the captioned Handbook policy, commonly referred to by many members as the “Policy of Exclusion” (or the “PoX” for short). This was an absolutely stunning development. The Church is not in the habit of overturning policies buttressed with claims of capital R Revelation within four short years of promulgation. The Church hates to be put in the position of appearing fallible in some sense, even though our leaders are human beings and therefore our leadership is by very definition fallible. I give the Church a major fist bump for this action. Sure, it would have been better not to have promulgated the policy in the first place, and yes, i’m sure it wasn’t easy, but it was very much the right thing to do.

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“Making the Case for the Messiah,” Hebrews 1-6 #BCCSundaySchool 2019

Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews is one of the three New Testament books (along with Acts and Revelation) that doesn’t really fit into the GOSPELS-EPISTLES organizing scheme. It probably isn’t by Paul. It is definitely not an epistle. And it may or may not be to the Hebrews. This is why it is situated after the Pauline Epistles–which are otherwise arranged by length, longest to shortest (Hebrews is much longer than the short epistles that precede it). The early Church Fathers didn’t quite know what to do with it, but they knew it was important

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Your Sunday Brunch Special: Stealing a Bull Dozer

During the summer between my first and second years as a grad student, I needed money bad. I had been married for a few years and had one child. We were living in campus housing and it seemed terribly expensive. I had a car but it was dreadfully old and unreliable (the heater didn’t work, so it was a nightmare to drive in the winter. We lived pretty near campus, I had about a 2-mile walk to my office.[1] Unfortunately, I had no funding that summer and my campus job just didn’t cover our expenses. A friend at school mentioned that a large mine about 20 miles from us was hiring students for the summer and the pay scale was much higher than the campus job. We figured out that if I got hired, the money would tide us over until fall. I applied and got a job, along with another student, working at the mine truck maintenance facility. It was an astonishingly large operation where the regular crew repaired the mine trucks. These trucks were, like the mine itself, outsize monsters. The drive systems were essentially the same as railroad diesel-electric locomotives.
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Women Learn in Silence

This week’s Come Follow Me Sunday School Lesson includes 1 Timothy 2. It’s short. Read it here.

Ok, now I’m going to give you the gift of reading it as if you were a woman or young woman in the church who loves the scriptures and wants to find meaning therein no matter what because it’s scripture. This woman/young woman believes that the church values women highly but understands that there have been changes lately to help women and men better understand women’s roles in the church, so is feeling a bit wobbly.

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Testimony And Its Opposite

Earlier this year I wrote a piece about what I perceived as a lack of mourning with those who mourn in the church. It drew from some recent church issues that had troubled me deeply, and though I needed to write through them for my own sanity, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to share it or not. 

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BYU Studies Call for Papers on Special Evolution Issue

We are delighted to invite you to contribute to a BYU Studies Quarterly special issue on the thoughtful integration of evolution and faith. BYU Studies publishes scholarship within a restored gospel of Jesus Christ context. Submissions are invited from all scholars who seek truth “by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118), discern the harmony between revelation and research, value both academic and spiritual inquiry, and recognize that knowledge without charity is nothing (1 Cor. 13:2).
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God the Parent

I jettisoned Heavenly Mother a few years ago, and to be honest, I don’t miss Her. How could I? She was never real to me to begin with. When I was a young woman, I was fascinated by the idea of a Heavenly Mother, and very frustrated by my lack of information about her. But I think my desire to know more about Heavenly Mother did not stem from a desire to know God. I think that having grown up in a patriarchal religion, with an all-male power structure, where God was referred to always as “Heavenly Father,” I just wanted confirmation that women were equally important to men in the grand scheme of things, that I wouldn’t get to the afterlife and find out that I was a second-class citizen for eternity.

A few weeks ago, someone on Twitter was criticizing the idea that you can’t fully understand God’s love until you become a parent yourself. Obviously, this can be a hard thing to hear if you are not a parent (and harder if you know you are likely never to be one). I know why we speak of God as a Father (i.e., a parent). It’s a good metaphor, assuming you’ve experienced parental love on the receiving end. The god of Judaism and Christianity is a personal god, one who cares for his creations and is invested in their success/happiness/general well-being/etc. God also makes the rules. So God as a parent is a good metaphor, but like all metaphors, it has its limits. [Read more…]

Why Write (and Read!) about Church History Women?

Mcarthur Krishna is an author, artist, and friend. She, along with Bethany Brady Spalding, is the author of the Girls Who Choose God series of books.

So, the church history department conducted a survey a few years ago and asked members to name five women from church history. (No, listing “Sister Smith” five times doesn’t count.) Not surprisingly, the vast majority of members could not. Why isn’t this a surprise to me? Because neither could I! [Read more…]

Come Follow Me, A Thank You

I miss three-hour church. I really do. I would switch back in a heartbeat. But I am absolutely grateful for the new Sunday School curriculum. The manuals themselves are essentially forgettable. It is instead the framework of study that has been the blessing. As I see it, there are two overwhelming goods in the curriculum. First is that the lessons are based on large chunks of scriptural text, and not random verses from all over the place. This allows for careful reading (as a side note, read Ben’s recent post on the previous generation of curriculum development). The second is that church leaders encouraged supplemental study groups. Consequently, this is a love letter to my ward.
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Circumcision, Mutilation, and Conversion Therapy

In preparing for my youth Sunday School lesson this morning, a scripture jumped out and bit me in the way that they sometimes do when you read something that you have read dozens of times before but all of a sudden notice that it means something that you never suspected it meant. The scripture was in the third chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians. 

Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh! For it is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh. (Phil. 3:2-3 NRSV)

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My Own Iron Rod

gc for bcc

Me at this exact Girls Camp in 2009

At 14 years old, I looked about the same that I do now, except somehow much ganglier and with a nice set of braces on my teeth. I was awkward and anxious, but funny and loyal to my friends. At this point in my life, Girls Camp was the peak of my spirituality. I loved all aspects of it: the camping, the outdoor activities, the bonding, the sisterhood, the spiritual growth. But many memories of my time at camp each summer are less sunny. I frequently experienced heat exhaustion. I was stung by a scorpion. Twice. I dealt with drama among other girls, watched as leaders became terrifyingly ill, and even peed myself once (but that’s a story for another day).

A specific experience has been weighing on my mind for the past couple of months. My third year of camp, the leaders planned a specific spiritual activity. All of the girls were gathered together and blindfolded. In groups, we were guided to a wooded area and told to hold firm to “the iron rod,” or more realistically, a long PVC pipe. We proceeded to walk along the path while our leaders aimed to tempt us off the rod. Many were laughing and saying ridiculous things. “Follow me! We’re having a party!” or “There are a bunch of cute guys over here, come with us!” However, a select few chose a softer approach.

About halfway across the rod, I heard a soft voice whisper to me “Amber, there is a rock in front of you. Take my hand and just step to the right.” Before I knew it, I was being pulled across a clearing to sit on a bench with one of my beloved leaders. Tears were streaming down both of our faces. I had messed up and I was so embarrassed. I thought I was in tune and responsible. I thought I was doing the right thing by listening to the soft voice guiding me away from an obstacle. In actuality, I had been deceived and I was ashamed.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized how gross this activity really felt. At the time I felt that I was learning an important lesson on how easily I could be led astray. In fact, I know that was the intended lesson. But I also think that intent is the problem. When young people tie shame and embarrassment to their choices, they carry that shame with them for years, and likely, their entire lives.

Being deceived is not fun. It hurts so much more when it occurs at the hand of someone you believed could be trusted. The unfortunate truth is that those we trust most tend to be the ones most likely to deceive or betray us. We are more likely to believe the people we trust. But trusting someone does not exempt us from being lied to or even merely guided in the wrong direction. The people we trust are not perfect, and we should not expect them to be. We can hope that they have our best interest at heart, but tragically we also cannot be surprised when they are wrong.

All those years ago, I subconsciously learned the lesson that my leaders were capable of deceiving me and leading me away. The soft, sweet voices are often the easiest ones to trust, but soft and sweet doesn’t necessarily mean true. I have spent the past several years trying to discern truth from deceit.

It is in our human nature to be flawed and incorrect, and that nature does not exclude leadership at any level. I am on the path of finding my own truth. Thinking critically about the truths church leaders proclaim has been liberating. By refusing to accept things at face value no matter who they come from, I have found my own direction. I strive to always be guided by love.

The Iron Rod is the Word of God. The Word of God at is very core is love. Throughout my life, I have been taught things that both foster and inhibit pure love. I am starting to recognize that I can choose to only hold onto things that foster it for me.

Becoming Christlike and learning my divine potential is tied completely to my ability to love and accept those around me, and in extension, to love and accept myself. I am learning to be comfortable forging my own path, even when that means unlearning things that soft, kind voices taught and continue to teach me that don’t help foster love in my life.

Could we Sustain the Female General Officers of the Church as Prophets, Seers, and Revelators?

This past conference, President Nelson announced additional changes to the ecclesiology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Among other things, ward young men’s presidencies are discontinued, and their functions are shifted to Bishops, who are to put more of a focus on their role as the President of the Aaronic priesthood in the ward, consistent with D&C 107 (see WVS’s excellent series for some background on the history of section 107 and how the church has applied it) and delegate more of their other responsibilities to the presidencies of the Elders Quorum and the Relief Society. Young Women’s and Relief Society (along with Primary and Sunday School) are no longer “auxiliaries” and are now referred to as “organizations,” and their presidencies are now called “ward officers,” “stake officers,” and “general officers” rather than auxiliary presidents. The Bishop still ultimately presides over the entire ward, but by eliminating the Young Men auxiliary and arguably elevating the Young Women and Relief Society organizations, this change arguably puts Young Women closer to parity with with Aaronic Priesthood, and, with the earlier elimination of ward-level High Priests Groups, it arguably puts the Relief Society closer to parity with the Elders Quorum at the ward level. [Read more…]

Seeing Jesus as a Jew

Review of Trevan G. Hatch, A Stranger in Jerusalem: Seeing Jesus as a Jew (Eugene, Oregon: WIPF & Stock, 2019) [Read more…]