A First Vision: A Conference Prep.

Last year President Russell M. Nelson promised that this April church conference would be like nothing in the past. Circumstances have probably changed those plans. President Nelson advised church members to study Joseph Smith’s story in the Pearl of Great Price regarding his “first vision.” I’m not pointing to any particular observations or literature here, just thinking out loud a bit, if you will. I do think it’s worthwhile to point to JosephSmithPapers.org where various accounts and reports of this first vision have been collected.
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The Eighth Day

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Jennifer Champoux is a lecturer in art history at Northeastern University and vice president of Mormon Scholars in the Humanities.

The old and familiar patterns are disrupted. Some among us are facing serious health risks from coronavirus. Others are busy tending to the sick. Many are facing emotional or economic stress as we hunker down in our homes. Businesses are closed, schools shut down, and church meetings cancelled. The situation is grave. And yet, although our current condition seems like an ever-growing accumulation of limitations and endings, it might also be an opportunity to respond to life in new ways. Rather than a sad ending, this unprecedented time can be a hopeful beginning, a Sabbath-like time outside of time, and an unexpected break from the bustle of “regular” life offering a chance to refocus our priorities.

We tend to talk about the Sabbath as a time of rest at the end of something. Yet in the scriptures, the Sabbath is both an end and a beginning. In Genesis, God rested on the seventh and final day as an end to his work of creation (Genesis 2:1-3). But in Acts, the followers of Christ recognized the Sabbath as the first day of the week in remembrance of the day Christ was resurrected and as a symbol of new life (Acts 20:7). [Read more…]

The Quarantined Mind

“The Solarians have given up something mankind has had for a million years; something worth more than atomic power, cities, agriculture, tools, fire, everything; because it’s something that made everything possible . . . . The tribe, sir. Cooperation between individuals.”
― Isaac Asimov, The Naked Sun

I was 15 years old the first time that I read Isaac Asimov’s novel The Naked Sunthe sequel to The Caves of Steel and the second of his science-fiction/mystery novels designed to prove that the two genres could co-exist comfortably in the same book.

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A Visionary Time

The period during and after the “Raid,” the time when Mormon polygamists were doing difficult time with government pressures as a rebellious United States Territory, brought apocalyptic feelings. Polygamy was preached during the previous decades as an essential aspect of salvation. Even that participating in the practice was a necessary hurdle in the path to the highest of heavens. It’s apparent public defeat was quite often noised about as a sign of the world’s end.[1] A few days ago, reading in a Mormon periodical[2] of the time, I refound the following story that in many ways was part of this (mostly) underground literature. This one is worth a read for the obvious reason noted above, for its typical predictive claims, its reference to Brother Joseph (and Hyrum!), Brother Brigham (and others) and spirit world contacts with deceased relations. As is usual with such experiences, the seemingly implied end did not arrive. Though one might argue that there was an end of the Utah world of 1847–1890, something I have called “Middle Mormonism” in writing. The narrative is heartfelt I think and it is timely in some sense, literal or not. Its telling of “good death” aspects, its temple themes, its (if obscure) Book of Mormon reference, and a remark about sealing over against adoption are interesting. For your reading pleasure then, I put the vision of Elmira Pond here.
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The Seventy

My wife and I have been holed up in our house for a week and a half now, so she decided we should clean the pantry. My first job was to clean out an old file cabinet. The first thing I happened to pull out was an old manuscript of a Note or Comment  from 1986 intended for publication in Dialogue. I had no recollection of this piece whatsoever. The manuscript was in a Dialogue envelope with a letter from Lavina that seems to indicate it had been accepted for publication, but it never appeared. I’m guessing there arose an editor that knew not Joseph. Normally I wouldn’t want anything I wrote 25 years ago to see the light of day, but I read it over and decided I wasn’t ashamed of it, so I figured I would give it a belated publication here on the blog.

