My Christmas Posts

Now that we’re past Thanksgiving and Black Friday, a young man’s fancy (or in my case, an old man’s) turns to thoughts of Christmas. I love Christmas like Ebenezer following the nightly specters, and so I usually put up a post or two during the Christmas season on the subject of Christmas. It occurred to me that some of our newer readers might appreciate a convenient index to those prior posts of mine, so I have provided one below. Merry Christmas! (If a link doesn’t work, just do a search on the post title and it will come right

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A New Book and a Christmas Sale from BCC Press

Paperback: $12.95. $7.49 Kindle: $9.95. $5.99

Humility: A Practical Approach
Just in time for Christmas, BCC Press is deeply, profoundly humbled to bring forth our newest book: Shawn Tucker’s Humility: A Practical Approach (see what we did there?). Shawn Tucker, who professes Art and Humanities at Elon University and has written scholarly books on pride and humility and on virtue in the arts, brings oodles of scholarly cred to the topic of humility.

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How Democracies Die: A Cautionary Tale from the Book of Mormon

The world is becoming more authoritarian as non-democratic regimes become even more brazen in their repression and many  democratic governments suffer from backsliding by adopting their tactics of restricting free speech and weakening the rule of law, exacerbated by what threatens to become a “new normal” of Covid-19 restrictions.

  —The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) 2021 Report on the Global State of Democracy

The bi-annual Global State of Democracy report released this week did not bring good news for the world. Since 1995, the Stockholm-based Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) has coordinated the efforts of the world’s democratic nations to improve representative democracy and discourage authoritarianism throughout the world.

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2021 Christmas gift book guide

Another Christmas season is upon us. Sorry for getting the list out a little late. My supply chain was constrained.

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Weasleys, Rostovs, and Mormons–Oh My!

In honor of the 20th Anniversary of the Harry Potter franchise. . . .

The Weasleys are the Mormons of the Wizarding World. This was clear to me the first time I saw a Harry Potter movie (though it didn’t come through as clearly in the books). Lots of things suggest the comparison, but the two most obvious ones are the quantity and the quality of their family life: They have lots of kids—7 in all—and they support them all on a (magical) civil servant’s salary. This means lots of hand-me-downs, used spell books, taped wands, and sack lunches. But it also means that they are fiercely loyal to each other, always know that they are loved, and always feel like they are part of a family.

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BCC Press Announces Mormonism and the Movies


BCC Press is back, just in time for Christmas, with the second installment of our Essays in Mormon Studies series. And this one has been years in the making and is gonna be amazing. Mormonism and the Movies is a collection of scholarly essays—but don’t let that fool you. They are really good essays about movies. And really, what is cooler than that?

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Dante and the Singing Sufferers of Purgatory

While we began to move in that direction,
Beati pauperes spiritu was sung
so sweetly—it cannot be told in words.
How different were these entryways from those
of Hell! For here it is with song one enters;
down there, it is with savage lamentations.

—Purgatorio, Canto XII, Allen Mandelbaum Translation

(The following post is based on an Elder’s Quorum lesson given on November 14, 2021.)

I have always liked the middle parts best: The Empire Strikes Back, The Two Towers, The Goblet of Fire. My favorite Stooge is Larry, and my favorite Brady is Jan. Middle parts tend to lack both the drama necessary to bring closure to a story and the deep explanation required to begin one. If a story doesn’t have a strong middle, then it probably isn’t a very good story.

It should be no surprise that my favorite book of Dante’s Commedia is Purgatorio, or Purgatory. Inferno is fascinating, but it is basically the Medieval Italian version of the Jerry Springer Show. We watch it because we can’t turn away from the grotesque spectacle of unfiltered human folly. And Paradiso is wonderful and serene, but who wants to read 33 cantos of serenity? Bo-ring.

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A Prophecy of Minutia

The History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Period I was the first major attempt to publish Joseph Smith’s complete history in book form as it was produced by Church Historians Willard Richards (b. 1804– d. 1854) and George A. Smith (b. 1817– d. 1875) and clerks, in longhand manuscript form (cataloged in the Church History Library as, Church Historian’s Office. History of the Church, 1839–circa 1882, CR 100 102. Hereafter I will call this work the manuscript history, or briefly, ms history). The following excerpt of the ms history will be important below. Take note of the first phrase in the second image.

