Axes of Church Government

Today’s guest post comes from Christian Kimball.

There is a certain amount of speculation about President Nelson. What will he do? What will he be like? How will things change with Russell M. Nelson as President of the Church?

I suggest that nobody knows, and anybody who thinks they know doesn’t. There’s a good argument that “nobody” extends to President Nelson himself. My personal experience is that being a president—being the person in charge—is different than any previous experience and changes people in unexpected ways. The record is clear that being president of the Church, even after decades of full-time Church leadership and responsibility, changes people in unexpected ways.[1] In addition, I firmly believe and have witnessed that the issues that come to the table are often more important than the attitudes and beliefs that come to the job.  [Read more…]

Q&A with Foundational Texts of Mormonism editors

In the next couple of months Oxford University Press is publishing Foundational Texts of Mormonism. An important edited volume for any scholarship on Mormon history, the volume has chapters from folks like Richard Bushman, and Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, and BCC regular Bill Smith. The editors have kindly answered a few questions about the project for us. Also, OUP’s annual holiday sale extends into mid-January. They are offering 50% off many books, including Foundational Texts of Mormonism. Enter the code HOLIDAY17 to preorder this book for half price ($74.00 >> $37.00). This offer ends January 12, so if you want this book in your library now is the time to order.

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Doubt vs Faith: A False Opposition

It has been four and a half years since Elder Uchtdorf’s “Come, Join with Us” talk, one of the best talks in recent memory. His talk is inclusive, it is hopeful, it is practical and it is wise. Everyone should watch it and read it, in my opinion. There is one part in particular which has generated a fair amount of discussion, the line “doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.” Here is the more full quote, for context: [Read more…]

The Psychology of the Good Samaritan

O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? (Micah 6:8).

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While attending a legal ethics seminar last Saturday, I surprisingly had the most spiritual moment of my year.  A speaker there relayed the story of From Jerusalem to Jericho, an (apparently famous, but I had never heard of it) psychology study from 1973.  (A more readable journalistic summary is here.)  The authors specialized in research regarding what conditions prompt bystanders to help ailing strangers, rather than to ignore them.

The set-up was simple. At Princeton Theological Seminary, 40 theology students were assigned to prepare lectures as part of a final exam.  The exam occurred in a tight time frame: in 15-minute increments, instructors told individual students they needed to either leisurely wend their way across campus, or rush across campus, in order to make it to the building where their graded lecture would be recorded.  Half of the students were specifically assigned to speak on the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

But the lecture wasn’t the real test.  The real test was that as they darted across campus, each student would encounter a sick and distressed man, lying in their path. [Read more…]

When Your Calling and Election is [in Doubt]. III. Fundamentalism (part 1).

So far this intermittent series has wandered from the Jerusalem Bishopric to Intelligent Design, and now to 20th-century Physics™ and Conservative Christianity. Also, it’s Old Testament-ish.

A Kid Gets Lost

In my eighth grade of public school, I had a physical education class, a science class, an English class, some kind of arithmetic class, something called “social studies,” a technical education class (“shop class”), and I don’t recall what else now. In trying to think through that period in my life, I realize there wasn’t much in the way of encouragement to think about hard problems of the day. That applied to social problems and civil rights, scientific issues, or even academic kinds of things. I vaguely remember my English teacher asking us to compose “themes,” the term for short essays in the day. I had no facility with that. I remember trying to puzzle through a paragraph or two on some topic for the class and coming up dead empty. I’m sure she modeled what she wanted us to do, but I was probably more concerned with the social dynamics of the classroom than whatever she said. Being concerned with those dynamics occupied a good portion of my day. Usually by formulating strategies for being invisible, except maybe to Susan Wilcox [not her real last name because I just don’t remember it now] and her very tall, haughty, Greek Orthodox friend, Olive. Olive [also not her real name for the same reason] showed up in a high school science class where she snubbed me as a science fair partner—rightly perceiving me as just wanting to hang on to whatever she was doing so I wouldn’t have to do anything myself.
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Toward a Paradigm of JST Revisions

As our GD curriculum turns to the OT, we are going to start getting many comments in our GD classes based on the JST. In my experience these comments will invariably be based on an assumption that all such emendations reflect (in English) the original text of the passage, the KJV having been corrupted somehow. And that widespread assumption in most instances at least will be wrong. [Read more…]

On Constructive Deconstruction

I love demolition videos. The punctuation of explosions; the half-second silence before buildings crumble. They’re more fascinating than fireworks on the Fourth of July. Seriously. Just watch a greatest hits reel. Tell me these aren’t amazing.