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Ordinariness in Exile: Some Thoughts on the Banality of Goodness

        There’s no question of heroism in all this. It’s a matter of common decency. That’s an idea which may make some people smile, but the only means of righting a plague is, common decency.”
        “What do you mean by ‘common decency’?” Rambert’s tone was grave.
        “I don’t know what it means for other people. But in my case I know that it consists in doing my job.”–Albert Camus
, The Plague

In Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt famously examines the “banality of evil.” If I understand her correctly, what she means by this is something like the ordinariness of evil. The horrific evil of the Holocaust was not perpetrated by inhuman monsters with horns and talons, but by ordinary people (like Adolf Eichmann) just doing their jobs.

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Though I Walk Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death

I’ve been practicing law in the City of Chicago since I graduated from law school in 1985 (almost 35 years now). Today I experienced the City in a completely new way. [Read more…]

Free Audio Chapters for Your Book of Mormon Study

Yesterday, we let the cat out of the bag about our evil plan to flood the world with excellent, reasonably priced audiobooks of our best titles. And, like we always say, when the cat is out of the bag, you might as well listen to the meows. (OK,we’ve never actually said this until today, but you know what we mean).

Anyway, we have more audiobooks on the way, but the approval process at ACX/Audible/Amazon is so darn long that we don’t have more than one to show for the effort. We would like to give you a wealth of listening pleasures during the Coronapocalypse (Coronageddon? Covid-Nineteen-Ninety-Nine?). And (we just realized), we have the files. If we can’t find a way to sell them to you, we can GIVE them to you.

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Temple Closures and Church Practice

I ate the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in my home with my family, and then again in the home of a friend who is in what we all see as a high risk demographic. We are making arrangements with the ward to have weekly Sunday sermons by ward members available on demand each week, and one interactive adult class by telepresence (for now, rotating through RS, EQ, and SS). The youth will be trying to interact virtually throughout the week. My regularly Book of Mormon discussion group will also shift online. My sense is that this will be the new normal for quite some time. I’m grateful for the hard work of everyone who is trying to find creative ways to meet the needs of our community. Our temple practice is, however, not so easily adjusted.
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A Little Light from BCC Press: A New Audiobook and a Free Kindle Surprise

The world is getting used to a new normal, and BCC wants to help. We have some exciting announcements coming up, but today we want to unveil a new direction for the most amazing little press in the Mormon Universe.

We now do audiobooks.

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Top 10 General Conference Background Suggestions

While Covid 19 is a threat to public health and is a disproportionate economic threat to some industries, one company that seems poised to win is Zoom. Zoom provides an easy-to-use virtual meeting platform that includes novelty backgrounds for the speaker to use, resulting in many educators finding themselves spoiled for choice, deciding what attention-grabbing background to use in their new virtual teaching environment. One of the most popular options is a Hogwarts background.

The next obvious question is, with a “virtual” approach to General Conference, should Church leaders consider backgrounds that will keep us riveted to their counsel? Here’s a list of my own top 10 choices for consideration: [Read more…]

“Be Still and Know that I am God”: Stillness and Faith in the Time of Coronavirus

This is a sermon about stillness. About being still. About doing nothing because there is nothing you can do. About listening. About compassion. And about faith. But mainly about stillness, because, like so many of you, I have been forced to be still by a national crisis that has shut down the place I work, closed the places I worship, and asked me to stay away from people and places other than my home. 

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Praise to Those on the Front Lines

Part of the bread aisle this morning. These shelves aren’t going to restock themselves.

Life in Vienna is having to adjust quickly and relatively radically to the realities of the pandemic—indoor gatherings of 100 or more people or outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people have been cancelled, which means that in a city known far and wide for its cultural treasures there will be no church services, no concerts, no plays and no museums for the foreseeable future. The borders to neighbouring countries are closed in both directions, which is a dramatic development for a region that has fought hard to win the free movement of people. Universities and schools are closed in a city that recently celebrated the 650th anniversary of its university’s founding. Starting on Monday, most businesses will remain closed for at least 7 days; only those that provide essential goods and services such as pharmacies, banks, gas stations and grocery stores will be allowed to open. And it is the employees of the latter that I would like to commend during these trying times.

