Rachel Held Evans & Evolving Faith

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Kristine A. lives in Rexburg, Idaho and blogs at Wheat & Tares.

I just got home from a conference held in North Carolina and hosted by Rachel Held Evans and Sarah Bessey. They are two evangelicals who have experienced faith crises; Rachel describes her journey back into church in her book Searching for Sunday, a book I know is popular with liberal Mormons. Sarah, I believe, describes hers back into the same congregation in Out of Sorts. They announced the conference in March and sold out 1500 tickets within two weeks. When I heard some of the speakers included many of the names that had strengthened my faith when it felt like everything had fallen apart, I felt compelled to go. Well, that and the fact it was about two hours away from my old home in Virginia and best friend, who agreed to attend with me. [Read more…]

The Primary Program

The author of this post, Heidi Naylor, teaches English at Boise State University and is the closest thing that Mormon short fiction has to a rock star. Her stories and articles have appeared in The Washington Post, the Jewish Journal, the Idaho Review, Portland (magazine of the University of Portland), Dialogue: Journal of Mormon Thought, New Letters, and other venues. She grew up in Pennsylvania and raised her family of sons in Idaho with her husband. The best of her short fiction has been collected and published by BCC Press in Revolver: Stories by Heidi Naylor

 

childrYesterday was our ward’s Primary program, based on the 2018 theme for the year: “I Am a Child of God.” The program opened in a tender way: A cognitively challenged sister, aged in her mid-50s and still attending Primary, came to the podium and asserted, “I Am a Child of God.” “Yes, you are!” said our Primary president, as the sister headed back to her seat on the stand. You could feel her quiet pride as she smoothed her skirt and looked out shyly at us. [Read more…]

When the Jay Dubs Came to Call

A few years ago, we were upgrading our house, and I fell in love with these modern cut glass doors that we installed. Because of the pattern of the glass, you can see shapes moving inside, so it’s obvious if we are home. I was running late to leave for the office when the doorbell rang.

As missionaries, we called the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs in English for short), the TJs (Testigos de Jehovah). Since they were also door-to-door proselytizers in a predominantly Catholic country, we felt like competitors, or at times comrades-at-arms. We were told they tithe in their time, giving 10% of their personal time to proselyting. I’m not normally home during the day, but I have run into them a few times as I’ve been leaving the house. [Read more…]

Sunday Sermon: Parables, Points of View, and the Nature of Infinite Love

The titles that we give to Jesus’s parables are important, Amy-Jill Levine teaches us in Short Stories by Jesus, because they covey assumptions about the point of view we should adopt when we read them. “The Parable of the Lost Sheep” is going to be substantially different than “the Parable of the Careless Shepherd,” even if everything else remains the same. Perspective matters. [Read more…]

Conference Notice: Finale of the James K. Polk Project

James K. Polk, serendipitous president of the United States, exercised a remarkable–if unintentional–influence upon the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was Polk, in a sense a Jackson redivivus, who made Deseret a default property of the United States, and so eventually a Territory, consequently a focus of Republican moral reform and hence brought polygamy to an end. Whew. Polk’s correspondence has now been published by the James K. Polk Project.

James Polk, ca. 1849. Manifest Destiny on steroids.

Begun in 1958, the project is about to finish its fourteen-volume letterpress and digital series of the Correspondence of James K. Polk. These volumes, featuring annotated transcriptions of thousands of letters from 1817–49, enable twenty-first-century readers to use the nineteenth-century documents.

Latter-day Saints will be familiar with such projects through the beautifully curated Joseph Smith Papers Project and the forthcoming Brigham Young Project.

A conference commemorating the final volume in the Polk Project will be hosted by the University of Tennessee History Department. The Association for Documentary Editing notes that “the conference will be held at the East Tennessee Historical Society, in Knoxville, on April 12–13, 2019. Academic scholars, public historians, and community members will take stock of what we now know about the eleventh U.S. president and assess the contributions of the project to historical study. Presentations will include a keynote address by Amy S. Greenberg, a roundtable of Polk experts chaired by John C. Pinheiro, and a screening of a Polk documentary by Brian Rose.”

To read the preliminary program, register, and book your hotel room, go to https://polkproject.utk.edu/conference. Registration is free. Contact jameskpolk@utk.edu if you have questions.

