Back in the (Primary) saddle again

In September I became a Primary teacher again, after a four-year exile in Sunday school and Relief Society. I am happy to be back in Primary because I find it a more pleasant way to spend two of the required three hours at church. (If I could spend all three hours in Primary, I probably would. But I suspect there’s a law of diminishing returns that takes effect at some point.)

I teach nine-year-olds turning ten, which is a pretty good age, and most of them are ten by now. I have eight kids, five of whom are pretty chill. Practically angels, really. Two are lively but manageable. One is…an original. I have never met another child like him, and I don’t expect to in the future.

I was less than excited to learn I’d be teaching Doctrine and Covenants again. It’s my least favorite of the standard works, and it’s nearly impossible to work the scriptures into the lessons in any way that makes sense. But teaching church history isn’t bad. I will now go on record as saying that the Doctrine and Covenants manuals are not terrible. They have lots of good stories, many of them about women and girls. I mostly tell stories in class and let the kids draw their own conclusions. Because heaven knows they won’t let me have the floor long enough to give them my conclusions. [Read more…]

A New Church in Chicago

 

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I used to be part of the regional public affairs group, so I knew the Church was constructing a new church building on a prime parcel of real estate at 822 North Clark Street in Chicago. But I wasn’t really clear on the schedule. Well, earlier this week I got a flier to the effect that the building was done and they were going to give tours this weekend. The first tour would be at 3:00 p.m. Friday afternoon (i.e., today), which was perfect for me, so I decided to hop in a cab and go check it out. [Read more…]

Knock Once

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red canna, georgia o’keeffe, 1924

It’s 3 am and I can’t sleep. Something woke me up. Something I ate or something I thought or something I hoped when my breath was deep and my eyes were closed or something I lost as my breath became shallow and my eyes flickered. I am either peaceful or discontent or just racked with heartburn.

It can be all three.

That’s allowed.

The baby kicked and I remembered she was there, somewhere inside of me, rolling and sucking and flailing and curling and cushioned and so I am somewhere inside of me, too. If I can sustain her, I suppose I can sustain me.

Nobody tells you that gestation, 40 weeks in the wilderness, is a time of mourning as well as expectation. I am a vessel of birth and so I am a vessel of death. My death. But her death, too.

[Read more…]

Vision of The Arts Auction

The Vision of The Arts Auction, which is only running for 4 more days, is an incredible opportunity to purchase art from both established and up and coming LDS artists, while simultaneously supporting scholarships and opportunities for LDS artists, including a special fund for female artists working with young children at home.  All the artists have donated their work and the proceeds from the auction go directly to continuing the work of this program.

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On the Nature of Christian Service

Today’s guest post comes to us from PCB, a professor in the Philadelphia area.

I have recently had the chance to get a deeper exposure to my fellow Mormons’ sometimes heroic efforts to serve each other. It is quite stunning to me how much we do for each other, in quiet and unheralded ways, from serving in the Bishop’s Storehouse to hosting a gala celebration for the young women.

These recent experiences reminded me of an important, transformational experience I had a few years ago that taught me a more complete picture of what it means to engage in Christian service. In our usual characterization of Christian discipleship, we talk about giving up our time, talents, and resources to serve God by serving others. Selflessness is the hallmark; unidirectional service is the framework. The imagery and scriptural basis for that service is clear. We are instruments in the Master’s hands. God reaches out to others, through us. We are blessed by our proximity to God in the process, and the work of His kingdom is accomplished. [Read more…]

The Ten Virgins: A Parable of Environmental Stewardship

Back in 1995, I was serving in the bishopric of a student ward at the same time that I was teaching freshman composition at UCSB. From time to time, one of the members of the ward showed up in my class, which gave me the dual role of spiritual and academic adviser. On one such occasion, a young freshman came into my office and told men that he had changed his mind about going to medical school when he graduated because of something he heard in Church.