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Old Timey Food Storage

In the wake of the Coronavirus, a lot of Mormons have been a bit smug about our prophetic direction to store food for emergencies. But I’m here to tell you, hardly anyone does food storage anymore the way we used to do food storage. [Read more…]

Blessing the Sacrament Remotely: Contagion, Technology, and Liturgical Adaptation.

14765375605_99e9f0f1a9_bWith the covid-19 pandemic already in force in some parts of the world, many stakes have cancelled traditional church meetings and have gone to videoconference sacrament meetings. I (I strongly recommend Sam Brown’s recent post on the theological responsibility we have to take precautions not for our own selves, but for the most vulnerable among us.) And as the pandemic continues to spread, I suspect that in the coming weeks we will see more and more of this.

Broadcast church meetings are not especially new. General conference and regional broadcasts are familiar, and even for weekly sacrament meetings, the church has sometimes used broadcasts in very remote areas where travel is difficult during certain seasons. But as online streaming technology has become more and more available, and as the covid-19 pandemic continues to spread, I suspect we are going to see videoconference sacrament meetings on a larger scale and perhaps for a more extended period than most of us have ever seen before. That makes me wonder about whether and how the sacrament could be administered remotely. Where members remain physically in their own homes and gather online to participate in a sacrament meeting, could a priest bless sacramental emblems prepared by members in their own homes over a streamed video? [Read more…]

One Latter-day Saint View of the Novel Coronavirus of 2019–2020

Sam Brown is an ICU physician, and teaches pulmonary and critical care medicine at the University of Utah School of Medicine.

[Note: I do not speak for my employer or anyone else. If you are worried about the novel coronavirus, check the WHO and CDC or local State Health Department websites. As per their instructions, If you think you’re infected, self-quarantine and reach out by phone or video chat with your healthcare system to learn where and when testing might be available. If you are seriously ill, then cover your mouth and head to an Emergency Department or Urgent Care Clinic for evaluation and possible hospitalization.]

We appear to be in the early phases of a true pandemic, in which an infection circulates in many countries at a level where you can just catch it at the shopping mall or a rock concert or maybe just touching a doorknob at work and then touching your face. Whether we’re there yet or not depends in part on your baseline level of anxiety and/or pessimism; whether we will truly be there soon depends in large part on how aggressively we act now. There are many credible sources (again, WHO and CDC are most important) for the relevant medical information, which I won’t rehearse here. Instead, I want to think as a US Latter-day Saint about the human problems that loom large in this outbreak.
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Mixed-Orientation Religion: A Cautionary Tale

Published anonomously

This is confusing, but maybe it is the best place to begin. . . .

When I was a sophomore at BYU, I had a peculiar run in with the Honor Code Office regarding LGBTQ students and behavior.  It was 1989, and I was playing viola in the orchestra pit for an on-campus production of the Tragedy of Carmen. Given common artistic temperaments, a mixed group of singers, dancers and musicians would bond by going to Denny’s after rehearsals and hosting Sunday dinners together. A line from the opera–“You’re mine, daughter of Satan”– would often be belted out ironically when I made my entrance to any one of our shared gatherings. 

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Live Long and Prosper

Sam’s recent (and excellent) post on the Coronavirus and the sacrament inspired me to send the following text to my Bishop:

At work I’ve been getting a lot of COVID-19 material (employment law effects, securities law disclosure, etc.), which led to a random thought. Young men aren’t generally known for their excellent hygiene. Parishioners need to have a high level of confidence that anyone preparing or passing the sacrament has washed his hands vigorously with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. It might be worth it to make sure that the young men understand this and are committed to it.

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Your Friday Firestorm

BYU should be free.

Discuss.