MS-hist-DC87

MS-hist-DC87-pt2

Richards had done unprecedented work in Nauvoo, organizing source materials from Joseph Smith, previous Church publications and records, the reports of others, and his work had been partially serialized in the Nauvoo Times and Seasons beginning in 1840 up to the departure of the Saints from Nauvoo in 1846. That printing covered the period from 1805-ish to 1834 much of that material was published after Joseph Smith’s death. When the apostles moved to Utah, the church paper, The Deseret News (starting with November 15, 1851 issue) continued serializing the history manuscript under the direction of Richards and then Smith (a supplement appeared that collected the old Times and Seasons texts since its circulation was small and largely unavailable to new Saints (the Star had carried all the Times and Seasons printing of the ms history beginning with the Star’s June 1842 issue). Following the lead of the headquarters printings, the British Mission had their printers keep up with that and so the chronological printings in the News appeared in the Latter-Day Saints’ Millennial Star (Liverpool, England). The segments printed in the News and subsequently the Star generally reflected the manuscript history, but not always (the British printing operation was superior to the Utah printing capabilities for decades). Moreover, the manuscript history did not always accurately reflect its source documents. This post is about one of those times and why it happened.  

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I [the Lord] restore all things: D&C 121&132

Laura Brignone (PhD, MSW) is a Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley where she studies technology and domestic violence. Part 6 in a six-part series on the domestic violence implications of D&C 121 and 132. Find Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5 here.

The language D&C 132 uses to describe women’s relationship with plural marriage paints a pretty bleak picture. As we’ve discussed for the last two weeks, it may even appear to mirror, trigger or justify the abuse of women in the here and now. So what happens next? 

The section header begins to address the rhetorical challenge of D&C 132 by presenting the most uplifting interpretation of the text in summary, using a tone consistent with validations of individual worth throughout most of the scriptures. [1]

In my opinion, though, the most interesting question centers on the survivor. What happens next in her story? How does her narrative evolve? As we discuss this concept, we’re going to zoom back out and discuss abuse more generally. Throughout D&C 121 and 132 we’ve talked a lot about the theft, manipulation or coercion of a survivor’s agency through the power and control of a perpetrator of abuse. How can a survivor heal from this violence and harm — physically, emotionally and spiritually?

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Priesthood “Restrictions”

First, a perennial reiteration: the First Presidency has disavowed all teachings, beliefs, and doctrines promoted by Church leaders in connection with the temple and priesthood restriction against Black people, including the idea that “black skin or dark skin is the sign of a curse.” [n1] These ideas are a pernicious cancer upon the Body of Christ.

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Thanksgiving on the Tower of Rameumptom

It is November again, a month famous for growing mustaches, writing novels, complaining about Christmas music, and, not at all least, practicing gratitude. It’s the gratitude that I want to talk about. For several years, I have really tried to use the ubiquitous November messaging—let’s call it “Big Gratitude”—to try to improve the way that I feel and express thankfulness about many things. It’s harder than it looks, I keep discovering, because of the Rameumptom Problem.  

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[Virgins] are given unto him: D&C 121 and 132

Laura Brignone (PhD, MSW) is a Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley where she studies technology and domestic violence. Part 5 in a six-part series on the domestic violence implications of D&C 121 and 132. Find Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 6 here.

Once upon a Tempernacle, I was a brand-new missionary in a small Utah town. We had temple trips twice per transfer, and my companion and I usually went with our district leader and his companion. Every temple trip, once we got to the Celestial Room, my district leader would walk behind me and whisper phrases from D&C 132 in my ear, hijack meaningful conversations to get my take on whether it was even worth it for women to go to the Celestial Kingdom as plural wives, etc. [1]

Harassment like this is common. Even if not all men harass women — and, indeed, he was the only one of my district leaders who did — most women experience harassment. [2] Given, as we discussed last week, how a modern reading of D&C 132 mirrors the framing of abusive and violent relationships, it’s easy for ill-intended members of the church to use its potent language to harass, manipulate or terrorize women through fears of losing exaltation, eternal degradation, eternal separation from children, eternal subjugation within plural marriage, and more.

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She shall believe or she shall be destroyed: D&C 121 and 132

Laura Brignone (PhD, MSW) is a Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley where she studies technology and domestic violence. This is Part 4 in a six-part series on the domestic violence implications of D&C 121 and 132. Find Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 5 and Part 6 here.

Doctrine and Covenants 132 introduces the law, covenant or doctrine of plural marriage. It poses a significant challenge to many readers and teachers in the church, especially women, and especially domestic violence survivors. Originally articulated as a private document in 1843, it was the only surviving written record explicitly describing plural marriage after Joseph Smith’s death. [1] Joseph F. Smith reflected in 1878 that, when written, the text “was not then designed to go forth to the church or to the world. It is most probable that had it been then written with a view to its going out as a doctrine of the church, it would have been presented in a somewhat different form.”