Lesson 42: “I Will Write It in Their Hearts” #BCCSundaySchool2018

Orthodox_icon_of_Prophet_Jeremiah_largeLesson Objective: To encounter jeremiads with open hearts.

Scriptures: Jeremiah 162329; and 31. [Read more…]

My Middle Way Mormonism

Over at Wheat & Tares, a number of bloggers have written takes on what they’re calling “Middle Way Mormonism.”[fn1] Although their takes differ marginally from one another, they’re all fairly complementary. And by and large, I think they represent an interesting, and important, take on Mormonism, and one that I want to engage with.

Though they don’t lay out a precise definition of Middle Way Mormonism, the contours seem to be something like this: a Middle Way Mormon is a member who recognizes fallibility and institutional weakness in the church, but stays in the church. And, if that’s roughly what they’re talking about, I’m clearly a Middle Way Mormon. (Also, so are you. And so it your rabid Mormon uncle, with the anti-government takes and the bunker filled with MREs. More on that in a minute.)

The W&T bloggers largely see (in their experience and the experiences of their loved ones) Middle Way Mormonism being triggered by some traumatic episode—a discovery about something in church history or practice, something that brings with it pain and disillusionment. That traumatic episode leads, almost inevitably, to a changed relationship to the church. That changed relationship may result in an temporary or permanent equilibrium, but that equilibrium risks being difficult and uncomfortable to maintain. (FWIW, these are all my words and takes on their excellent posts, and I hope the W&T bloggers will forgive me if I’ve flattened some of the nuance, or misinterpreted some of the assertions, in their posts.) [Read more…]

The Book of Abraham: Joseph Smith Papers Revelations and Translations, vol. 4.

A permanent identical “I” is a fiction—we are not what we believe ourselves to be—the truth is very different from what we are inclined to believe —-Derek Parfit [1]

The Book of Abraham has been both a puzzle and a sort of definition of ultimate reality. At least one such definition. The text of the book arises out of a milieu where many believed that Egypt like the Hebrew language (what many at the time thought of as a near descendant of the tongue of Eden) held answers to ultimate mysteries of self and time and being. Even though few Americans at least had any real notion of what things like hieroglyphics meant. When Michael Chandler brought his traveling mummy show to Kirtland, Ohio, Joseph Smith and a number of his friends saw deep value hidden in the artifacts and purchased them for a handsome sum even though they were already submerged in an expensive and daunting temple building project. In fits and starts through the last half of the year 1835 they (Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, William Phelps, and Warren Parrish) worked to construct some kind of logic that made sense of ancient writings found in the collection. These scrolls date from roughly the period of the book of Daniel (ca. 200 BCE) to the time of Christ (that is, the second temple period).
[Read more…]

Is Competent Public Administration the Downfall of the Modern Miracle?

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The Imperial Chinese civil service examination became a model for selecting civil servants on their merit the world over (source).

Yesterday in Sunday school we talked about miracles. Participants argued that while “big” miracles like loaves and fishes and parted seas might be uncommon today, “small” miracles—the kind that only an individual or a small group might witness—abounded and in the aggregate amounted to a major expression of divine favor. Reasons given for this state of affairs included a growing tendency to keep such experiences private as well as the growing wickedness of the world at large.

I silently added that today even churchgoers are children of the Enlightenment with a better grasp of how the world works and less of a need for supernatural explanations than the authors of our scriptures. After having slept on it, however, I wonder if there isn’t another, more prosaic explanation for the dearth of miracles in the modern age—namely, a well-functioning state.  [Read more…]

A Resource for Your 2019 NT Study

In about two months as the calendar turns we will begin a new course of Church and home-based study focusing on the New Testament. The home-based aspects of this curriculum kind of require us to figure out how we want to approach it, and the encouragement of study groups provides another venue for some dedicated study. So I thought it might be helpful to point folks to a resource I believe they will find useful to that end: my Footnotes to the New Testament for Latter-day Saints. Old timers should already be aware of this resource, but I suspect it will be new to more recent readers.
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Lesson 41: Jeremiah and the Weight of Prophecy #BCCSundaySchool2018

Was he really a bullfrog? Hard to tell–we know so little about the private lives of Old Testament figures. But we can be sure that Jeremiah never sang “Joy to the Word”–or to anything else for that matter. Not to the boys and girls. Not to the fishes in the deep blue sea. Not to anyone. Joy, in Jeremiah’s life was not a thing.