My Holy Horcrux

A few years ago at a church conference I was seated behind a woman furiously taking notes. As she scrawled all over her specially-made LDS note-taking journal, it became apparent this Sister had come to be fed by the spirit, and that her desire was being met. 

She scribbled and scribbled through each speaker until one began a talk focused on homosexual sin, at which point her pen stopped moving. When the talk was over, I couldn’t help but notice the two lone words she’d written, easily legible on the otherwise blank page: “LGBTQ issues.”

That image has stayed in my mind for years, because it mirrors how I feel anytime “LGBTQ issues” are addressed over the pulpit. It’s a record-scratch moment, where the spirit stops flowing and a stupor of thought takes its place. 

I am not here to discuss the doctrine around LGBTQ issues or argue about policies. I simply needed to write this in the hope of some catharsis.

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Nowhere to Go

A guest post from Jo Bird. Jo is an American expat living in Shanghai with her husband and five children. She has previously lived in NYC and London but grew up in Boise, Idaho. Her experiences living abroad have given her a richer understanding of relationships and community.

Each morning I wake when the hazy Shanghai sun comes through my linen curtains. There is nowhere to go, nothing to be late for. There is no bus coming, no yoga class, no after-school clubs or piano lessons. I roll on my back and think only about if I’m going to go for a run. I don’t have to worry about whether lunch accounts need to be topped up or permission slips need to be signed. I decide a run sounds good and as I change my clothes my husband Richard rolls out of bed to wake the kids.

Three weeks ago Richard and I flew with our five kids to the Philippines for a Lunar New Year vacation. Each day during our stay in paradise, news about the coronavirus escalated fear and panic, and we received word that schools were closing, church was cancelled and the official holiday was extended. By our last day I found myself sitting on the edge of a canopied four-poster bed in a heated discussion with Richard about what we should do. My instincts told me to return home to Shanghai, but there were concerns with that plan and Richard was worried I wasn’t giving them adequate consideration. Will our access to healthcare be compromised? What will our options be for leaving China if the situation gets worse? [Read more…]

LGBTPDA@BYU: Moral Reasoning in a Purity Culture

Brigham Young University–my alma mater and an institution that I care about deeply–has been in the news this week for two debates that they are currently having with themselves. One of these debates concerns a contemporary pastoral issue. The other one concerns a fundamental question about the way that BYU, or anyone affiliated with it, should understand and exercise moral reasoning. And here is the tricky thing: they both look like the same argument, and most people don’t realize that there are two separate sets of questions at issue.

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Ways to Foster Inclusivity at the BYUs

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This is an article I wrote while I was a professor in the English Department at BYU–Idaho. I had written it at the request of the faculty journal’s editorial board, but I ended up leaving my position before it was able to be published (I relocated to another state where my husband got a faculty offer). I’m hoping these ideas can do some good here, and that it keeps the conversation going regarding how we can make church schools more inclusive and welcoming to students regardless of their gender identity and sexual orientation, particularly now that the updated CES Honor Code no longer cites “homosexual behavior” (including “forms of physical intimacy”) as breaking school rules.

But it’s one thing to alter the Honor Code and another thing to alter the heteronormative rhetoric that dominates these campuses and classrooms. This essay was written in the hopes that small changes in the way we perceive BYU-school students and communities will increase empathy and a sense of belonging for everyone. [Read more…]

Coronavirus and the Sacrament

A few weeks ago, my daughter and I were out of state at a climbing competition, and an old high school friend was kind enough to let us stay with her and her family. My friend is a Presbyterian pastor, so that Sunday we went to her church. She wasn’t preaching that particular day, but she still participated in the service.

Part of the services involved standing and greeting the people around you. My friend introduced this part and said that, in light of coronavirus[fn1] and flu season[2], instead of shaking hands, we could fist bump, tap elbows, or give the peace sign. Everybody laughed, then stood and gave fist bumps or the peace sign.