Time and language have only evolved since 1878; read now, the language used to present D&C 132 mirrors the rhetoric and origin of abusive relationships. While the language in D&C 121 relates to the priesthood and abuse across a wide variety of relationships, the language in D&C 132 specifically mirrors the origin and pattern of intimate partner violence against women, or, abuse perpetrated by a man against a woman he has ever dated, been married to, or with whom he shares a child in common.

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The Political Threat of Priestcraft

Cover for the pamphlet “The Crimes of the Clergy; or The Pillars of Priestcraft Shaken,” London, 1823

I am not entirely sure that the world of Mormon blogs needs another post defining “priestcraft.” The current status of the word as a fill-in-the-blank insult that means something like “making money from a religious belief that I disagree with” has been a frequent topic of Morminish blogs. Here, all the way from 2012, is Sam Brunson wondering if Deseret Book is engaging in priestcraft by profiting from religious books. And, from 2017, here is Blair Hodges wondering the same about BCC Press.  

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Review: zion earth zen sky

Charles Inouye has written a remarkably beautiful book.

zion earth zen sky is by far the most personally enjoyable book I have read in some time. It is a profoundly spiritual and theologically rich book, but contains little by way explicit theological argumentation. It does not attempt to prove its theological points by reasoned syllogisms from premises, nor does it, for the most part, proceed from a close reading a scriptural text. It is, rather, grounded in insights won from the author’s highly personal application of simple, familiar, perhaps even unremarkable points of latter-day saint belief, in the context of a life heavily influenced by personal and familial Buddhist beliefs and practices.

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On Needing to Know Where the Bodies are Buried

(This is a story about how I bought and read the anti-Mormon opus Mormonism: Shadow or Reality? on my mission, but for the story to make sense I need to give you some personal background.)

A. My Youth

I grew up in a small branch in Illinois. And I kind of thought I knew everything there was to know about the Church. This was due to the pedagogical penchant for teachers to use what I call catechism questions. As in Teacher: “Johnny, could you read that verse, please?” Johnny: “Jesus wept.” Teacher: “Very good. Now what does it say Jesus did on this occasion?” [crickets] Teacher: “Anyone? Bueller?” Johnny “Uh, he wept.” Teacher: “Excellent! Here’s a lollipop.” 

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Without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever: D&C 121 and 132

Laura Brignone (PhD, MSW) is a Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley where she studies technology and domestic violence. This is Part 3 in a six-part series on the domestic violence implications of D&C 121 and 132. Find Part 1, Part 2, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6 here.

This week we’re going to talk about the end of D&C 121, verses 41-46. This is a very-often-discussed scripture in LDS circles, and I’m going to sidestep the most common points of conversation on it. (What did “reproving betimes with sharpness” mean in the 1830s? Go ask your Sunday School teacher.) 

Instead, let’s talk about the covenant in these verses. What’s it about? What will flow without compulsory means forever? What does this covenant have to do with abuse? (Spoiler: a lot, but it’s mostly not about the survivor.)

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Oh, Remember!

CALL FOR PAPERS

Mormon History Association’s 57th Annual Conference

“Landscape, Art, and Religion: The Intermountain West and the World”

Utah State University Campus, Logan, Utah; June 2-5, 2022

For its 57th Annual Conference in Logan, Utah, the Mormon History Association has joined forces with the Center for Latter-day Saint Arts to create a program that we hope will bring an art element into the sessions. We have selected a theme which we believe will evoke provocative historical papers and also suggest art topics, meaning all the arts: literature, visual art, music, film, theater, architecture, design, and so forth.

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“Severe, Pervasive, and Objectively Offensive Race-Based Harassment”

Photo by Rolande PG on Unsplash

Yesterday the Salt Lake Tribune reported on the end of a Department of Justice investigation into the Davis School District in Utah. And frankly, its findings were disgusting. You can (and should) read the DOJ’s report here, but in summary, but in summary, the DOJ found “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive race-based harassment” in Davis schools by students and staff. A taste of the kinds of harassment Black students had to deal with: white students called them

monkeys or apes and said that their skin was dirty or looked like feces. Peers taunted Black students by making monkey noises at them, touching and pulling their hair without permission, repeatedly referencing slavery and lynching, and telling Black students “go pick cotton” and “you are my slave.” Harassment related to slavery increased when schools taught the subject, which some Black students felt was not taught in a respectful or considerate manner. White and other non-Black students demanded that Black students give them an “N-Word Pass,” which non-Black students claimed gave them permission to use the n-word with impunity, including to and around Black students. If Black students resisted these demands, they were sometimes threatened or physically assaulted.

