7 Days of Gratitude – Games

It is hard for me to express how much I enjoy playing games. Hard because I really enjoy it, yes, but also because it means that I have to admit it. Thanks to the Protestant work ethic that dominates our society, the notion of playing a game, at any time, seems the same as being idle, indolent, or wasteful. There is almost always something more meaningful that I could be doing than playing a game, something more exemplary of Christian duty. And yet, I play games.

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7 Days of Gratitude – The Earth

I’m extremely lucky in where I live. It is my second time here and it continues to take my breath away when I walk out the door. It is hard to imagine sometimes that this is on Earth, and not from some fantastic tale (fun fact: The author of the Never-Ending Story is from this town). I’m also lucky that this isn’t the only place I’ve been where I’ve been amazed by its beauty.

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Friendship in the Time of Corona

Like many other self-pitying Americans reaching for comfort in a time of uncertainty, I recently started rewatching Schitt’s Creek. There’s a lot to love about the show, but what stands out to me this go-around are the gatherings: impromptu parties in Mutt’s barn, Roland and Jocelyn’s backyard Hawaiian-themed hog roast, Jazzagals choir rehearsals, game nights with friends, friends in general… you can probably see where I’m going with this. I miss people, and it feels equal parts heartbreaking and scandalous to watch characters on-screen congregating with reckless abandon while I’m on my (checks watch) ninth month of social distancing. To be fair, I have a handful of friends I’ve seen a handful of times—outside, masked, distanced—but it’s hard without the hugs. It’s hard not to invite anyone into my home, which I work so hard to make the kind of place other people want to be.

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7 days of Gratitude: Day 1 – Family

Hello good people of the bloggernacle. I just got done watching President Nelson’s video on the “healing power of gratitude” and, what the heck, I’m going to take up his challenge. If you want to join me, name something that you are grateful for in the comments below. It can be anything, seriously.

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2020 Christmas book list

Another year, another book list. Though unlike previous years, some of us have had a little extra reading time. Before diving in, we aught to recognize that the Maxwell Institute’s Brief Theological Introductions of the Books of Mormon were largely published after the curriculum had moved on, but remain highly valuable resources. Be sure not to miss them. Additionally, I have a separate post if you are looking for resources to aid in the study of the Doctrine and Covenants in 2021. As always, be sure to check out all of these volumes at local book sellers. If you are in Utah, Benchmark always does a great job, and their shipping policy is reasonable.

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The Heritage Quilt

I called my mom. It isn’t uncommon for me to take a break from reading and call her with an observation or connection. I have just started the Salt Lake City Nineteenth Ward Relief Society Minutes. A number of years ago I stumbled on the women’s prayer meeting minutes from the ward, and I’ve wanted to dig into community that produced them. Their record starts like they commonly do: the appointment of officers, the calling of teachers and deacons, and then regular meetings.

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Political Neutrality

This US Presidential election year has seen unprecedented voter turnout. President-elect Joe Biden won the popular vote by 5 million. While his wins in so-called battleground states are more narrow, they are still not that narrow. [Read more…]

Doctrine and Covenants: The 2021 course of study

A lot has changed in how we can approach the Doctrine and Covenants over the last decade and a half—a revolution really. And now as we think about the 2021 course of study for Sunday School, it is worth thinking about our study regimen. There are various possibilities of engagement, some more accessible than others.

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Announcing Two New Series from BCC Press

If you haven’t heard from BCC Press in a while, it is probably because we are up to something big. And, indeed we are. And today we proudly unveil something big. Really big.

For much of the 2020, we have been developing plans for two new book series that we hope will become important contributions to Mormon Studies. The series are highly interrelated, but also distinct in important ways.

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Costly Signaling, Cheap Grace, and Loving Our Enemies after an Election

(Post adapted from a lesson in the Newburgh Ward priesthood meeting on Sunday, November 8, 2020)

In the aftermath of last week’s election, I have had two books on my mind. Two very different books from two very different parts of my life, but their central messages have come together for me in the aftermath of a national election that has stirred more emotions in me than I thought could be stirred. In such moments, I usually turn to books. It’s how I roll.