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A Churchgoer’s New Year Resolutions

I am committed to going to church and being active in my LDS faith. I hold callings, take my children to Primary, and do my visiting teaching. I hold a current temple recommend. However, lately, I haven’t always felt inspired or filled or strengthened by my church attendance. In fact, I admit that sometimes church has felt draining and exhausting instead of replenishing (and this is in spite of having a fantastic and kind bishop, the ideal visiting teaching partner, and a chapel right across the street from my house). So here are some resolutions for the coming year that I think will make my church experiences something to look forward to, because I believe I have more agency in my church experience than I’ve recently been admitting to myself.  [Read more…]

Killing Humbaba

The story of David and Goliath is one of the Bible’s really great tales. It is exciting, easy to put on a flannel board, and it has a great spiritual message: you can always overcome your obstacles, no matter how big they are, if you just have faith in God (and a reasonably good sling shot). Goliath has become a good metaphor for problems in our lives that seem to big to tackle. This, in fact, is the theme of one of President Monson’s most well-known talks and the book in which it was collected. We must all confront our Goliaths.

But I want to talk about another great hero who killed a huge opponent–one whose story was ancient even to the people who wrote the Old Testament: the Mesopotamian proto-hero Gilgamesh. Like David (and nearly every other hero in the Ancient or Modern world), Gilgamesh makes a name for himself by killing a big thing–the semi-divine Humbaba, whose name even means “hugeness.” [Read more…]

From the Archive: Epiphany

We celebrated “Little Christmas” in my house growing up (mostly as the day to take down the Christmas tree), but it was only vaguely connected with the arrival of the magi in my understanding until much later. In college, I sang for the morning prayer service, a wonderfully awkward mashup of Harvard pomp and attempts at Christian humility. It was there that I first heard this memorable passage from Evelyn Waugh’s forgettable and forgotten novel Helena. In a passage near the end of the book, the titular Helena, sainted (literally!) mother of the emperor Constantine, has made a pilgrimage to Bethlehem in search of the vera crux. At the Feast of Epiphany, she muses on the Wise Men’s belated arrival to worship the infant Christ. This prayer has become the beloved ending of my personal observance of Christmas. [Read more…]

The blue jacket

There’s a blue jacket hanging in our entryway closet. I’ve owned it for twenty-one years. I’ve worn it maybe twice. It’s neither attractive or ugly and it would fit me well enough. But I don’t wear it, and I’m not sure when (or if) I ever will again.

I’m not going to get rid of it. Not yet, anyway, even though it’s a source of emotional pain. If I spend more than a second thinking about that jacket I start to feel a pointed grief begin to collect right down in my actual guts, pressure rising, until I slam the lid shut.  [Read more…]

Church Governance: Guidance and Gaps in the Monson Era

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M.C. Escher’s meditation on presence, absence, and negative space.

It is difficult to know how to write a remembrance of a leader whose tenure was marked much more by absence than by any clearly identifiable action or agenda. In their eulogy, NPR called Monson “The Private Prophet.” The Salt Lake Tribune writes that “[t]he Mormon president remained silent [as] the…battles raged on.” [Read more…]

A look back at the Monson decade

thomas-s-monson-mormonHow do you take the measure of a prophet? Is it by the prophecies he delivers? By his leadership in building the kingdom? The way he exemplifies Christ and treats those around him? Is such an exercise even appropriate, or does faith require us to assume that every prophet is a successful prophet?