As the coronavirus shows signs of become a pandemic, it seems like we should start thinking about changes we need to make in our worship service. And it seems to me that the sacrament is a big place where we should seriously consider change. And I’m not talking just those who break the bread. The new handbook explicitly tells “[t]hose who prepare, bless, or pass the sacrament first wash their hands with soap or other cleanser.”

Even assuming they do it, the people preparing, administering, and passing the sacrament aren’t the only (and probably aren’t the primary) germ vector we deal with. I mean, while my kids are getting older, they were little once. Even if you’re fully awake and fully aware, there’s almost no way to prevent little fingers from touching several chunks of bread before choosing the one they take. The most careful adult fingers can still brush other chunks of bread. And there’s no concomitant requirement that those of us in the congregation wash our hands before participating in the Sacrament. [Read more…]

Sunday Sermon: Zion Shall Be Redeemed Through Justice, not Judgment

This is a story about, among other things, how reading the Bible in different translations can open up vistas that the church-approved King James Version closes down—not by being wrong or inaccurate, but by being more than 400 years old in a language, and a culture, that continue to change.

It is also a story about how slight changes in meaning can have huge implications for how we understand both God and our responsibility to each other.

But mostly it is a story about Zion and how we are supposed to make it.

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2020 Handbook: The Lord’s Supper and the Right Hand

This week church leaders directed the release of the new general handbook of instructions (2020 v. 11/19). Among the updates are its public and digital-only availability (previously only sections were public). There have been several discussions about changes from the last iteration of the handbook. Here, I will be digging into one specifically: instructions for members to take the Lord’s Supper (generally “the sacrament”) with their right hand.
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When Faith to Heal Lands You in Prison

One Sunday last September a 13-year-old girl with pancreatitis was feeling worse than usual and laid down. Her parents prayed and fasted that she would return to health, anointing her with oil and laying their hands on her for healing. By Tuesday she was dead, the victim of a chronic—but treatable—condition that had ravaged her 160 cm tall frame over many weeks until it weighed only 30 kg (BMI 11.7).

Last week an Austrian court sentenced the parents to five years in prison for neglect of a minor resulting in death. The jury deadlocked on the charge of murder by omission. The state prosecutor appealed the decision and plans to seek a harsher sentence.

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New Handbook: Evolution of Church Liturgy and Authority

Who performs rituals in our liturgy, and what authority they invoke is at the heart, not only of our lived religion, but integral in the construction of our cosmos. It is part of how we structure the worlds in which we live. It has also been a perennial interest for me. Today, a new handbook of instructions was released, with a number of changes. Besides a throwback to the JFS-era idea of taking the sacrament with your right hand (perhaps I’ll do a follow-up post on that idea), there is an important change in the instruction on home dedication.
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Henceforth I have called you friends

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When I think about my lifelong relationship with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it has long felt like obedience to a stern father figure.

That’s how the Church is structured. Our Bishop is where we’re supposed to turn if familial support falls short. The Bishop, in turn, holds keys of the Priesthood which report up in strict hierarchical order to Stakes, Area Seventies, Apostles, and the Prophet. [Read more…]

Traditions of Their [Mothers]: Girls Should Be Passing the Sacrament

A little over two years ago, I wrote a post explaining that our current rule that only priesthood holders can pass the sacrament has no basis in scripture. D&C 20:58 explicitly says that teachers and deacons lack the authority to “administer the sacrament”; ergo, if we allow teachers and deacons to prepare and pass the sacrament, those things must not be part of the administration of the sacrament.

And if they’re not, then the Handbook’s requirement that only “[d]eacons, teachers, priests, and Melchizedek Priesthood holders may pass the sacrament” is based, not on scripture, but on tradition. Now, tradition is certainly not always a bad thing, but the Book of Mormon warns us that tradition can potentially impede our ability to know and understand God. I think that’s doubly true when the tradition actively harms a person or group of people by, for example, not allowing them to participate and serve fully in our religious community. [Read more…]