The first book is the classic, if highly specialized monograph The Evolution of Animal Communication: Reliability and Deception in Signaling Systems by William A. Searcy and Stephen Nowicki. This is the book that introduced me to the concept of “costly signaling” in evolutionary biology (something that proved very important to my own book on a related topic about ten years ago).

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Grace Like Water, Poems by Merrijane Rice

Two of my favorite poems in the English language are Thomas Hardy’s “The Oxen” and GK Chesterton’s “The Donkey.” Both are poems about the New Testament, and both are about domesticated animals, but they are still very different poems. “The Oxen” is a poem by an agnostic who yearns for the story of the Nativity and yearns for it to be true. “The Donkey” is by a deeply religious poet who writes from the perspective of the Donkey that Christ rode triumphantly through Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. But they are both acts of deep private devotion.

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Sacred Stories, Political Debate, and the Problem of Disagreement in Zion

In 1680, England had a problem. For a century and a half–since Henry VIII’s Act of Supremacy in 1534–the nation’s politics had been driven by religious disputes, with the three major factions–Catholics, Anglican Protestant, and Calvinist Dissenters–taking turn running the country and killing thousands of people in the process.

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Thoughts on the Difficulty of Friendship at the Present Time

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

[A slightly altered version of a presentation on civility I gave at Friends University on October 26.]

I have seen a lot of anger among my family and friends during this election season; I presume I am not alone in that. After I was asked to give this presentation I thought about that anger, and talked with my wife about it at length. To her, Jesus’s cleansing of the temple is the emblematic scripture story of our moment, and I think she may be right. But what kind of guidance does it provide, if any, when we’re thinking about a Savior who called all who aspire to be servants of Him to love one another, without reservation?  A Savior whose most loving words, to those who served Him best, was to call them friends? [Read more…]

Dream Homemaker: A Review of Netflix’s Dream Home Makeover

Natalie Brown is a former blogger at By Common Consent and a PhD candidate in English and comparative literature. Her dissertation focuses on nineteenth-century writers who obsessively sought places to call home. Follow her on Twitter at @nataliebrownist.

In a year when many of us are confined to our homes, Netflix offers up its latest distraction in the form of Utah-based design show Dream Home Makeover—or, as I keep slipping and calling it for reasons my LDS friends will understand, “Dream Homemaker.” In many ways, it’s the latest installment of the cultural fantasy that remodeling a home can remodel a life—a fantasy of intervention through design that has feminist predecessors in the likes of Virginia Woolf and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. To Utah or LDS audiences, the career of the show’s star, Shea McGee, an influencer who converted the skills she learned improving her California home into a design studio business located in Utah, potentially offers an additional fantasy: a path toward monetizing skills learned at home in order to achieve recognition and financial success within a religious-cultural environment in which the imperative to stay home with children is also increasingly expensive and in which employment conditions are often unfriendly to families—a reality that has only become more apparent during the pandemic.

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Troublesome

Andi Pitcher Davis, is an artist and musician who lives in Orem, Utah. She is the Art Editor for Dialogue and a member of the Dialogue Foundation Board.

The truth is, this is my place, no matter how dark. I love hearing the familiar tick of the baseboard heaters and feeling crisp frost on my bare toes in a mid-August dawn.

I love all 9,000 feet of my childhood, blurred with time and soaked in hazy winds from my own fires. The mist off the lake that I am too frightened to dive headlong into as a grown woman, made sweet with wild strawberries. And sometimes, alright always, I worship the smell of butterscotch coming off the largest pine tree in the lower meadow — nose pressed to bleeding sap, pine gum pitch in mouth.

You should try it.

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The Other Side: A Defense of the Pro-Choice Position

In a recent and much-discussed post, Terryl Givens articulates a powerful argument against abortion. His position is well-thought-out, deeply moral, and will no doubt be persuasive to members of a faith that cherishes human life and human dignity. I share many of his concerns about the casualness with which many people–saints and sinners alike–approach the profoundly serious issues that he raises.