Thomas S. Monson gave his life to church service and to the Lord in a way that very few have been asked to. In his public addresses, he was more a poet than a theologian, but I also think of him as the world’s foremost hometeacher—the funny old guy who can wiggle his ears, tell a good yarn, share a brief message that leaves the family feeling good, and help out during times of trouble. And he was more than that, of course—he could be audacious, organized, charismatic, private.

Above all, I think he’ll be remembered for caring about people, and he implemented that compassion and Christ-like charity as the fourth mission of the church: Care for the poor and needy.

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President Monson Funeral Arrangements

The Church has announced that President Monson’s funeral will be held Friday January 12, at noon (12 p.m.) Mountain Standard Time in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City.

The funeral will be broadcast on BYUTV and streamed on LDS.org (among other locations).

The Church is inviting us to share memories on President Monson’s Facebook page, as well as make remembrance donations to the Humanitarian and Missionary funds.

Call for Applicants—2018 Summer Seminar on Mormon Culture

Scholars and Students–Want to hang out with me and Terryl Givens for six weeks and talk about Mormonism and Science? Join us for this!

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Memories of President Monson

President Monson has died.  I hope he and his dear wife, Frances Monson (d. 2013), are celebrating a joyful reunion this morning.

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Photo courtesy of LDS.org

Our dear prophet spent more than 60 years of his life devoted to the Church, serving as a Bishop in his 20s, a Mission President in his 30s, and then as an apostle since the age of 36.  He strived to follow Christ, preaching the gospel through his words and actions.  He proclaimed peace, cared for the widows, and loved the children. [Read more…]

Moses 1: A God’s-Eye View of the World #BCCSundaySchool2018

First a few items of business. Well, one item of business anyway: BCC will be blogging about the Old Testament this year. Big time. We’ve divided the world between us, and we will be following along with the Gospel Doctrine schedule, once a week, all year. Our goal is to give you the same profound, faith-driven inquiry that BCC is famous for on a schedule that can enrich your personal study and gospel doctrine discussions. [Read more…]

Family: Isn’t it about…time?

Like wage laborers all over the world, I spent most of my waking hours with other people’s kids. I try to compensate by spending “quality” time with my own when I’m at home by setting aside cares and electronic devices and playing, reading and making music, for example. I like to think this engaged approach makes a difference, though of course it’s difficult to measure the overall impact. Actually, that’s not quite true. In one area in particular—language acquisition—the impact has been quite clear: quality is no substitute for quantity.  [Read more…]

Holy Innocents: Grief

Today, as we remember Herod’s slaughter of the innocents, I want to think for a few minutes about grief and grieving. Will you sit with me?

This year has been hard enough that no litany is necessary—or, rather, no litany seems adequate. (Except maybe this one.) But the litany isn’t my point: I’m wrestling with how to live amidst the waves of shock and pain that just keep rolling in.

As I’ve thought on this, and felt with it, a grieving practice seems the only way. [Read more…]

The Three Opposites of Friendship

 

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

—Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address

“Affection shall solve every one of the problems of freedom.”

—Walt Whitman, “Calamus”

If you want to see American democracy through the eyes of a cultivated foreigner, drop everything you are doing and read Democracy in America. But if you want to see it through the eyes of a young child on Christmas morning, read Walt Whitman. In Whitman’s eyes, America never lost its new-country smell, and democracy was always full of possibility and wonder. [Read more…]

The redemptive power of Leia’s love for Luke [#TheLastJedi SPOILERS]

YourMyOnlyHopeThis post contains spoilers for The Last Jedi, starting right in the first sentence below the fold. You’ve been warned.

One thing I haven’t seen talked enough about is the redemptive power of Leia’s love for Luke.

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“Here is the rest we seek…”

“Who knocks tonight so late?”
the weary porter said.
Three kings stood at the gate,
each with a crown on head.

The serving man bowed down,
the Inn was full, he knew.
Said he, “In all this town
is no fit place for you.”

A light in the manger lit;
there lay the Mother meek.
This place is fit.
Here is the rest we seek.

Come, come. They loosed their latchet strings,
so stood they all unshod.
“Come in, come in, ye kings,
and kiss the feet of God.”

