Clinging

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So a friend today mentioned that last weekend at church someone gave a talk, in the course of which the speaker said that those who were “clinging” to the iron rod lost their way because they were only “clinging” instead of “holding fast.” My friend said “To me, this makes no sense. Cling, as I’ve always understood it, means to hold on tight, not to hold on loosely. The speaker was using cling to mean the opposite of what I’ve always understood it to mean.”

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Interlude: Welfare

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As politicians in the United States debate the future of the social safety net, By Common Consent Press is proud to present the following excerpt from Tracy McKay’s forthcoming memoir, The Burning Point: A Memoir of Addiction, Destruction, Love, Parenting, Survival, and Hope. This remarkable memoir will be available on July 1 in both paperback and ebook formats. The Kindle version can now be pre-ordered here. [Read more…]

Fourth Circuit Strikes Down President Trump’s Muslim Ban 2.0

This afternoon, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which sits in Richmond, VA, just held that President Trump’s second travel ban Executive Order (which superseded his first one) is unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause.

Key quote:

The Government has repeatedly asked this Court to ignore evidence, circumscribe our own review, and blindly defer to executive action, all in the name of the Constitution’s separation of powers. We decline to do so, not only because it is the particular province of the judicial branch to say what the law is, but also because we would do a disservice to our constitutional structure were we to let its mere invocation silence the call for meaningful judicial review.

The deference we give the coordinate branches is surely powerful, but even it must yield in certain circumstances, lest we abdicate our own duties to uphold the Constitution. EO-2 cannot be divorced from the cohesive narrative linking it to the animus that inspired it. In light of this, we find that the reasonable observer would likely conclude that EO-2’s primary purpose is to exclude persons from the United States on the basis of their religious beliefs.

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Scripture as Genre: What It Means When We Call Something “True”

Let’s start with an observation that I hope will be uncontroversial: there is a big difference between how people solve crimes in the actual world and how readers try to solve crimes in mystery novels. Here is a crystal-clear example of the difference: in the real world, the person that all of the evidence points to is almost always the person who committed the crime. In a mystery novel, the person that all of the evidence points is the one person you can be sure did not commit the crime. [Read more…]

Do We Love Good Because it is Good?

Mette Ivie Harrison is a critically-acclaimed writer of numerous books,including ‘The Bishop’s Wife’. We’re grateful for her thoughts.

In “The Education of the Human Race,” the great German writer and philosopher Lessing suggested that humans as a species have gone through three stages of development. The first stage was the Old Testament phase where we had to be punished or threatened with punishment in order to do what was not wrong. The second stage was the New Testament phase where we were rewarded or promised a reward (blessings or going to heaven—or a higher heaven, or resurrection) if we did what was right. [Read more…]

Boston, May 26-27, Mormon Scholars in the Humanities

The 10th annual meeting of Mormon Scholars in the Humanities will take place at Boston University, May 26–27. The conference is open to the public. If you are interested in attending the Friday night banquet, tickets may be purchased here. For more information, see www.mormonscholars.net or contact Jenny Webb at president@mormonscholars.net.

Plans of Salvation

It seems like everyone is familiar with those diagrams with various circles that explain Mormon cosmology, and which outline the progression of the human soul through eternity (do an image search for “plan of salvation” for some beauties). I thought it would be fun to sketch out the Plans of Salvation for various sources.
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Threats to Religious Freedom, at Home and Abroad (A BCC Discussion)

It is our duty to raise our voice for the voiceless.”  ~Kristina Arriaga, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (May 17, 2017).

Last week, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (“USCIRF”) hosted a discussion on their most recent annual report, which details the “countries of particular concern” regarding religious freedom.  The State Department periodically issues a similar International Religious Freedom Report.  As does the Pew Research Center on Religion & Public Life.

The international threats to religious freedom are serious.  Although colloquial use of “religious freedom” varies, encompassing a wide variety of public and private actions that in some way implicate religion, I propose limiting our discussion to a more precise definition.  Religious freedom is violated by official government action targeting the peaceful expression of religious belief.

