Positive Virtue, Pornography, and the Buttonmoulder

If the maxim ‘He who does
No ill does good” is valid—then
I can be sure, more than most people,
That my past mistakes will be overlooked
And my virtues be seen to outweigh my sins.

—Henrik Ibsen, Peer Gynt,  Act IV

 

Ibsen’s Peer Gynt operates from the maxim that “he who does no ill does good.” He is quite wrong. His life is a mashup of good and evil—but he is generally good natured and usually tries to avoid doing harm. When he comes to the end of his life, he finds that simply not doing evil won’t count as doing good. In the end, he faces neither God or the devil, but the “Buttonmoulder”–a soul recycler who takes the essences of those who qualify for neither heaven nor hell and melts them down to make brand new souls.

When he discovers that his ultimate fate will be to cease existing, he approaches the devil and begs to be admitted into hell. He gives a catalog of his sins, but he is rebuffed because, as the Buttonmoulder says, “it takes more than paddling in the dirt; It takes strength and a serious mind to sin.” [Read more…]

JSPP, Documents, Volume 6: Initial Thoughts

I got a copy of D6 this weekend, and burned through it. Basically a solid reading of all the intros, careful readings of all the minutes, and documents not in the JS Letterbooks, and skimming everything else.  Special emphasis on the sermons.  And honestly superlatives fail.
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Conversations Among the Trees

Near Fish Lake in Central Utah is an living thing called Pando, arguably the largest living organism on Earth. It is an aspen clone over a 100 acres large and composed of nearly 50,000 individual units (what naively we might call ’trees’, and which I will call, ‘trees#’ to mark the distinction). Aspens send runners out from a rootball which then shoot up into a new aspen tree#, and although they look like individuals, they are a single organism. In the picture below the Pando can be seen as the darker leaved aspens—all part of the same clone. While the discrete trees# can last 150 years, the clone itself can last for thousands. Estimates of Pando’s age range from 80,000 years (unlikely) to several thousand, with likely estimates ranging from 10,000 to 30,000 years.
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Thoughts on Perfect Love

Richard “Papa” Ostler lives in the Salt Lake City area. He spoke recently at a gathering of LGBTQ allies including Affirmation, Mormons Building Bridges, and others, in Salt Lake City. He agreed to let us share his remarks here, and we encourage the reader to learn more about some of these wonderful support groups.

My name is Richard Ostler. My dear wife Sheila and I are the parents of six children and two grandchildren and live near Cottonwood High.
In the fall of 2015, while serving as a YSA Bishop, I felt a deep impression to – using a computer term – ‘wipe my hard drive clean’ of everything I had concluded about my LGBTQ friends and start from scratch and rebuild my hard drive by meeting with LGBTQ people. I realized straight voices had defined my LGBTQ beliefs and my few interactions were not enough to fully understand and I risked making broad conclusions. Unlike a cholesterol test where I can get a specific number, I have no way to measure the degree of bias – or homophobia – innocently present in my beliefs. Over the past two years, I’ve met with hundreds of my LGBTQ friends – listening to them in one-one-one interviews – given many priesthood blessings and have felt God’s programming me the way He sees His LGBTQ children.

Our scriptures reference the ‘mysteries of God’. I believe one of the ‘mysteries of God’ is His LGBTQ children and as I ‘diligently seeketh’ my eyes have been further opened. [Read more…]

Shame and the Gospel

Amber Haslam is a friend of the blog and wrote this recently. We asked if she would mind sharing it here at BCC.

Recently, I have had lots of questions regarding the gospel. They vary in topic and most I keep to myself. But about a month and a half ago, I got the nerve to throw some of these questions into the strange void that is twitter.com. Here is a screengrab of part of that thread: [Read more…]

The BoM and the Aeneid

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Today we tend to lump the Greeks and Romans together as “classical civilization.” But at the time, one can argue that Romans had a bit of an inferiority complex vis-a-vis Greece. Certainly not with respect to militarism, but as to things like philosophy and literature. The Greek stuff was considered the state of the art; wealthy Roman parents would often hire Greek tutors for their children, that sort of thing. [Read more…]

Caffeine and the Hedge around the Law

For the record, I think that BYU’s decision to resume selling caffeinated beverages after a 70 year ban is a horrible thing that will not be good for the Church. As many have noted, this will go a long way towards normalizing those same beverages in the Mormon rank and file. People will start drinking Coke and Pepsi willy nilly without even a nagging hint of guilt. It will be absolutely normal. And this is why I mourn.