The reason? He learned in an institute class that Christ was going to return in, or very close to, the year 2000, and he didn’t want to go through eight years of college if Jesus was just going to show up and make everything perfect. Not knowing what to say, I told him that he should probably go to med. school anyway because Jesus was probably going to be too busy to heal everyone. [Read more…]

Sisterhood in the Seats

I’m two months away from giving birth to our third daughter. This means my husband and I will have three sisters living and loving just across the hall from us. Raising daughters is a joy containing all the shades of that word. Raising sisters is a work of wonder and wondering. Some aspects of sisterhood seem innate, others need to be learned. I’ve spent my daughters’ childhoods helping them navigate what sisterhood can mean, what it must mean, and what it doesn’t have to mean at all, not one little bit.

I’ve had to learn how to navigate these things myself. I’m still learning. [Read more…]

New Permablogger: Megan Conley

We’re extremely pleased to announce that Megan Conley will be joining us as a permablogger. We’re looking forward to her contributions here — if you have had the pleasure of reading Meg’s work elsewhere, you know she is good, smart and wonderful. You can also follow Megan on Twitter.

Welcome Meg!

Bigs, Ranked

Do you ever feel like Big Industry is just out to get you? Like all the dang time? Steve and I sure do. And trust us–there are a LOT of Bigs out there to beware of.

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

God Bless the USA: Flags and Football

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A pillow my sister made out of my old band uniform

I come from a small town in the middle of nowhere that bills itself as “The Gateway to Death Valley,” so imagine my surprise when I saw my high school alma mater’s football team popping up in the media these last few days. Someone had posted a video of the homecoming game a week or so ago that went viral (7.6 million views!), though not as a result of the game itself—despite the high drama of a game in which the 5-2 Burroughs Burros took on the 4-3 Oak Hills Bulldogs and won 20 to 17!—but the team’s flag-festooned entry onto the field accompanied by the stirring strains of Lee Greenwood’s perennial favorite, “God Bless the USA.”

I thought the F-18 flyby following the national anthem was pretty cool, but overall the pre-game spectacle and the resonance it found in certain circles did not make my heart swell. [Read more…]

Martin Luther and Me

837415eeffe744ae07f5e31dbac3e579--reformation-day-martin-lutherToday is a big day. The 500 year anniversary of Reformation Day–October 31, 1517, the day that Martin Luther publicly posted his 95 theses.

As Mormons, we have a sort of love-hate relationship with Martin Luther. [Read more…]

30 Years on Death Row: A Voice of Prophecy

When I was a college freshman in 1984, I decided that I wanted to spend the rest of my life somehow affiliated with a university. And, since then, I have been. The reason I decided this is that I loved the company, both the professors and students, but also all of the really interesting, life-changing people that regularly show up on a college campus. There is really nothing like it.

One such person came to my university tonight: Anthony Ray Hinton, an African-American many who spent 30 years on the Alabama death row for crimes he did not commit. In 1985, Hinton was arrested for a robbery and picked out of a police lineup in which he was the only person of color. When his alibi proved airtight he was charged with two counts of murder connected to other robberies committed around the same time. The only witness was the victim of the robbery that he was not charged with because he was in a warehouse full of other people when it occurred. The police produced a statement that the same gun was used in all three events. [Read more…]

Halloween Haters

Image result for stranger thingsAre you a Halloween hater? A few years ago, I was surprised when one of my Australian colleagues was dissing on Halloween! His complaints were somewhat standard: “The kids don’t need all that sugar!,” “It’s American colonialist propaganda!,” “It’s not safe for the kids to go wandering the neighborhoods hopped up on sugar!,” “It’s a school night!” Everything he hated about Halloween is what I love about it. Moreover, Halloween is both responsible parenting and the best kind of American colonialism.

