Mormonism in 2012: A (Fashionably Late) Recap

2012I called 2011 “The Year of the Mormon,” and I’m standing by that designation, but what a year we’ve had since then! As the Mormon Moment gets on its bike and rides into the sunset, it’s worth looking back at some of the high points and low points of 2012. Here are my own selections, in no particular order:

 

 

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Review: Joanna Brooks, “The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories From an American Faith”

Title: The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories From an American Faith
Author: Joanna Brooks
Publisher: Self published (but not for long…)
Genre: Memoir
Year: 2012
Pages: 204
Binding: Paperback
ISBN13: 9780615593449
Price: $11.99

Rumor has it Joanna Brooks’s self-published memoir, The Book of Mormon Girl has been picked up by Free Press/Simon & Schuster for national publication this August with an expanded chapter-and-a-half. We’ve seen a lot of chatter about her book online recently, so I thought I’d venture a review. I hope you’ll excuse my decision to kick things off with an observation based on personal experience. (The Book of Mormon Girl is, after all, a personal memoir!) My own undergraduate years were spent writing and editing articles for a variety of small Utah newspapers. I remember how daunting it felt to be assigned an article on a subject I knew next-to-nothing about, like computer animation, mechanical engineering, or say, feminism. Oh, how comforting to a journalist is that friendly, articulate insider willing to endure the inane questions of—and likely later misrepresentation by—the stammering cub reporter! [Read more…]

Word Cloud: For The Strength of Youth

My ward got the new “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlets today. Not really pamphlets, though, as the new version is well over 6K words. The counsel inside is wide-ranging, and as I was reading through it this morning, I wondered what a word cloud of the text would look like—which words are most used in FTSOY? Here’s what I found:

The cloud supports my opinion that the booklet is wide-ranging, as there are lots of different ideas and topics represented, but the biggest words aren’t tied to them. And it might just be me, but I think the word cloud conveys an impression of “warning” language. Do you agree? Which words are more frequent than you’d have thought? Which would you have expected to be more prominent?

Technologizing Sunday School Study

“This study guide is designed as a companion to your study of the Book of Mormon. It is divided into numbered sections that correspond with the lessons in the Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine course. Each section provides the week’s reading assignment and questions to enhance your study. You may use these questions to improve personal application of the scriptures and to prepare to make meaningful contributions to class discussions.

“You share with your Gospel Doctrine teacher the responsibility to help the class be successful. The Lord has said that teachers need to “preach … by the Spirit of truth” and that those who receive “the word of truth” should “receive it by the Spirit of truth” (D&C 50:17, 19). Come to class prepared to contribute insights, ask questions, share appropriate experiences, bear testimony, and listen attentively to the teacher and the other class members. When you have studied the reading assignments and pondered the questions in this study guide, you will be better prepared to experience the fulfillment of the Lord’s words when He said, “He that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together” (D&C 50:22).”

I only half listened to the Gospel Doctrine teacher as she read this from the Book of Mormon Class Member Study Guide on Sunday, so engrossed was I in preparing my notes (via mobile phone and tablet, both which sat on my lap)  gathered from the Bloggernacle and lds.org.

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The (Not So) Radical(ly Conseravtive) Mormon Priesthood

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

That Mormonism was at one time a radical movement which challenged dominant American liberal norms–most famously regarding marriage and sexuality, but also (and I think more importantly) regarding economics and government–is pretty well understood by most who have even a passing familiarity with Mormon history. (If that’s not you, see here and here.) That Mormonism today–at least American Mormonism, at least if the dominant voting patterns and preferred modes of discourse amongst the majority of American Mormon wards are taken as evidence–is no longer much committed to radical communitarianism and egalitarianism, to radical re-organizations of social life, to radical distinctions in how one talks about sovereignty and loyalty, is also pretty well understood. (Again, if you’re lost, begin here and here.) America is a different place than it was in the late 19th-century, to be sure, when the U.S. government invested considerable effort to imprison church members and break apart church operations…but then, we are also a significantly different church than we were then, far more at peace with, and far more aligned to, dominant American ways of socializing, making money, electing our leaders and living our lives. Sure, we could point to all sorts of contrasting evidence–but we’re much more sexually traditional than most Americans! we challenge all sorts of trends regarding divorce and family! we’re considered weird by people in Hollywood!–but all that is, I would assert, fairly circumstantial: fundamentally, for better or worse (or both), the “Mormon moment” has come, in all its multicolored variety, and its conclusion is: even allowing for our mostly traditional mores and mostly conservative politics, here in America we are, I think, undeniably a pretty modern mix of mostly independent individuals, just like nearly everybody else (or, more honestly, just like nearly every other mostly white, mostly suburban church in America). [Read more…]