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BYU Studies is looking for a new senior editor!

BYU Studies is looking for someone with both academic editing and professional marketing or business experience. The job is posted at http://yjobs.byu.edu/ under staff and administrative jobs, and the job number is 93452:

The senior editor at BYU Studies is committed to publishing impeccable scholarship that is informed by the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. She or he has a creative vision for making the scholarship published in BYU Studies both more relevant to and more accessible to well educated but non-specialist readers. The successful applicant will assist the editor in chief and the editorial director in publishing. They will also possess the ability to manage growth initiatives designed to exponentially increase awareness of BYU Studies content. The senior editor is capable and comfortable discussing scholarship in a variety of disciplines, managing student editors, editing journals, working with digital humanities, and implementing marketing principles. This position requires the candidate to work with students, staff, editorial board members, scholars, contractors, printers, and the media.

On Terryl Givens and Abortion

Yesterday Terryl Givens published what he characterized as “A Latter-day Saint Defense of the Unborn” at Public Square Magazine. He ultimately concludes that Latter-day Saints are obligated to oppose abortion and that there is basically no room for personally opposing abortion but supporting its legality and availability.

Givens seems completely sincere in his revulsion for abortion. But that sincerity has led him to pen (type?) a deeply misleading and unchristian jeremiad against his fellow citizens and fellow-Saints who take the opposite tack.

I’m not going to detail all of the factual and legal problems with his piece, though I will highlight a couple of what I consider to be the big problems. I’m also want to point out that the way he’s framed his argument undercuts any assertion that he makes it in good faith and that it demonstrates a huge lack of moral imagination.

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Baptized for the Dead

Several years ago I was invited to contribute to a Festschrift in honor of Jack Welch. I have long admired Jack and so was happy to do so. My contribution was titled “Baptized for the Dead.” It was part of an academic collection titled “To Seek the Law of the Lord,” and I assumed it would have only a niche academic readership. But I recently sort of stumbled on the fact that the publisher had put my contribution on line, which you may now read here: https://journal.interpreterfoundation.org/baptized-for-the-dead/

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What Gets You Through?

Note: there’s nothing particularly Mormon-y about this post, except that it deals with what one Mormon has done to stay sane during the pandemic.

Back in May, two months or so into the pandemic, I finally did it. Lying in bed at probably one in the morning, I posted on Craigslist:

Need to play in a jazz combo? Me too!

I hadn’t played with other musicians since my freshman year of college (which, I’ll note, was a long time ago). But since stay-at-home started, I’d been practicing my saxophones. More, probably, than I had since my freshman year. And once the pandemic was over (because even in May I though maybe it would end sometime soon), I wanted a chance to play.

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Far-Right Appeals to Islamophobia Fall Flat in Vienna

The poster shows a smiling man still on the uphill slope of middle age with his arm around a child, gesturing to St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna and prominent symbol of the city. Above him in the clear blue sky is the declaration “Our home!”

Below the happy pair is a room full of women wearing burqas looking at a framed photo of a masked figure in battledress with an AK-47 within reach and the words “Home Sweet Home” scrawled on the wall behind. Next to the photo is an open window with a view of the tower of St. Stephen’s, but this time it is overlaid with a red crescent moon. At the bottom of the poster is the assertion that the party’s political opponents—social democrats, Christian democrats and Green party—support radical Islam.

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It is a sin to vote for Donald Trump.

I thought about writing something longer, pointing people to Mosiah 29, enumerating his numerous vices, but there’s not much point in doing so. Casting your vote for an evil person is a sin.

When I said something similar in 2016, folks debated whether voting is a moral choice, whether Trump was really that much worse than Hillary, etc., etc., but I believe I have been vindicated in every respect. He is evil and has led our country closer to the brink of infamy and internal collapse. Voting for him is unjustifiable and morally wrong. Therefore it is a sin.

Wash or Bathe?