Don’t get me wrong. I like caffeinated drinks. I drink far too many of them for my health. Diet Dr. Pepper is my favorite. I have had the caffeine-free version, but it just isn’t the same. Oh, all of the same flavors are there, but the guilt is missing. I like my beverage choices tinged with sin and regret. They just taste better that way. [Read more…]

LDS Institutional Priorities

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The Church cannot be all things to all people.

That’s just a fact – a fact born of the realities of membership, resources, and structure.

For some, admitting the Church’s limitations may border on heresy.  But for me, it lends a forgiving perspective.  Sure, I quibble with the Church’s choices around the margins, but I accept that overall the choices are intentional, and intended to establish priorities within the four-fold mission of the Church.   [Read more…]

$35 Million

In a stunning turn of events, the LDS Church has purchased the Printer’s Manuscript (designated P) of the Book of Mormon from the Community of Christ for $35 million (with donated funds). A few years ago at the JWHA conference there was an entire plenary devoted to P, so I thought it might be a public service to post here my notes from that session: [Read more…]

Your Sunday Brunch Special: Religious Freedom and the Supreme Court.

Some of you may know that I’ve been writing a book on the social, political, and textual history of Joseph Smith’s revelation on polygamy, now found as Doctrine and Covenants, section 132. It’s been a fun project and I’ve come to see the revelation (as every good biographer must about his or her subject) as more or less the center of the universe, and maybe the Mormon universe at least. Something that may not make a dent in the book has nevertheless occupied my attention for a while, and that is a certain court case: Minersville School District v. Gobitas.

The background works like this, and forgive me for some tangentialism. It’s a learned behavior I guess.
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Kohanim

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The Chicago Bears have a rookie running back who has had a sensational beginning to his young career, named Tarik Cohen. (The above picture shows Tarik catching two footballs while doing a backflip.) A lot of people were trying to figure out whether he was Jewish, because Cohen is a prominent surname among Jews. He is not in fact Jewish. But there is an unusual Mormon connection to this question. [Read more…]

The Arc of the Moral Universe Bends Whichever Way We Bend It

Yesterday, a well-known radio personality went on a cable news show and told a female anchor that the only two things in this country that he believes in absolutely are “the first amendment and boobs.” Exactly one month ago, white supremacists and actual Nazi’s marched through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia chanting Nazi slogans and doing the Hitler salute. In both cases, my initial reaction was the same, “it is 2017, how can this stuff still be happening?”

It was a bad reaction, or, at least, one built on the very dangerous notion that there is something about the passage of time that guarantees both the advancement of social ideas or the permanence of social achievements. We take too much comfort, I think, in Martin Luther King’s statement that “the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

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2018 MSSJ Pilgrimage – California Mission Trail

Friend of the blog and fellow Canterbury pilgrim DCL has graciously undertaken the planning for the next Mormon Society of St. James (MSSJ) pilgrimage scheduled for Presidents Day weekend, February 16–19, 2018.

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The Central Californian coast in February 2017

For all those who have been deterred by the trip to Europe from participating in the past, this is the pilgrimage you’ve been waiting for—in 2018 the MSSJ is coming to California. [Read more…]

The Cake To End All Cakes

 

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Folks, we need to talk about Masterpiece Cakeshop. Or as it’s more commonly known, the pending U.S. Supreme Court case about “can a bakery refuse to make a cake for a gay wedding.”

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“You Lost Me,” Tension in the Church

Image result for satanic smurfsThis was an interesting article I recently read by an Evangelical-raised woman about the things that happened in her life where she felt a disconnect with what her church told her. The article was titled “How I Became a Heretic (or How the Evangelical, Conservative Church Lost Me). Some of her moments included: [Read more…]

Notes Toward an Understanding of the Fourth Question in the Temple Recommend Interview

Do you sustain the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator and as the only person on the earth who possesses and is authorized to exercise all priesthood keys? Do you sustain members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators? Do you sustain the other General Authorities and local authorities of the Church?

