Lesson 10: “This Is My Voice unto All” #DandC2017

All right. This is a really fun one. The primary text is the revelation to Emma Smith calling her an “Elect Lady.” Let’s dig in.
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Review: At the Pulpit

A proposition: As women have composed the majority of church members, we cannot comprehend the church without accounting for the voices and experiences of women.
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Emergency Sub

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I’m sitting in GD class and within the first few minutes I get pulled out by a counselor in the bishopric. One of the youth SS teachers hadn’t shown up, and since I’m a counselor in the SS presidency I’m an emergency sub. This was a class of mostly 13 year olds, with a few 14 year olds. I think one was in early morning seminary, but most were eighth graders and not yet in seminary. [Read more…]

Church History Library Remodel: Finished.

An announcement from our friends at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City. The library has been closed to the public for 4 months while the main floor underwent important architectural-functional changes. The new facility promises to be helpful to scholars and interested Church members alike.
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Lesson 9: The Only True & Living Church #DandC2017

The revelation later designated D&C section 21, as seen in the book of revelations kept by Joseph Smith et al.

On Tuesday, April 6th, 1830, in a small log cabin belonging to Peter Whitmer Sr, Joseph Smith Jr and five other men* organized the Church—a little more than 50 men and women, total, were in attendance.

Joseph later recorded:

“Having opened the meeting by solemn prayer to our Heavenly Father, we proceeded, according to previous commandment, to call on our brethren to know whether they accepted us as their teachers in the things of the Kingdom of God, and whether they were satisfied that we should proceed and be organized as a Church according to said commandment which we had received. To these several propositions they consented by a unanimous vote.”

History of the Church 1:78

It was a momentous occasion. Not only for the Kingdom of God on Earth… but for 24 year old Joseph Smith. It was both the culmination of the work of his life to-date and the start of a work that would only end in his death, a mere 14 years later. That same day, Joseph would look on as his father—a stubbornly areligious man—was baptized nearby.

During the meeting, Joseph received a revelation that would become D&C Section 21, where the Lord calls Joseph a prophet, seer, translator, apostle of Jesus Christ, and an Elder of the Church.

Sidney Rigdon remembered the events of that day, saying:

“I met the whole church of Christ in a little old log house about 20 feet square, near Waterloo, N.Y. and we began to talk about the kingdom of God as if we had the world at our command; we talked with great confidence, … although we were not many people; … we saw by vision, the church of God, a thousand times larger; … the world being entirely ignorant of the testimony of the prophets and without knowledge of what God was about to do.”

Times & Seasons,1 May 1844, 522–23

Today, 187 years—and literally millions of baptisms later—that little Church continues… Sometimes thriving, sometimes struggling, sometimes faced with utter destruction.

In the study guide for Lesson 9, students are asked:

How might your life be different if the Church had not been restored or if you were not a member of the Church?

As I think over my life and think of those who influenced me—my mom, a lapsed conservative Lutheran; my classmates, many of whom were deeply religious—I can’t help but think that I would have most likely joined the Catholic church, by way of dalliances with various evangelical movements. 

As I came to understand my orientation, but without the spiritual courage afforded me by my Mormon faith, I would have likely drifted from the faith or taken my own life, convinced of my worthlessness in the eyes of God.

It’s a sobering thought.

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Repaired with Gold: On Perfection & the Atonement

Tinesha Zandamela is a BYU student double majoring in Sociology and French, with plans to go to law school. She has worked as a director of a nonprofit in Utah. Tinesha published a book about her experiences as a biracial Mormon woman that is available on Amazon Kindle.

In a recent BYU devotional by Sister Cassy Budd, she discusses kintsugi and how it relates to the Atonement and our mistakes.

Kintsugi is a Japanese art. Its purpose: repair broken pottery with laquer mixed with beautiful metals, such as silver or gold. The breakage is seen as a part of the history of an object, an event during the object’s existence. It embraces the flawed nature of the object. The process of kintsugi was used in Sister Budd’s talk to describe us as humans—our mistakes and flaws can be fixed to create something even more beautiful and that is what the Atonement was all about. [Read more…]

Enoch and the Silmarillion Part 1: Context and Structure of the Tale of Enoch.

I’d like to do a series of posts on the tale of Enoch as it is found in the Pearl of Great Price. There is a lot of interesting stuff in there, and I’ll probably take note of a few interesting tangents along the way, but where I’m ultimately going with this is that I want to make a comparison between the weeping God of Enoch’s vision, and Nienna, the weeping goddess of Tolkien’s fictional epic, the Silmarillion, and see what insights I can draw out of such a comparison.

But first, I want to put the text of Enoch’s vision in its context as a part of Joseph Smith’s biblical revision project. None of what I write below is groundbreaking, but I think it helps to summarize it before getting into the text. [Read more…]

Time Travel: Christian Identity Loss

perros-2I recently returned from a trip back to the Canary Islands, where I served my mission over 27 years ago. I’ve been back a couple times before, but this was my first time back to the island of Gran Canaria where the mission home was, where I spent my first day, and where I spent about half my mission. As we went to various places in Las Palmas, I kept having flashbacks to the emotions I felt on my first day as a missionary as well as on subsequent pivotal occasions. It was weird.