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Simulation and Theology

Steven PeckSo, me, a biologist, wrote this book on speculative theology. The promise is rather, shall we say, curious (‘weird’ would also work)? The usual thinking goes, especially for Mormons, that first we do religion, then science. If either is to bow, it is science. The book is an experiment on the premise that the reverse it true: the real world must impose its will on our theology (as explained in the work, I mean something specific by this term). It’s a long argument hence the book-length treatment. I tried to squeeze it into 140 words, but my arguments lost some of their heft and nuance. So look at my book and you’ll get the big picture, but I wanted to explain why I think it is at least worth thinking about.

I am a computer modeler. I build ecologies in a computer; then populate these ecologies with digital creatures. The weird thing is, and it has been shown to be true again and again, that these digital creations tell us useful things about real flesh and hemolymph creatures. This is shocking to me. I’m always completely astonished that digital entities made of 1s and 0s can teach me about actual animals living in the wild. Why should that work? [Read more…]

The Chosen People Are Always Wrong

Can we talk about CPS? I mean, of course, Chosen-People Syndrome, or the belief that one belongs to a race, people, or organization that has a unique and special relationship to God. Latter-day Saints generally believe that we fall into this category, but there is nothing special about that. Most people believe, and have always believed, that their kind of person is special. [Read more…]

Joseph Smith Papers Lecture: Brent Rogers on Kirtland Temple

Notice of Lecture by Brent Rogers, one of the editors of volume 5 of the Documents Series in the Joseph Smith Papers. If you’re in Salt Lake City on Thursday, it should be fun.

In conjunction with the publication of Documents, Volume 5: October 1835–January 1838, Brent M. Rogers, Associate Managing Historian of the Joseph Smith Papers and coeditor of Documents, Volume 5, will be giving a lecture titled “‘We ask thee, O Lord, to accept of this house’: The Temple in Joseph Smith’s Kirtland” on May 18 in Salt Lake City.
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The Boy Who Cried Religious Freedom

The June issue of The New Era includes an article entitled “Why Religious Freedom Matters: What’s at Risk.”

As I read through it, I had two primary thoughts. On the one hand, I applaud the church for attempting to educate teenagers about their civil rights and responsibilities. This is an important topic, and one that our teenagers should be exposed to.

On the other hand, though, I’m perplexed and bothered by the actual delivery. The content ranges from accurate to irrelevant to speculative to flat-out wrong. So while conceptually, I think this article is both necessary and important, it ultimately fails spectacularly.  [Read more…]

Ted Chiang, “Arrival,” Mormons, Science Fiction, Angels, Time Travel, Sex, Free Will, The Tower of Babel, and the Secular: A Roundtable

You probably heard of, and might have seen, last year’s Best Picture nominee Arrival. I did, and liked it, and so eventually picked up Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others, the collection that features “Story of Your Life,” the short tale of alien contact and the ways in which it upends how humans think about language and time that the movie is based on. The collection’s other stories roam far beyond the hard sci-fi of Arrival: one, set in what appears to be roughly the same world as Disney’s Aladdin, explores the traditional problems of time travel (What if, like Marty McFly, you stop your parents from falling in love? That sort of thing, more or less) by insisting upon a sort of humanist determinism. We cannot change anything but ourselves, but over our own lives we have the powers of atonement and forgiveness. Another, “Tower of Babylon,” posits that the cosmology of the compositors of the Book of Genesis – a flat world encompassed by a firmament holding back great waters – is in fact correct, and examines how, given that world, the Tower of Babel might have worked. A third imagines a Victorian England in which Jewish gemetria, the mystical power embedded in the numerical value of letters, is a real force that might be industrialized. In short, Chiang’s work is simultaneously powerfully imaginative, in that he thinks through the logical ramifications of worldviews that we moderns have dismissed – and in some ways powerfully secular. There is little room for the mystical or the transcendent in his vision: in the story “Hell is the Absence of God,” which many of the below readers think through, God is simultaneously an empirical, demonstrable reality – angels regularly appear to humanity; souls ascending to Heaven are visible as they fly through the air; Hell can be perceived within the great cracks of the earth – and completely inscrutable, because his intentions, purposes, and the reasons he sends angels to proclaim his glory while simultaneously calling massive traffic accidents and the like are quite opaque.

In an odd way, Chiang’s world bears some resemblance and some divergence to that of Mormonism: his cosmos is rational, which many defenders of Mormonism assert is a great virtue of their own theology, but also a-modern, defiant against the colonizing power of the ways we think we know the world works. Mormons believe that God is discoverable; Mormons would recoil, though, at this God’s resistance to interpretation.