(Note that the report also discusses anti-Asian discrimination.)

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“Mormon” is deeply Christian

Photo by v2osk on Unsplash. Chosen to serve as a fanciful depiction of the Waters of Mormon.

Spencer Greenhalgh is a nerd, Francophile, and big fan of the Book of Mormon. Professionally, he is an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky’s School of Information Science, where he teaches information communication technology and researches social media in meaningful contexts such as education and religion.

The name “Mormon” is obviously connected to The Book of Mormon, but this name carries different meanings within and outside the text. The external, often derogatory, meaning is enough that the three largest denominations accepting the Book of Mormon as scripture now reject the derived adjective “Mormon,” often preferring to redirect attention to their Christian credentials. This is understandable—and even laudable—but the meaning and history of this name within The Book of Mormon suggests that “Mormon” is, in fact, a deeply Christian word.

“Mormon” also seems to begin as a derogatory term in The Book of Mormon. In Mosiah 18:4 (9:32 CofC), we read of a “place which was called Mormon, having received its name from the king, being in the borders of the land having been infested, by times or at seasons, by wild beasts.” There’s no straightforward explanation here of what “Mormon” means—our identically named narrator might be too embarrassed to do so. Nonetheless, the implication is that “Mormon” is a name kings give to infested places, places no one would go unless they were desperate, places so undesirable that the king’s servants might not look for you there.

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Loving the Darkness: A Halloween Sermon

When, despite all my best efforts, the lights have gone off in my life (literally or figuratively, take your pick), plunging me into the kind of darkness that turns my knees to water, nonetheless, I have not died. The monsters have not dragged me out of bed and taken me back to their lair. The witches have not turned me into a bat. Instead, I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.
                        —Barbara Brown Taylor, Learning to Walk in the Dark, p. 5

I am an inveterate and unrepentant lover of Halloween. Every October, both my house and my mind play host to the darkest things I can imagine: ghosts and witches, monsters and demons, and evil things that I would be ashamed to even imagine until very late in September. I have a wide selection of Halloween ties to wear to work, virtual costumes for all of my social media sites, and two Spotify playlists of dark Halloween music—one classical and one contemporary—that I listen to all day, every day of the month. (Please feel free to steal them).   

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Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man: D&C 121 and 132

Laura Brignone (PhD, MSW) is a Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley where she studies technology and domestic violence. This is Part 2 in a six-part series on the domestic violence implications of D&C 121 and 132. Part 1, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6 can be found here. 

Welcome back! Last week we focused on spelling out the problem of abuse described in D&C 121:1-6 and experienced in modern LDS congregations. This week we skip ahead to D&C 121:36-39. These verses describe a slippery slope into using the priesthood as a tool of power and control to commit abuse, along with consequences for priesthood holders who do so. This is one of the clearest, most poignant, and most powerful condemnations of abuse in all of scripture.

It’s also not straightforward to put into practice. 

Let’s dive in.

D&C 121:36-39

[T]he rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and […] the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon principles of righteousness. That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man…. 

We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.

There we have it. Anyone who self-aggrandizes or abuses another person automatically loses the Spirit as well as their priesthood power and authority. This bright line protects both the integrity of the priesthood and the safety of non-priesthood-holders. 

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For We Shall See Him as He Is

This is a picture of me with my firstborn son. It was on the desk of a woman who loved us, who died this week. She was not a relative, or a confidante. We did not speak the same language–her English was better than my (non-existent) Spanish, but I doubt either of us ever understood much more than a paragraph or two that the other spoke. I know nothing of her inner life, or even of most of the external circumstances of her life, either before or after the years that we saw each other weekly. She didn’t know my politics or my favorite color, and all I knew about her at first was that she was a kindly lady in Relief Society and wanted to earn some money cleaning houses.

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Science, Preaching, Religion, Freedom, etc.

For the past decade or so, I’ve been slowly working through a book on Joseph Smith’s “King Follett Sermon [Discourse].” The book, among other things, tracks the influence of the sermon’s ideas within church culture over time (and the reverse). While working on this project, one of the things that became important to the discussion was the interface between science and the church. That is a very long story that I couldn’t hope to dent much in the book itself but it brought a lot of questions to my mind, especially about modernism and church teachings (I will avoid the loaded term “doctrine” here). These are just some side thoughts I’ve had about the fringes of the book as it has more or less closed out its writing.