What the JST does in the first part of John 13:10 caught my attention. So at the beginning of the chapter after supper Jesus goes around and starts to wash the feet of his disciples. He comes to Peter who basically says “what the…you’re gonna wash my feet?” To which Jesus replies “Yeah, you won’t understand now but it will make sense later.” Peter replies “You shall never wash my feet!”, because Jesus is his master and the master doesn’t serve the servant in this way. It’s a humble task, possibly even demeaning. Jesus says “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.”

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The Giant Joshua – Chapter 17: The Great Smile and the Sequel

From the Maurine Whipple Collection, Brigham Young University
Harold B. Lee Library Special Collections

Thank you for sticking with us this last two months! We end with a discussion of the final, 17th chapter, followed by the story of Maurine’s efforts at producing a sequel, and a synopsis of the sequel. We are excited to say that five excellent completed chapters, along with other lost works of Maurine’s, will soon be published.

A public Zoom event will be held on Sunday, October 11, 8:00 pm Mountain Time (7:00 pm Pacific), where all can come and share their questions and comments on The Giant Joshua and Maurine Whipple. The event will feature several people who knew Maurine personally sharing their memories of her, including the poet Carol Lynn Pearson, Maurine’s biographer Veda Hale, the author Marilyn Brown, and the publisher Curtis Taylor. It will last 90 minutes. Anyone interested in Mormon literature or Mormon history is invited to attend and participate.

Zoom link:
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85698612887
Meeting ID: 856 9861 2887

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The Giant Joshua, Chapters 15 and 16: Polygamy raids, life on the underground, and the real-life stories behind the novel

Portrait of Mormon polygamists in prison, at the Utah Penitentiary, circa 1889. Photo by Charles Roscoe Savage/Harold B. Lee Library/Creative Commons

By Andrew Hall

We are nearing the end of this monumental novel, with only the final, 17th chapter to cover next week. As we previously announced, we will hold a Zoom event on Sunday, October 11, 8:00 pm Mountain Time (7:00 pm Pacific), where all can come and share their questions and comments on The Giant Joshua. The event will feature several people who knew Maurine personally sharing their memories of her, including the poet Carol Lynn Pearson, Maurine’s biographer Veda Hale, the author Marilyn Brown, and the publisher Curtis Taylor. Lynne Larson and I, who have been writing these weekly posts, will also attend. All who have read or are reading the novel are invited to attend and participate.

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Sukkot and Settling Into Fall

[Cross-posted to In Media Res]

This year I planted a spring garden for the first time. Probably because of the pandemic, but because of other plans that I’ve been thinking about for a while, I decided early this year to up my gardening game–putting in raised beds at last, planting in mid-March, expanding the range of vegetables I aimed to grow: lettuce, broccoli, eggplant, green beans, and more. Most didn’t work out, but it was a good struggle along the way. But with August and September, and the need to convert my classes online, the pressures on my time increased, and the garden (along with some of those other aforementioned plans) got pushed to the side. Perhaps not coincidentally, my once rewarding garden took a serious dive, in terms of both productivity and the enjoyment I took from my increasingly limited engagements with it. So it was with some satisfaction that yesterday I ripped out all the wilting tomatoes and long-since-exhausted peppers, as I usually do around this time of year. But this year, I also started prepping for a fall and winter garden. It’s Sukkot, after all; time to build my settlement anew.

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Babies, Prayer, and Just Why

I prayed for Chrissy Teigen last night. And then I felt silly.

If you aren’t aware, she and her husband John Legend recently lost their third baby due to pregnancy complications. Chrissy has been vocal about infertility in the past, and I count myself as one of many women who appreciate the way she’s normalized conversations around babies and how hard they can be.

My prayer was the addendum type,  where I’d already gotten up off my knees and climbed into bed when I remembered her Instagram post and I felt newly heartsick.

I added, “oh – and please bless Chrissy and John.” And then I felt silly because a little voice said, You don’t even know these famous people! You don’t even follow them on Twitter! Surely they have plenty of others thinking of them anyway – they are CELEBRITIES.

(Maybe I felt silly because, you try saying the words, “please bless John Legend.”)