Given these provocations, I asked some smart people to read the book and think through some of these ideas out loud. Below are their reactions.

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Mother’s Day Service Roll Call

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Earlier this year I asked you how your local Easter service went. Today I’d like to ask you how your Mother’s Day service went. [Read more…]

Lesson 18: “Establish … a House of God” #DandC2017

Sorry this is a little late.
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The Church cuts ties with scouts (but not really).

1241908The Mormon newsroom broke the news this morning that the church is ending its venture and varsity scout programs for boys 14-18 years old in the U.S. and Canada. I was particularly interested in this announcement not just because I was active in scouts when I was younger, but because until fairly recently I served in a young men calling that required me to serve as a scout leader, and I have two sons that will eventually be part of the program. Given President Monson’s personal attachment to scouting, I never thought the church would disengage from BSA during his lifetime. There was a first presidency letter sent out this morning announcing the change, included with the letter is a set of guidelines about the activities for priests and teachers, and there is a set of questions and answers on the newsroom about the change. [Read more…]

Satan is Silent Notes Taking

We take for granted that angels are silent notes taking, but did you know that Satan is too?

As a youth, I recall having vague notions about the actions that were necessary to avoid temptation, but if you would have asked me, say, last week, I don’t think I would have had the temerity to assert that “Avoid vocalizing your thoughts!” is one of them. I mean, that’s just magical thinking that I can hardly pin on the church, right? [Read more…]

Book Review Roundup

Again it’s my pleasure to bring you brief reviews of outstanding books that deserve (and have received elsewhere) much fuller review by more qualified persons. My goal here is not to replace that more fulsome review, but to give a layman’s perspective and some idea of where these books fit into the libraries of non-professional Latter-day Saints. [Read more…]

Lost Longing, Or, The Book You Didn’t Know You Needed

It’s almost Mother’s Day. I can tell from the little knot of confusion pushing itself towards the front of my consciousness. On Father’s Day, it’s easy to choose the hymns: “O My Father,” and “Our Father, By Whose Name”– Our Father, by whose name all fatherhood is known…Thy children bless in every place, that they may all behold thy face/and knowing thee, may grow in grace.

No more a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home…

There aren’t hymns for Mother’s Day, not really. Beyond affirming Her existence, we don’t know what to sing or say. So we argue–it’s easy enough to name the doctrinal and historical complications of naming Our Mother, and often, those complications are a comfort. The retreat into theory eases the ache of the simple questions.

Until someone writes a series of small, perfect poems asking simple questions, like the ones in Rachel Hunt Steenblik’s Mother’s Milk, forthcoming from BCC Press. [Read more…]

Welcome Carolyn Homer!

Carolyn Homer portrait by the Golden Gate bridgeBCC extends its warmest welcome to new Permablogger Carolyn Homer! As the non-priesthood holder presiding at the welcome, I now have the opportunity to open our Carolyn testimony meeting by roasting Carolyn bearing my own testimony of Carolyn’s many virtues.

I first met Carolyn at a Stake Relief Society Super Saturday activity, where we fatefully chose the same session from a menu of parallel speaker tracks. The session we chose was a town hall discussion of issues around women’s roles in the church, hosted by a member of the stake presidency. Pop some popcorn, you know I wouldn’t miss that! And of course Carolyn felt the same way. (Y’all should try churching in a Blue State–that session was real, and it was spectacular.)

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Where faith lives

This past Sunday the stake president asked me to speak in one of the wards in our stake. The assigned topic was cultivating the faith necessary to have success in missionary work as a ward. That got me thinking about faith and how it relates to how we think about the church’s long term fate.

It strikes me that there are two extremes in the way we think about the church and its long term destiny. [Read more…]

When in Rome, Marry as the Catholics Do

By Carolyn Homer (with comedic assistance from Eric D. Snider). Carolyn is a Mormon attorney engaged to a Catholic attorney in Washington D.C. Eric is a film critic and humorist in Portland, Oregon.

Friends keep asking Brad and me when we’re getting married. We appreciate the support, but we believe marriage is a private decision, to be made by no one but the bride, the groom, and the Catholic Church.

Brad and I want a Catholic wedding, and the Catholic Church takes marriage very seriously — almost as seriously as it takes divorce.