This weekend many of us gathered together, independently in the sanctity of our own homes, for a new American ritual: the Netflix binge. We watched, separately and yet jointly, all 9 episodes of season 2 of Stranger Things. This season opened with the kids of Hawkins preparing for that most American of holidays: Halloween. They did the things we all did at middle school age: discussed the various merits of different candy bars, opined over dressing up at school (being on that cusp between childhood and teenagerdom sucks), and fretted over the details of their incredibly professional-looking Ghostbusters costumes. All while dealing with the palpable, ominous strangeness in the town around them. This is what Halloween is all about: the fun, superficial “tricks” suitable for kids, and the true danger and evil lurking beneath the veneer of polite society. [Read more…]

On Visibly Not Partaking of the Sacrament

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Occasionally I will notice someone not partaking of the emblems of the sacrament. This is always inadvertent on my part, usually when I’m checking to see from which direction a deacon will be sending the sacrament down my row. And I feel very uncomfortable witnessing such a public (non-)action that seems to disclose something that, it seems to me, should be very private and not at all public. [Read more…]

One meeting down, only 437 left to go

I was pleasantly surprised by the Church Newsroom’s announcement that in 2018 they would be consolidating the Women’s and Priesthood sessions of General Conference to one alternating session (held Saturday evening), with priesthood holders meeting in April and women in October. Surprised because, much as no one expects the Spanish Inquisition, no one expects Mormons to cut meetings. (Although it occasionally does happen. But then, so did the Spanish Inquisition.) Pleasantly because I think cutting meetings is generally something that should be encouraged, so I calibrate my emotions accordingly.

[Read more…]

Making Hay While the Sun Shines

CanyonlandsLiving half a world away from ageing parents, I’d spent most of my adult life steeling myself for the day that they would precede me in death. Even so, it was a jolt when the message came on a quiet Sunday morning in September:

Dad had a stroke at about 8 pm tonight affecting his right side. He is being flown down to [a regional hospital] soon to see if the clot can be removed. He will open his eyes and move his left arm a bit, but doesn’t respond otherwise.

[Read more…]

Cattle in Sackcloth

 

**NB: This is a follow-up to my earlier post about teaching the lesson “Fellowship with Those of Other Faiths” in Priesthood Meeting. When I actually taught the lesson, for reasons that have a lot to do with the way that High Priest groups tend to wander, much of it ended up being about the Book of Jonah,

 

I will admit that I used to have a difficult time believing that a full-sized man—be he Jonah or Geppetto—could be swallowed whole by a “great fish” and then spewed forth alive to pick up life right where he left off. That is just not, in my experience, how things work.

It some point, however, I realized that the whole belly-of-the-whale thing was only the third most ridiculous thing that happens in the Book of Jonah. Much weirder, and much less probable, is the following passage from Chapter 3:

For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. (:6-8) [Read more…]

The Airplane Incident

Ten years ago, on a flight from Kabul to Dubai, a man sitting next to me on an airplane pretended to be asleep, leaned over, and grabbed my breast.  Besides elbowing him away, I did nothing.  At the luggage carousel, he invited me back to his hotel room, I hissed NO—my voice gone from a closed-off, panicky throat–grabbed my suitcase and left.  I didn’t tell anyone this happened for several years.

[Read more…]

Mormon Ecumenism

I plead with our people everywhere to live with respect and appreciation for those not of our faith. There is so great a need for civility and mutual respect among those of differing beliefs and philosophies. We must not be partisans of any doctrine of ethnic superiority. We live in a world of diversity. We can and must be respectful toward those with whose teachings we may not agree. We must be willing to defend the rights of others who may become the victims of bigotry.
—President Gordon B. Hinckley

Tomorrow is the day that I have been waiting for since being called to teach the High Priests group in my ward earlier this year: Lesson 20: Fellowship with Those Who Are Not of Our Faith. It is something that I have been thinking about for a long time.

I started thinking about it 20 years ago, when I was in the bishopric of my student ward at the University of California, Santa Barbara. There had been a stabbing in the student enclave of Isla Vista, where our Church/Institute building was located, and a number of religious groups got together to demonstrate for better lighting. I went to the organizing meeting with a half a dozen other religious leaders, one of whom said, in the meeting, “I am so glad you are here. The Mormons usually keep to themselves.” [Read more…]

The William Clayton Diaries?