But Jeremiah was both a great prophet and a great poet–and his life and ministry can help us understand a lot about how both prophecy and poetry work in the Old Testament. [Read more…]

Why I’m Marrying in a Catholic Basilica

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With the Vatican’s approval, I’m marrying my Catholic fiancé in St. Mary’s Basilica in Old Town Alexandria this Saturday.  Yay!  I’m so excited to celebrate true love, surrounded by my family and friends.

Some of those family and friends are a little befuddled.  As a former hyper-devoted Mormon, I can see the confusion in their eyes, the unstated curiosity about why I’m not marrying in the temple.  Only a few have ventured to ask the question directly.

I believe it is important to give an honest answer.  This is my story. [Read more…]

Review of Vampires in the Temple

Here at BCC Press, we don’t have any tricks for you this Halloween season. But we’ve got lots and lots of treats, including Vampires in the Temple--the best Mormon vampire book–or vampire book by Mormons, or book about vampires hanging around any iconic religious structure–ever written. Reviewed here by our friend Melissa Fox.

Melissa Fox has made time in her life for lots of “little” things: being the Children’s Outreach Coordinator at Watermark Books, working on her MLIS degree, helping out with the parent organizations (well, the drama department) at the high school, and being the co-blog editor for the Cybils Blogging Award. Even with all those small commitments, she still manages to find time to (kind-of, sort-of) blog at Book Nut. She’s often surprised that she’s been doing this whole blogging thing since 2004. And since there’s not enough going on in her life, she’s also the wife of an absent-minded professor and mother to four daughters (though she’s down to only two living at home!).  [Read more…]

The Nightmare Before Christmas as a Spiritual Allegory: A Halloween Sermon

I woke up this morning with the strange idea that I needed to write a Halloween sermon. Never having done such a thing before, and unaware of any biblical texts to support the Halloween story, I turned to the only Halloween texts that I knew anything about: the movies. But even there, I found little to go on.

There aren’t a lot of really great Halloween movies. Hocus Pocus deserves a mention. It’s not great, but it’s pretty good. And after that we are left largely with with soft-core slasher porn and campy after-school specials–and movies that happen to be scary but I jhave ahave nothing else to do with Halloween.

But there is Tim Burton’s 1993 masterpiece The Nightmare Before Christmas-easily the best Halloween movie, and maybe the best movie about any holiday, ever made. It’s got it all: visually stunning stop-motion animation, an amazing musical score by Danny Elfman, a unique and interesting story, and a kidnap plot involving Santa Claus. So The Nightmare Before Christmas it is. Here is your Halloween sermon. [Read more…]

Where Can I Turn for Support? abuse.lds.org

Laura Brignone Bhagwat is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Berkeley where she studies technology and domestic violence.  Her dissertation tracks a public health intervention in hospital emergency rooms meant to prevent intimate partner homicide.

Abuse is the neglect or mistreatment of others (such as a child or spouse, the elderly, the disabled, or anyone else) in such a way that causes physical, emotional, or sexual harm. It goes against the teachings of the Savior. The Lord condemns abusive behavior in any form. 

‘The Church’s position is that abuse cannot be tolerated in any form’ (Handbook 1: Stake Presidents and Bishops [2010], 17.3.2). Abuse violates the laws of God and may also be a violation of the laws of society. The Lord expects us to do all we can to prevent abuse and to protect and help those who have been victims of abuse. No one is expected to endure abusive behavior.

At 12:05 yesterday, I was driving to lunch when a message from a friend popped up on my phone. It consisted of six exclamation points (“!!!!!!”) and the text “abuse.lds.org.” Within 15 seconds I’d pulled over and clicked on the link. [Read more…]

God’s Name is Dangerous to Hold in Your Lips

This is a post about what President Nelson’s counsel to use the church’s full name challenges us as church members to do.

However you feel about his declaration that using “Mormon” was a victory for Satan and an offense to God, there are lots of other places where that conversation has happened and is still happening. I don’t want to replicate that here. I want to focus on the core of his message: that the church’s formal name is important because it is connected to taking upon ourselves the name of Christ. President Nelson’s counsel to speak Jesus’s name more often may be both dangerous and rewarding, because God’s name is not to be taken lightly, and doing it will require us to either receive the spirit through repentance and faith in Christ and his grace, or condemn ourselves by using his name in vain. [Read more…]

Women Don’t Cast Sustaining Votes?