Being Mormon, I respect quirky theologies. Your faith? Your rules. But now that respect has gotten me into trouble. You see, Brad and I are divorced. (Not from each other.) [Read more…]

Religious Liberty Today

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Last night the Chicago Chapter of the J. Reuben Clark Society (the professional society for Mormon lawyers) sponsored an event titled “Religious Liberty Today: An Interfaith Discussion.” It was a great event, and I’d like to tell you about it.

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Them That Are at Ease in Zion

Woe to them that are at ease in Zion. (Amos 6:1:)

I have not been able to get this verse out of my head since I learned yesterday that the US House of Representatives narrowly voted to eliminate 800 billion dollars of benefits designed to help the poorest Americans get health care in order to fund an 800 billion dollar tax cut for the wealthiest. I have never seen a starker example in my country of the wealthy and powerful manipulating the structures of society in order to enrich powerful people at the expense of the most vulnerable members of society. This is exactly the sort of thing that the prophets were always talking about. [Read more…]

Troubling the old stories with Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich recently published one of the best books ever written about nineteenth-century Mormonism. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s called A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835 to 1870. The folks at Juvenile Instructor are hosting an online book club this summer; it begins later this week.

Here’s an excerpt from my interview with Ulrich on the Maxwell Institute Podcast, where I ask her about how she paints a fuller, richer, grittier and more complex portrait of the early church: [Read more…]

Aphorisms on Pornography

I’ve written this as a list of aphorisms, without the traditional scholia. I figure that’s what the comment section is for. [Read more…]

Mormon Art in New York

Glen Nelson is a ghostwriter of twenty books, with three New York Times best sellers to his credit. He founded Mormon Artists Group in 1999 and remains its director. MAG has created 30 projects with 90 LDS artists. As a librettist, he has written three operas, five song cycles, two cantatas, and has published poetry and essays and collaborated with artists on many projects. He and his wife have published a book on their art collection, The Glen & Marcia Nelson Collection of Mormon Art. Nelson arrived in New York City 30 years ago, the year his driver’s license expired, which he has not renewed.

It started out as a dare, almost. Richard Bushman asked me what I would do if I won the lottery. Those weren’t his exact words, but he was curious to know what a seven-figure windfall might mean for Mormon Studies. He challenged me to identify the big ideas that could transform the ways Mormons think of themselves, interact with the public, and connect with each other.

For me, the solution was a single word: art. [Read more…]

Consecrated Oil in 7.62x39mm Vials or Mormons Missing the Mark

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A 7.62×39mm bullet fulfilling the measure of its creation (Source)

I don’t know that I’m eminently qualified to address a topic related to Mormons and guns. But as a Mormon and very likely the only BCC blogger who owns and enjoys shooting guns, well, let’s just say you go to war with the army you have.

Anyway, growing up in rural California offered great opportunities with plenty of wide open spaces and ranges in which to plink and shoot at targets. My dad devoted a career to developing weapons systems and all residents owed their livelihoods to a military installation that has been designing, testing and evaluating more effective ways to kill the enemy since World War II. Guns were in the air, and I still have fond memories of the family tradition of getting together after Christmas dinner to go shooting. So feel free to dismiss what I’m about to say, just not on the grounds that I’m a liberal snowflake who hates guns.   [Read more…]

Presses, Ranked

Do you have an idea, but you’re so slow in getting around to it that you feel sort of stupid continuing it? But you also can’t convince yourself to let it go, so you do it anyway? That’s sort of how I feel right now. A few weeks ago, Steve and I decided that the Time Was Right for a ranking of all the important types of presses in this world. It was an appropriate revelation to seek, given the other announcement around that time. But shortly after we received our inspiration, disaster struck–things at work went crazy and caused me all manner of stress and distractions, and our once-timely ranking was forgotten. By me, anyway. But Steve never forgets. He never, ever forgets, people.

As always, these rankings are authoritative. [Read more…]

Because We’re Friends…

Sit down, Bloggernacle… you’re about to get dating advice from a gay man.

Seriously.

And by dating advice, I mean dating advice… Not courtship or relationship or marriage or sex advice. Just… dating. Because, well, I’ve had some experience in that department. And if you believe what you see in movies and on television, gay friends are duty-bound to help their straight friends when it comes to these things.

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