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“Faith Alone” in Romans 3:28 JST

For about a year when I was an undergrad at BYU in the early 80s my plan was to go on for a PhD and become an academic. My dad was a professor so it sort of seemed like the family business to me. Two circumstances changed my mind and like so many others sent me off to law school: first, we got pregnant, and second, it was a horrible recession, so I had to get a little more practical about that decision. I have no regrets, it was the right call.

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O God, where art thou?: D&C 121 and 132

Laura Brignone (PhD, MSW) is a Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley where she studies technology and domestic violence.  Her recent research examines an emergency room intervention meant to prevent intimate partner homicide. This is Part 1 in a six-part series on the domestic violence implications of D&C 121 and 132. Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5 and Part 6 can be found here. 

We’re fast approaching D&C 121 and D&C 132 in the Come Follow Me manual. In honor of domestic violence awareness month in October, let’s spend a few weeks exploring the story these two sections tell about domestic violence and abuse in the church, both then and now. [1] 

Note: this first post describes abuse and may be triggering for those who have experienced it. Future posts in this series will primarily focus on church policy and may be less triggering. 

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Revise and resubmit

I’ve been thinking about the way that many religious words accumulate baggage. Over time they automatically evoke certain moods. They become weighed down by definitions and experiences and feelings to the point that they basically lose their power.

Take the word “repentance” for example. When you read or hear that word, stop and pay close attention to how your body reacts. What thoughts come to mind? Is it a positive feeling? People who’ve been wounded by religion might feel really tense. Their fight or flight response is triggered. It begins to open drawers full of painful memories. It might smell stuffy and stale. It might even seem merely quaint.

For other people, the word is so familiar that it’s lost its ability to provoke or challenge. It might slip right past the consciousness of religious people who think of themselves as devout, like they already know everything it means. They’ve mastered it. They know how to describe its process using a few simple “r” letter words.

In either case, I think the word “repentance” becomes worse than useless. It evokes pain or contempt on the one hand and self-satisfied hypocrisy on the other. I think it can be helpful to rethink old ideas using new terms.

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Book Review: James Goldberg’s A Book of Lamentations

James Goldberg, A Book of Lamentations (American Fork, UT: Beant Kaur Books, 2020).

Quite a few latter-day saints have drawn parallels between the events of 2020 and The Book of Mormon. James Goldberg, however, does it better than most. In A Book of Lamentations (2020), Goldberg and the other poets he features meditate on the parallels between The Book of Mormon and the divisions of our own time. “When Latter-day Saints say we know The Book of Mormon is true,” he writes, “we are saying something about human nature. We are affirming that we understand a civilization that chooses hatred and division is fully capable of destroying itself.”

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Doctrine and Covenants is the worst

So it’s coming up on Saturday evening and once again I am at a loss as to what to teach my Valiant 10 class in Primary tomorrow. This is my third time teaching Doctrine and Covenants in Primary. It’s my third year teaching from the Come Follow Me curriculum. And I have to tell you that the Doctrine and Covenants Come Follow Me manual is the absolute worst manual I have ever used. And I taught Young Women in the 1990s.

Most of the manuals the church produces are not great, Bob. In fact, when I am not teaching Doctrine and Covenants, I rarely use the manual. I just take whatever scriptures the manual is meant to cover that week and I figure something out. It’s not that difficult when you have decent material. I mean, I only have twenty minutes to kill. The problem with the Doctrine and Covenants is that it’s not decent material. I tried to read the Quran once. There was some stuff about a cow and I didn’t understand it, and I’m afraid I lost interest. The Doctrine and Covenants doesn’t even have cows. It’s just God telling Edward Partridge to go to the Ohio or whatever, over and over again. Everything that is worthwhile in the Doctrine and Covenants is covered more eloquently in other books of scripture. But wait, Rebecca, what about the Word of Wisdom? What about all the stuff about church organization and priesthood keys and the three degrees of glory? I SAID WHAT I SAID. Quick, think of your favorite scripture from the Doctrine and Covenants. Now think of your favorite scripture from literally any other standard work, including the Pearl of Great Price. For that matter, think of your favorite episode of Touched by an Angel. Is there really any comparison? I rest my case.

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Steppin’ Out

I was talking the other day with a couple of friends, exchanging crazy mission stories. A recurring theme is the “comp slipped out at night to go visit his secret local girlfriend”. I’m obsessed with these, primarily from a logistical point of view. HOW?? How is the missionary slipping out in the night, undetected? I want to hear from people who either slipped out at night or got slipped out on. Please explain how this was done. It is like some David Blaine-level escape magic.