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My sister Cheryl called me this morning, annoyed at a procedure her Indiana stake just used to call a new counselor in her Stake Presidency.   An old counselor had moved and been released between Stake Conferences, so the new one was called and sustained during an interim Stake Priesthood meeting.

“This isn’t like an Elders Quorum President,” Cheryl mused.  “A Stake Counselor doesn’t just serve men in his quorum, he has stewardship over the entire stake.  But he can be set apart without a single woman knowing about the calling or sustaining him?” [Read more…]

What Outcomes do We Expect of our Faith and Obedience?

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It finally rained today. The last six weeks or so have been quite dry—locally we received just 14% of the long-term average, some places received just 2%. In the midst of this dusty season I’ve found myself thinking that maybe I should go wash the car, clean the windows or wear my leather-soled dress shoes to work—surely tempting fate on such a grand scale like this would coax a few drops of moisture from the fleeting clouds!

So I did all three and voilà—rain! Ok, today’s showers have been forecast for the last week or so, but still, you never know—weather can be a fickle thing. Of course, I know perfectly well that attempting to control the weather by invoking some version of Murphy’s Law is unadulterated foolishness. Sometimes, though, when nothing else seems to be going your way, flights of fancy offer an appealing alternative to helpless reality.  [Read more…]

Lesson 40: Enlarge the Place of Thy Tent – Isaiah 54-56, 63-65 #BCCSundaySchool2018

As mentioned in previous #BCCSundaySchool posts, there is much scholarly discussion about the origins of the Book of Isaiah, and various scholars have identified two or three distinct sections in the book. Where precisely one might draw the boundaries between these sections, and whether or not one believes them to have been produced by different authors, the structure within Isaiah they identify is useful for extracting meaning from the text. Our selections today (Isaiah 53-56; 63-65) come from what are usually identified as the latter two sections of the book. It should be noted there is some debate about where the second section ends and the third begins, and also whether there is a third section at all. But regardless—what we hear in the words of the last dozen or so chapters of Isaiah is the prophet’s fervor ascending to a crescendo, and what we see in his imagery is a vision of Zion ascending in a glory heretofore undescribed in the Bible. [Read more…]

Missionary Policies

A friend received a letter from their mission announcing new policies specific to that particular mission (which mission is unimportant for purposes of this post; I want to use the letter as a springboard to think about best mission practices generally). I wanted to share a few thoughts about these proposed policies. First, the relevant extract from the letter: [Read more…]

AML 2019 Call for Papers

Association for Mormon Letters

Annual Conference 2019

Call for Papers

“Looking Outward: California & the World”

Berkeley, California.  Since its inception in 1976, the Association for Mormon Letters (AML) has defined “Mormon Letters” in the broadest terms. In 1969, M. Ephraim Hatch first provided the definition of Mormon Art as “art which is created by Mormons, art which is created for Mormons, or art which is created about Mormons.” Despite that inclusive definition, the debate over how to define Mormon Letters has been ongoing. Now in its fifth decade, the AML is interested in looking outward. In a spirit of growth and maturation, the AML issues a call for papers that explore the Mormon experience outside of Utah and outside of the United States. [Read more…]

Lesson 39: “How Beautiful Upon the Mountains” #BCCSundaySchool2018

1920px-Antonio_Balestra_-_Prophet_Isaiah.jpgLesson Objective: To seek a “teacher’s tongue” and an “open ear.” To be moved to our feet in spreading a message of peace.

Scriptures:Isaiah 50–53; Mosiah 14–15 [Read more…]

President Nelson and the Problem of Prophetic Infallibility

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T. L. Peterson is an editor who lives in Utah. He is also known as Loursat.

Peterson would like to express his upfront gratitude to Sistas in Zion, whose insightful tweets on the day of President Nelson’s sermon suggested the key idea for this post.

Treating our leaders as though they are infallible is a problem for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  With his energy and bold language, President Nelson might be showing us a way through that problem.  But his solution comes with some nervous questions and a new conundrum.