1. Note, first, the “and” in the first sentence. This is where we should begin. “Priesthood” and “prophethood” are not the same thing, and if we are to fully grasp the function of each we need to understand the distinction. Scripturally speaking, “prophet” is not an ecclesiastical office. No one is ordained to be a prophet, and nor does the role necessarily confer ecclesiastical authority (that is, governing responsibility in a religious hierarchy). On the other hand, in the LDS tradition men are ordained to priesthood, and the role bears with it ecclesiastical responsibility and authority. Insofar as Mormons use the term “prophet” to mean “the man in charge of the church” (a colloquial usage that developed in the mid-twentieth century), they are conflating a distinction that exists in the Bible, in Latter-day Saint scripture, and in this question. [Read more…]

LDS Hurricane Relief

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September 1992. Hurricane Andrew hit Florida. I was a little girl in Sarasota. I remember the tense days as the Weather Channel blared, my mom charted the Hurricane’s course by hand, the city boarded up windows, and we prepared to evacuate. We knew the Category 5 Hurricane was headed straight to Florida, but we didn’t know quite where.

Andrew’s wrath ultimately missed my city (Sarasota) — but struck a few hours Southeast, just south of Miami. Once the storm passed, my dad loaded up a station wagon with power tools and a generator from his construction job. (“Everyone always forgets, after a disaster, that there will be no power outlets to recharge their tools,” he said.) My mom coordinated supply and distribution of water, milk and diapers. And then a convoy of adults from my stake decamped to Miami to provide relief. [Read more…]

Not An Obedient Heart

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For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God. To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby.  ~Doctrine & Covenants 46: 11-12

I’m pretty sure we forget that not everyone receives all the same gifts from God. And even more importantly, I’m pretty sure we tend to forget that they are GIFTS and that we don’t actually do anything to earn many of blessings we enjoy. At least, I am pretty sure of this each Sunday after church. [Read more…]

Joys and Concerns

My advice column of choice is “Ask Amy,” by Amy Dickinson (a descendant of Emily Dickinson), which succeeded the Ann Landers column after her death and is syndicated in about 200 newspapers, originating from the flagship Chicago Tribune (where I read it). I recently read her book Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things, about how she moved from the big city (Chicago) back home to the tiny town where she grew up (Freeville, New York) and eventually remarried there. I enjoyed it so much that I’m now reading her earlier book, The Mighty Queens of Freeville. [Read more…]

Joseph Smith Papers Announcements

Updates from the Joseph Smith Papers team:

JSP Website Reaches Publication Milestones:

The latest content release on the website is now live. This release includes two items of particular significance:
The final installment of Joseph Smith’s journals, from May 1843 to June 1844. This portion of the journals covers the final year of Smith’s life, including the events that led up to his murder. The Journals series is now complete in print and online.
[Read more…]

BCC Press and priestcraft!

Scrooge-McDuck-Money-BinIt isn’t uncommon for people who sell LDS-directed products to be accused of priestcraft. As an employee of the church (through Brigham Young University) I’ve spent some time thinking about the implications of priestcraft, considering the nature of my job and source of my salary. Check out my thoughts and then please share yours. [Read more…]

Picturing 1867 Utah Tax Assessments

I’ve been looking through 1860s Bureau of Internal Revenue records from the district of Utah for a project I’ve been working on. (It’s a really interesting project; once I get a handle on what I’m going to write, I’ll blog some interesting tidbits.)

As I was looking through the assessment lists, I came across a (pretty decent) doodle of a person’s head. I don’t know anything about who drew the doodle (was it the assessor? the assistant assessor? somebody who got his or her hands on the list later?). I don’t know who the doodle represents (is Stubb or Stout or Shoebridge? or is it a self-portrait? or a generic picture?). [Read more…]

Mormon Sermons: How do We Preach?

There is a large body of scholarship on the analysis and sorting/classifying of rhetorical texts. Categories of preaching have been mapped in genres like homilies, commentaries, catechistic address, exhortations, charismatic address to name some of the obvious ones.
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Nauvoo era(ish) succession

A friend asked me about succession after the Gospel Doctrine lesson and wondered if I could help find more detail about what was going on. So just thinking about the immediate years after JS’s death I responded as follows:

When JS died it was not obvious who would run the church. It was not something that was provided for in the Doctrine and Covenants, for example. It was pretty clear that JS wanted Hyrum, and then Samuel Smith to lead the church after him, but Hyrum died with JS, and Samuel died soon after.