Yesterday, the good folks at the LDS Church History Library announced that the Church Historian’s Press would be publishing the William Clayton diaries. Mormon History Nerds united in celebratory meme-making. I imagine that most Mormons when faced with this news would likely shrug. The news of new Missionary interview questions and smartphone proselytizing has way more traction. I dusted off the appendix I included in my review of Joseph Smith Papers, Journals, Volume 2 (and yes having a review appendix is absurd, but I still think it was a solid review), and have updated it with info from the intervening half decade.
[Read more…]

Is There Really No Room at the Mormon Inn for “Nonconformist” Believers?

Laura Harris Hales is the executive producer of LDS Perspectives Podcast. After raising five brilliant children, she took her brain out of cold storage and has since worked as a paralegal, adjunct English professor, academic editor, and freelance copy editor. She is also the co-author and editor of books published by Greg Kofford and RSC/Deseret Book respectively.

The noted Swedish theologian and Harvard Divinity School professor Krister Stendahl is famous for urging followers of all faiths to leave room in their hearts for “holy envy.” He meant it as a departure for understanding other religions, but I have always taken it as a fitting label for the unfulfilled yearnings of my religious soul. [Read more…]

Love What Survives

The past several months, I’ve been thinking a lot about Brock Turner. (If you need a refresher on who he is, look here.) My interest in his case has to do with suffering: who gets to claim the space of the cross? When Turner’s father wrote that he no longer enjoyed ribeye steaks the way he once had, the internet erupted in scorn: surely his suffering is nothing compared to that of the woman (I’ll call her Emily Doe) he sexually assaulted while she was unconscious behind a frat house dumpster. “Poor baby,” went the ridicule: Turner’s suffering was weighed against the cross and found wanting. [fn1]

Emily Doe, meanwhile, was the heroine of the feminist internet for the statement she read at Turner’s sentencing, in which she thoroughly and eloquently castigated him for failing to perceive her as a human being and treat her accordingly. She made her own suffering publicly visible in a way that the trial could not, and she did so in a potent attempt to reclaim her dignity from the abjection of that night. She was claiming the space of the cross for herself, as a way of validating her own experience, but also of calling the person who crucified her to account. [Read more…]

The Inadvertent Objectification of Women in the Church

I’m finding it hard to piece together the words and emotions I wish to convey on this topic. Mostly, because it’s difficult for me to explain but also because it is painful.

The way women are viewed in the church is something I think about continuously. I am aware of my womanhood and the effect that has on my existence. Unfortunately, a lot of the effects I feel are due to others’ perceptions of womanhood. Since the LDS church plays a large role in my life, the way I feel viewed by the church community is often at the forefront of these thoughts.

[Read more…]

Welcome Amber!

We’re really excited to announce that Amber Haslam is joining us as a permablogger. Amber has been our guest previously and we’re fans of how she is able to get right to the heart of complicated topics in a sensitive, profound way. Read her bio here. Everyone, say hi to Amber!

Erasing Race

We’ve had some outstanding Relief Society lessons in my ward this year, owing to the great teachers we have. Recently, we were talking about how to talk with people not of our faith or culture, basically how to get along with everyone without being a jerk. Something like that. I was in and out a little bit. [Read more…]

Free Agency

The last speaker in yesterday’s F&T meeting talked about the concept of free agency. First, he explained that that terminology was very flawed, because agency isn’t free, but was bought at great cost by our savior’s atoning sacrifice. Second, he told how his seminary teacher insisted that free agency only existed to make righteous choices, not wicked ones. He had great trouble understanding that, but finally concluded she must be right. [Read more…]

Oh Say, What Is Sin?

I’m not sure I know what sin is.

Lately, I’ve come to recognize that the theory of sin I’ve held since my youth is … wrong.  Or if not wrong, at least woefully incomplete.