A popular saying among Latter-day Saints purports to tell the difference between Catholics and Mormons: Catholics say the pope is infallible, but they don’t really believe it*; Mormons say the prophet is fallible, but we don’t really believe it. This saying started as a joke, but I think it has become a truism. [Read more…]

What I Learned in the Silence

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Natalie Brown is a former By Common Consent blogger. She is currently writing a memoir on the stories we tell about houses. You can follow her on Twitter @BtwnHouseHome.

The prophet invited Mormon women to take a break from social media, and they listened. My networks went silent with friends gone ghost. I know this, because I logged on occasionally to check announcements. What I discovered was a wasteland of quiet. I began logging on deliberately to process the silence, sharing my thoughts about the fast into the void it left behind. Wondering occasionally what other Mormons might think when they saw the dates and timestamps of my posts.

I learned in the silence that it is primarily Mormon women who amplify my voice. With Mormon women mostly absent, fewer people engaged with me. Although my networks include men and women, Mormons and non-Mormons, it is disproportionately Mormon women who comment, retweet or like what I have to say. I can’t fully explain why this is so, but my voice is diminished in their absence.

[Read more…]

Call for Applications – 2019 Mormon Theology Seminar

The Sixth Annual Summer Seminar on Mormon Theology
“Given Thee by My Spirit: Reading D&C 25”
Union Theological Seminary, New York City
June 16–June 29, 2019

Sponsored by the Mormon Theology Seminar
in partnership with
The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship
& the Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University

In the summer of 2019, the Mormon Theology Seminar, in partnership with Brigham Young University’s Neal A. Maxwell Institute and Wheatley Institution, will sponsor a summer seminar for graduate students and faculty devoted to reading Doctrine and Covenants 25. The seminar will be hosted at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, from June 16 through June 29, 2019. Travel arrangements, housing, and a $1000 stipend will be provided for admitted participants. The seminar will be led by Joseph M. Spencer and Rosalynde Welch. [Read more…]

Informal Gospel Study Groups

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“Do you have Priesthood approval for that gathering?”

It’s a question I’ve heard numerous times, and it’s always bothered me.

Over the years, across the country and even the world, I’ve participated in many informal gospel study groups.   They’ve often sat at the core of my social circles and been the site of some of my powerful spiritual insights. [Read more…]

The 60-Minute Sacrament Meeting: An opportunity to build a new Christ-centered worship service.

The change about two-hour church that has attracted the most attention is the elimination of the “third hour” and the alternating classes for the “second hour.” Kevin’s post yesterday discusses some of the logistics of these changes. But as I’ve read through the October 6, 2018 first presidency letter and enclosure, one part that has caught my attention is the potential to use this change to radically re-work sacrament meetings. [Read more…]

Notes on Two-Hour Church

I spent last weekend with a childhood friend doing Nauvoo. So I learned of the announcement of two-hour church in the Browning gun shop, from a senior missionary with an earbud in his ear listening to Conference. The rumors have been around for years, but now the long promised day has finally come. Hallelujah! [Read more…]

DeKalb

DeKalb

In 1965 when I was six going on seven, my father got a job as a professor of education at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, IL, two hours due west of Chicago. So I grew up there, from second grade through high school. For decades I have lived just an hour east of DeKalb, and my MIL still lives there, so I go back to visit often, most recently a week ago yesterday as a fellow DeKalbian and I made our way to spend a weekend in Nauvoo.[1]

[Read more…]

Movie Review: Jane and Emma

Some topics of Church history are so ugly, so complex and so fraught with conflicting priorities that they seem impossible to talk about in meaningful ways. Racism in the Church is one of those topics. Polygamy is another. Each attempt to examine these topics is like performing an autopsy on a live patient, each little dissection an injury. How, then, can we address these matters, because it is both morally crucial and communally necessary to know ourselves and see as we were then and are now? Melissa Leilani Larson (screenplay, story), Tamu Smith and Zandra Vranes (story) believe that the medium of film, the dramatization of historical characters, can bring us closer to an understanding that is both sensitive and sensible. Jane and Emma is their work, a film that portrays the intersecting lives of the freshly-widowed Emma Smith and Jane Manning, a black woman seeking her spiritual birthright among the Mormons of Nauvoo. While the film is not perfect, it represents the best on-screen attempt to capture the complexity of Nauvoo and the staggering internal conflicts these women faced. [Read more…]