I think the real reason I feel so deeply for Chrissy is because babies are in most of my prayers these days. Five of the women I cherish most in the world are currently pregnant or have new babies. Some of them have had heartbreaking issues with pregnancy in the past, and some are facing them now.

Over the last few months, our interactions have essentially turned into long, drawn out prayers with and for each other. Sometimes it’s more formal, where we send around a group text asking for prayers for so-and-so who needs us. Other times it’s asking what can I DoorDash you tonight or are you still throwing up — each a type of prayer in its own way. 

I have seen the power of communal prayer. My sister told me about a tradition in her ward, where, when a woman goes into labor she tells one friend, who tells all the others. Each woman lights a candle and keeps it burning until the baby is born.

I have seen the answered prayer. The miracle recovery. The friend who heard about my friend in the NICU and drops off dinner since she lives nearby (the two women have never met). 

But what about when prayer doesn’t “work?”

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How to Forgive?

Today’s guest post is by Eric Hachenberger.

When the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement took off last May, the US started to tear itself apart over one of its most fundamental conflicts again. At about the same time, church filmmaker Brian Faye gave us a sublime and personal message of reconnecting and forgiveness. In his vulnerable story, he tells us how after years of estrangement he was finally able to forgive and reconnect to his mother when she broke down in tears before him. 

The stark contrast between these two messages got me thinking. Why is it often so hard for us to forgive? 

In conflict, our first reactions to others are often violent retaliation or simply ending the relationship. Reconciliation is most often forgotten.

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The Giant Joshua – Chapters 13 and 14: Temple Celebrations and Private Despair

By Lynne Larson

[See below for the announcement of a Zoom event on October 11 where we will discuss Maurine Whipple and The Giant Joshua, featuring several people who knew Maurine, including Carol Lynn Pearson.]

 “The building arose from the barren ground like a great white wedding cake. It was eighty-four feet high to the top of the parapet, battlemented like an old castle, and there was a hundred-and-thirty-five-foot tower on top of that . . . Long before the ceremonies were to start, a vast throng of people wandered around the block, squinted upward from the roadway, felt of the solid rock walls with their hands as if to bolster the evidence of their eyes. A temple that would cost a million dollars. The world would have said it couldn’t be done, and so they did it.”

Chapter Thirteen of The Giant Joshua contains one of the novel’s most stirring scenes, a portrait of the aging Brigham Young as he dedicates the temple which the Dixie Saints have worked so hard to build. It is April 1877, and the pioneer leader, with but four more months to live, has traveled to St. George to perform the ordinance. It is the first temple completed in Utah, which Brigham has yearned to see before his death. Maurine Whipple’s description of the cheering multitudes, of their breathless anticipation, of their tears at the prophet’s words, and of the man himself – “His eyes glinted beneath his brows, his white beard trembled . . . the skin of his cheeks stretched tightly over his bones”—is a remarkable gift to Mormon letters, to Mormon heritage, and to southern Utah.

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The Clergy Privilege in Mormon Cases: The Strange Case of Richard W. Miller

Jeff Breinholt is a member of the State Bar of California, and serves as an Adjunct Professor at George Washington University Law School. The views in this article are the authors own and do not reflect those of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Is there equality among religions when it comes to the recognition of the clergy-penitent privilege? This question is relevant because of the apparent patchwork of incidents in which the LDS Church’s commitment to the privilege – if not judicial recognition of the privilege in Mormon cases – seems to vary.

To understand my interest in this story, we need to go back to July 1986. I was a 22-year old intern, working in downtown in Los Angeles for federal judge William Gray. I had just finished my first year of law school at UCLA. Because Judge Gray was a senior judge, he took advantage of the benefits to avoid criminal cases.  I was somewhat bored. I had planned to go into criminal law, and was looking for little enrichment. One Friday after lunch, I saw a crowd gather outside of Judge David Kenyon’s courtroom. I decided to see what the fuss was about and curiously entered the courtroom with the throng.

It turned out to be the first of many federal criminal sentencings I witnessed over the course of my career, and it was a big one, involving the first FBI agent in history convicted of Soviet espionage.  The defendant was a short obese Mormon guy named Miller. 

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