For most of my teenage and young adult life, sin meant willful rebellion against God.  Sin meant knowing an action was wrong, and intentionally choosing to do it anyway.  I viewed everyday sins as a microcosm of the way Mormons describe Outer Darkness. Under that belief, almost everyone on Earth will obtain some degree of heavenly glory; the only exception is those who have “sinned against the Holy Ghost” – who have had so powerful of a witness of God’s truth they effectively walk right up to a glorified Jesus Christ, look him in the eye, and say “I am choosing to not follow you.” [1]

I considered that level of willful sin difficult to achieve.  After all, we simultaneously learned in Mormon Sunday School that things which would be sins for us (like drinking alcohol) may not necessarily be a sin for other people; non-Mormons didn’t have the same knowledge, so they wouldn’t be held to the same standard. [Read more…]

A Love Song For William Tyndale

14121557592_6022a3811b_oIn my continuing celebration of Protestant Reformation October, its time to gush about William Tyndale (1494-1536).  I love Tyndale.  He is a muse and a personal hero.  For the last two years, I have engaged in a quest to convince my Catholic fiancé to name any future firstborn son of ours Tyndale.  (I think my persistence is working: when last we discussed it, he had conceded that perhaps Tyndale would make a fine middle name.)

My love for Tyndale started two years ago after reading Wide as the Waters, which devotes Chapter Two to Tyndale’s life.  For Christmas that year I requested Tyndale’s complete works, and for the next many months relied on them for my spiritual studies.  I craved Tyndale’s devotional insights and linguistic beauty, and he did not disappoint.  Now you can find me on Sundays, sprinkling talks and lessons with his extra-scriptural wisdom. [Read more…]

Stephen Greenblatt’s Great New Book—And What It Misses about the Mormon Adam and Eve

For reasons that are at once tantalizing and elusive, these few verses in an ancient book have served as a mirror in which we seem to glimpse the whole, long history of our fears and desires. It has been both liberating and destructive, a hymn to human responsibility and a dark fable about human wretchedness, a celebration of daring and an incitement to violent misogyny. The range of responses it has aroused over thousands of years in innumerable individuals and communities is astonishing.
—Stephen Greenblatt, The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve (pp. 5-6).

 

It would be difficult to overstate the impact of Stephen Greenblatt on literary culture. As the general editor of the Norton Anthology of English Literature, he shapes the textbooks used in about 90% of undergraduate British Literature survey and period courses. If literature is “what gets taught,” then Greenblatt is the guy who decides what literature is for the English-speaking world.

Fortunately for all of us, Greenblatt has excellent taste—and a whole lot of knowledge about the contexts in which literature is produced. His recent books for general audiences are the best examples that I know of literary criticism for real people. Will in the World, his context-heavy biography of William Shakespeare, was a surprise bestseller in 2004. And The Swerve, How the World Became Modern (2011)—a literary detective story about how Lucretius’s lost poem “On the Nature of Things” was discovered in the 15th century—won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. [Read more…]

Brigham Young, John P. Taggart, and the Federal Income Tax

On January 3, 1871, Brigham Young sent a telegram to  his counselor Daniel H. Wells. The LDS Church History Library only has the first page of the letter, but even the absence of subsequent pages can’t disguise the story lying under the surface. The first page of the telegram reads:

We think it will be wisdom for the Latter Day Saints to omit paying tithing Some of the Officers of the government seem determined to rob us of our hard earnings which are donated to sustain the poor and other charitable purposes We will carry on our public works and assist the poor by some other method If this agrees with your feelings have Bro Cannon[fn1]

I’m not sure I can emphasize enough how crazy this is: Brigham Young suggested doing away with tithing. While I don’t know the church’s revenue in 1870, in 1880, about $540,000 of the church’s $1 million in revenue came from tithing. And yet Brigham Young was willing to get rid of it in response to some kind of robbery. So what’s going on? [Read more…]