–Laurence Housman

I’m not sure if it is just because I’m getting older, or if it has been an especially bad year for my friends. But for whatever reason, or perhaps for no reasons at all, many of my dear ones are bearing hard, heavy burdens this Christmastime. It hasn’t been an easy year for me, either. I am tempted to despair.
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The Slaughter of the Innocents

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16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.

17 Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying,

18 In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.

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Going to Church on Christmas

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The local parish church with trees reaching toward heaven

You know how Mormons joke about Catholics who only go to church on Christmas and Easter? Well, as a Mormon, I didn’t start going to church on Christmas (well, barring the occasional Christmas that landed on a Sunday, in which case we would reluctantly attend the thankfully attenuated services) until I married into a family from an alpine village of some 3000 souls where the Catholic church is the only game in town and pretty much everyone goes. And I have to say, I kind of like it.  [Read more…]

Advent IV: Love

This Advent season, I’ve admittedly had a hard time feeling much hope or peace or joy. Political events are such that “depressing” has long since ceased to be an adequate word, this semester I’ve been overwhelmingly busy with everything except the projects that matter most to me, church has been hard rather than nourishing, and I could go on. All through the season I’ve had these words running through my mind:

Then in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on Earth,” I said,
“for hate is strong and mocks the song
of peace on Earth, goodwill to men.”

Yet in all of this I’ve felt that love, improbably, would find a way. [Read more…]

We’re Walking in the Air

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The first time I ever watched The Snowman, an animated version of Raymond Briggs’ picture book with no words, it was on a laserdisc at school and I’m fairly certain we watched it during recess on a day when it was determined too cold to play outside. I was maybe 8 or 9 years old, an age when I still believed in Santa in spite of my suspicions that he was perhaps a lie after all. The Snowman haunted me that day we watched it at school, because in spite of depicting the very kinds of magic I indulged in as a kid, it also hinted at the inevitable disillusionment that lay ahead of me. [Read more…]

An Entirely Too In-Depth Review of a Vintage MoTab Christmas Album: “This is Christmas”

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This album is the best of times (category, Christmas music) and also somehow the worst of times.  It is beautiful, soaring, heart-breaking, and bonkers.  I love it.  I have loved it for over 20 years.  It is the soundtrack to my season.  It is also now available as a Mormon Tabernacle Choir “Legacy Series” on itunes for $9.99.  So, you too can now bliss out to vintage MoTab greatness.

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Legally vs. Lawfully Married: No Distinction, No Difference

That Mormons attach great importance to (the right kind of) marriage is no secret, so the last thing that surprises me as a life-long Mormon are the efforts—at both the individual and institutional levels—to buttress this beloved and divine institution. In fact, I expect to hear regular references to the Family Proclamation as a relevant, even inspired document for our times and for temple marriage to be underlined at every opportunity as a goal for which all should strive to be worthy. And when leaders and laypeople alike promote the vital importance of marriage and their vision of the kind of eternal relationships temple marriage can help forge, I think to myself: “Indeed. This is the church I know and love.”

Yet as someone who over a decade ago chose to marry someone of another denomination and remain an active Mormon, I would like to gently suggest that attempts to promote eternal marriage relationships by delegitimizing all but temple marriages are an unproductive undertaking at best.  [Read more…]

Sealing Primer

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Recently, I was talking with a young friend about her upcoming temple sealing. She is planning her own wedding next year, and found herself with questions. Her own Endowment left her feeling unprepared and nervous, which I suspect is more common than we generally admit. Sometimes we imagine comfort in saying “It’s so wonderful!” or “It will be the most beautiful day of your life.” Maybe this is reassuring for some people, but for me, when undertaking something as serious as promises with God, I need to know more.

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Advent 2017: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

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Hornell Branch Meetinghouse, December 17, 2017

This post is based on a talk I gave in Sacrament Meeting in the Hornell, New York Branch on December 17, 2017.

This year, as we prepare for Christmas, I’ve been especially impressed by a line in Peter’s first letter to the church. Peter says this: “[B]e clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). [Read more…]