2011: The Year of the Mormon

What a wild year it’s been. Never has Mormonism been so culturally relevant, and never has the undulating curve of popular opinion shifted so wildly, so quickly. As the year draws to a close, I think we’re safe in naming 2011 “The Year of the Mormon.” The BCC permas have picked out a few reasons why:

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On baptism

Talk delivered in my ward recently.

In considering the meanings of baptism, I want to reflect on several interrelated elements, including baptism as washing clean, baptism as death and resurrection, and baptism as adoption.

First, though, some history. [Read more…]

Conference Prep #2. Pulpit scripture and canon Scripture

This is the second post in a series on General Conference. Part 1 is here. The followup post is here.

I have some continuing interest in antebellum American sermon culture and this post examines some legacies of early Mormonism on the topic of sermons. Protestants of the era inherited an ongoing question over the status of the pulpit. Where do sermons fit into the rule of faith? The issue was most touchy in the more severe “Bible Alone” strains of Protestantism and one can see the same concern in Protestant debates over creedal statements and confessions or the likes of the Book of Common Prayer. On the other hand, even though the early Latter-day Saints were liberals regarding “revelation,” the relationship between pulpit and scripture in Mormonism was a curious one and bore a resemblance to that cautious calculus surrounding the subject among conservative Protestants.[1]

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Do We Want Our Religion To Be Mainstream?

[Cross posted to In Medias Res]

This cover story in Newsweek is pretty much the only thing Mormons in my crowd have been talking about this morning. (They’ve also been talking about the other features in the package, as well as a wonderful sidebar article on Elizabeth Smart, but not as much as the main piece.) The main article, “Mormons Rock!”, written by Walter Kirn–who is a long-lapsed member of the faith himself–apparently started out as a piece on the new “The Book of Mormon” musical on Broadway, but grew from there. The editor primarily responsible for putting the package together and guiding it was Damon Linker, my old friend and frequent intellectual sparring-partner, not least when it comes to things Mormon. Here, thanks to the work of some fine other journalists, he’s developed something that might well be read as a basically innocuous puff-piece (running through some of the basics of the church’s history and current institutional culture, quoting several prominent members of the faith about how they deal with the misunderstanding and marginalization that comes along with being a minority faith), but which, to me anyway, presents a fairly challenging question, a question that might be legitimately asked to believers of any non-dominant religion: should you, as a adherent of a faith, actually want to have your “moment”? [Read more…]

Your Sunday Brunch Special #5. Block Meeting Schedule.

———————————
Office of the First Presidency
February 1, 1980

To all General Authorities, Regional Representatives, Stake, Mission and District Presidents, Bishops and Branch Presidents.

Dear Brethren:
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The Constitution Hangs by an Umbilicus

Smart people make more money.
Smart people don’t reproduce.
High intelligence is genetic.
Dumb people make less money.
Dumb people reproduce a lot.
The rich get richer because there are less of them.
The poor get poorer because there are more of them.

Slacker Educated Mormon Men need to get married.
Gradually, smart Mormons,
(who reproduce a lot)
will take over all positions in the US Gov. requiring
high intelligence.
The constitution is saved.

Corollary. The Devil fought polygamy, not Joseph Smith.

The Hand(s) of God

I have recently had the pleasure of participating again in priesthood blessings, an LDS ritual based on New Testament precedent in which believers place olive oil and then their hands on a person’s head before pronouncing a prayerful blessing on the recipient. As I indicated a few years ago, these blessings are a sacred part of my attachment to the LDS Church. These recent experiences, blessings of support in the midst of complex and challenging life circumstances, returned to my mind an episode[1] some years ago in my practice as an ICU physician. [Read more…]

Reducing the Carbon Footprint of the Faithful: LDS Church Debuts Green Buildings

George Handley serves on the Executive Board of Utah Interfaith Power and Light and is the author of Home Waters: A Year of Recompenses on the Provo River (University of Utah Press 2010), a book that blends LDS theology, history, nature writing, and memoir. He will also have an article forthcoming in the Summer 2011 edition of Dialogue.