The main “factions” were:
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BYU-Idaho Faculty Conference Keynote

Here are the remarks I had the opportunity to give this morning at the fall faculty conference here at Brigham Young University-Idaho. The presentation is titled, “We Were Voyagers: Embracing Our Latter-day Saint Pioneer Legacy as Educators.”

In the film Moana—which, if you have young kids, you have probably watched ad nauseum this summer, like I have—the eponymous heroine is a young woman preparing to someday lead her people. Moana and her village are islanders, and the island provides everything they need to sustain and fulfil their lives: fish, coconuts, water, culture. There is one rule on the island that Moana’s father underscores repeatedly: “No one goes beyond the reef,” or, in other words, don’t swim or fish too far from shore, because the waters are dangerous, unfamiliar, and risky beyond the reef.

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On Mass Murder and the Divine Orchestration of Speaking Assignments

Never one to let a good deed go unpunished, I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow over an account included in Elder Bednar’s new book, One By One:

In “One By One,” which consists of five chapters, Elder Bednar uses the scriptures, quotes from church leaders and compelling accounts to identify this “fundamental pattern” and show how the Lord blesses and works with people in a personal way.

[…]

Less than a week after a mass shooting on the campus of Virginia Tech University in April 2007, Elder Bednar was assigned to speak at a stake conference in Blacksburg, Virginia, home of Virginia Tech. He was grateful to give “spiritual assurance and succor” to students, faculty members and others affected by the tragedy on that occasion.

“Was it merely a coincidence that a member of the Quorum of the Twelve had been assigned many months earlier to preside at a stake conference in Blacksburg, Virginia, only days after such a horrendous event? Was it a random occurrence that an authorized servant of the Lord was in a place with people who needed blessings, solace, and comfort?” Elder Bednar wrote. “Or was this episode divinely orchestrated by a loving Lord who knew the distress of victims and the unsettledness of a community? I believe that in the work of the Lord there is no such thing as a coincidence. On this occasion, my companion and I were blessed to deliver tender mercies to many individuals — because the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.”

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The OCD Mormon. READ THIS BOOK!

Thanks to a recently acquired kindle and a lot of time nursing a newborn, I’ve read a lot of good books this summer, but none that I’ve recommended, referenced and been touched by more than Kari Ferguson’s new book, “The OCD Mormon: Finding healing and hope in the midst of anxiety” kari

If you have talked with me in the past three months you can probably attest that I have tried to get you to read this book. I do not have OCD, or any mental illness for that matter, and many of the people I’ve recommended the book to don’t either, but that is precisely the power of her writing—this is a book we all need to read if we are going to claim to lift up the hands that hang.

Ferguson is doing the work of bridging a too-large gap for people like me that for whatever reason have a great void in my knowledge and understanding of mental illness. Reading the OCD Mormon made me want to be an active participant in both the dialogue and support that is offered to people confronting mental illness in general, and also with the specifics that come with being a Mormon with a mental illness.

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God’s Bureaucracy

In the never-ending saga of seeking permission from the Vatican to marry my fiancé, I recently had an exasperating meeting with a Priest.  At one point I asked whether there was anything more I could do to speed up the Catholic marriage-paperwork processes – for example, could my fiancé and I complete the Catholic marital counseling requirement in parallel while we await Vatican approval?

The Priest said no.  The two sets of paperwork must follow in serial, even though that will delay our marriage by (at least) an extra six months.  Those were The Rules.  Then, with an admirable level of sincerity regarding Vatican bureaucracy, he offered this counsel.  “Consider this a blessing,” he said.  “Both of you have had failed marriages before, so this extra time is a gift from God to grow together, pray together, and be sure that you are ready to undertake the serious commitment that is the Sacrament of Marriage.” [Read more…]

Whatever-Is-Is-Rightism

 All nature is but art unknown to thee,
All chance, direction which thou canst not see;
All discord, harmony not understood;
All partial evil, universal good;
And, spite of pride, in erring reason’s spite,
One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right.
–Alexander Pope, “Essay on Man”

“Essay on Man” is a rotten poem. [Read more…]

Book Review Roundup

Book reviews are hard. They’re hard to write, and (for the authors) hard to read. People don’t comment on book review posts, normally. This is because there is little to say, unless you vehemently disagree; if you are the sort who vehemently disagrees with a book review, friend, I embrace you. My approach is to be short and to the point, to gear my reviews towards the casual reader (because such is what I am). So: four books for your consideration this week. [Read more…]