Actions speak louder than words, or so they say. In which case the actions taken by the LDS church to green their architecture according to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards represents a major sermon on the Christian duty to reduce our ecological footprint. LEED certification was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council as a way to facilitate architectural design that works to reduce the ecological footprint comprehensively (see http://www.usgbc.org). Last spring, the LDS Church unveiled a new multi-congregation building in Farmington, Utah with 158 solar panels on its roof, state of the art Solarban windows to reduce interior heat in the summer, dual-flush water-saving toilets, bike racks, instantaneous water heaters, comprehensive recycling, xeriscaping, and a meter in the ward library that measures the building’s savings in units of electricity, gas, and, yes, carbon. This is one of four prototypes that the church will use to apply for a portfolio certification so as to then roll out all future meetinghouses according to LEED standards. [Read more…]

Should tithing subsidize BYU?

Malcolm Gladwell recently ranked America’s best law schools when taking into account value for the dollar. Perhaps unsurprisingly, under this new rubric BYU ranked number two.  In the past, I’ve often noted BYU’s value with a sense of pride and admiration.  But this time, perhaps because I’m currently paying for another school, I began asking why: “Why is the tithing I pay subsidizing the costs of education for a small subset of Mormons?” [Read more…]

Female healing article now available

The last six years have been a lot of fun, and I count myself very fortunate to have been able to work on this project and to work on it with Kristine. Honestly, there were moments in the Church History Library when I thought to myself, “If I never have the opportunity to see anything else or work on another project, I will still be full.” We owe many friends and institutions much for their support. Thank you.
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Correlation: An Uncorrelated History (Part 9 — History Done Backwards)

This is the final, and longest, post of the series. Read the first eight installments: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, and Part 8. You can download and read Daymon’s dissertation here.

Remember, Daymon has made his dissertation available for purchase in bound form here. All of the proceeds will go to the Utah Food Bank. [Read more…]

David O. McKay and the Priesthood Ban

In 2005,  David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism was published.  It is a great book, filled with details and insights into the way our church became what it is today.  We learn that during his tenure, President McKay prayed on several occasions for enlightenment concerning the policy which denied the priesthood to black men and temple ordinances to all black people.  His prayers apparently went unanswered.  We often take that to mean that it was God’s will for the ban to remain in place.  [Read more…]

Teaching OD-2

Last Sunday was a personal milestone for me as a Gospel Doctrine teacher. It was the first time I’ve ever taught a class on Blacks and the Priesthood. Come to think of it, it may be the first time I’ve ever been present in a class on Blacks and the Priesthood, whether as teacher or student (though maybe I’ve just forgotten). As someone who has ridden the priesthood ban hobby horse over the years, and who has suffered lots of angst over it, I’ve long wanted to teach this topic, but never before had the right opportunity. Sunday was the first time I felt I had such an opportunity, so I took it.

The assigned chapter from the D&C manual was “Lesson 42: Continuing Revelation to Latter-day Prophets.” When Steve Evans pointed this out to me at Molly Bennion’s post-Sunstone NW party the night before, I started brainstorming various ideas for the lesson, with the help of a few other Sunstone folks, assuming I’d talk about the “nature” of revelation or something. But not until the next morning, when I actually opened the manual, did I realize how mislead I’d been by the lesson title. For this was really the Correlation–KJV Bible–Additional Quorums of the 70–OD-2 lesson, all rolled into one week. One can’t possibly cover all these juicy topics in one lesson (indeed, I found myself wondering if the manual-writers didn’t intentionally put all this material in one chapter for precisely this reason), so I just chose OD-2. I started off by inviting a couple people to read the full declaration. Then we dived right in.
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The Rise of LDS dot Org and the Decline of Everything Else

The title of this post is a blatant rip-off of Hugh Nibley’s The Rise of Rhetoric and the Decline of Everything Else. Nibley was working with a rather narrow definition of rhetoric and saw it simply as an insincere form of speech, what we today might call spin. It is my belief that the search function of the official Church website, combined with our native laziness, has brought about a decline in the quality of speaking and teaching in our meetings. [Read more…]

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