When I started my mission, I had some strange ideas about the need to slough off my identity, to leave behind the identifiable parts of myself in favor of a new, bland, passive Christian identity that was really no identity at all. I had the idea that I was entering a monastic order, similar to an abbey. I envisioned myself as a sort of Mormon nun, having transcended or at least forsaken my own interests and personality and ready to just be an empty vessel for the word of God, a conduit for a will other than my own. There was no room for defensiveness or for my need to be understood or known. Being misunderstood by others gave me a chance to let go of my identity, to kill the natural (wo)man.

Obviously this lasted about 5 minutes.[1]  [Read more…]

Canon as Context: Insights from the Bible Wars

“By taking seriously the canon, one confesses along with the church to the unique function that these writings have had in its life and faith as Sacred Scriptures. Then each new generation of interpreters seeks to be faithful in searching these Scriptures for renewed illumination. . . . Ultimately, to stand within the tradition of the church is a stance not made in the spirit of dogmatic restriction of the revelation of God, but in joyful wonder and even surprise as the Scripture becomes the bread of life for another generation.”–Brevard Childs, Biblical Theology in Crisis

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Call for Papers: 1835-1839

From the good folks at the Joseph Smith Papers Project:

In 2017, the Joseph Smith Papers Project will release volumes five and six of the Documents Series, covering major events from the life of Joseph Smith during the years 1835-1839. To celebrate the publication of these volumes, the project invites paper proposals for a conference to be held on October 20, 2017 at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City. While paper proposals need not specifically be about Joseph Smith, they should draw from the corpus of his surviving documents from 1835-1839. We encourage proposals that explore the broad themes covered in these volumes, including missionaries; the role of women and gender in religious communities; religious gathering; communitarian land purchasing strategies and urban planning; frontier violence; religion and the law; and religious dissent. [Read more…]

The Restoration

I delivered something similar to this to my ward a couple of weeks ago.

Some years ago I took [my son] with me while working in upstate New York. We visited Seneca Falls, Fayette, and Palmyra. I was delighted that some of the history nerdiness that saturates our household had permeated him as demonstrated by his cheerful responses to the missionaries and his piercing questions. I keep my favorite memory of those days from the Grandin printing office. After walking through the exhibits demonstrating the publication methods of the Book of Mormon, the missionaries directed us to a hanging copy of “Moroni’s Promise.” One sister earnestly explained it to [my son] and asked if he had ever followed its exhortation. “No,” he responded, and the missionary’s eyes flashed with the opportunity. “I don’t need to.” And I leaned over and whispered that I didn’t either. I was grateful at that moment that my son had learned that there is more than one story associated with that scripture.
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Witnesses of God

Adapted from a talk I gave recently:

In his talk last conference, Elder Anderson encouraged us to stop feeling guilty about our lack of past success in member missionary work and to instead seek to be motivated by a desire to stand as a witness of God, quoting from Alma’s famous baptismal sermon at the waters of Mormon.

As I read Elder Anderson’s talk, I wonder what is the difference between how we normally approach missionary work and the approach he asks us to take? How is standing as a witness of God different from what we normally do (and that makes us feel guilty)? [Read more…]

JS and the Fate of the Unevangelized

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If salvation comes through Jesus Christ, what happens to the billions of human beings who have lived on earth without a reasonable introduction to the Savior and his Gospel? There is an array of different theories on this question, which have been ably summarized in John Sanders, “Those Who Have Never Heard: A Survey of the Major Positions,” in Salvation in Christ: Comparative Christian Views, ed. Roger R. Keller and Robert L. Millet (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2005), 299–325 (link here). Those who are interested in this topic should read the entire article. [Read more…]

Reading the Book of Mormon in the Anthropocene: 1 Nephi 2:15, Part I

1 Nephi 2:15

And my father dwelt in a tent.

What does it mean he dwelt in a tent? I’ve never dwelt in a tent. I’ve stayed in tents many times while camping and once, while in the Army, I lived in a tent on the parade grounds of an Army base for six months while our barracks in Schweinfurt, Germany was being repaired. But ‘dwelt’ seems to carry more heft, more significance, than does ‘staying’ or ‘living’ in one. [Read more…]

On Hypocrisy: A Dialogue with Myself

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large — I contain multitudes.”—Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

 

 Me: Trump is a fascist. We have to do stuff

Other Me: Oh please. Listen to yourself. Remember when Bush was a fascist? Cheney? It’s not an alternate spelling for “Republican,” you know? Weren’t you the guy who said, “democracy means that approximately half of the time everybody is going to be governed by people that they really, really don’t like.” Of course, that was when Obama was president and you were telling people to get over it.

Me: But this time is different. He really is a fascist. Muslim bans? “My authority will not be questioned”? I mean, we’re one step away from sieg heiling when he walks in. [Read more…]

CFP: Book of Mormon Studies

Book of Mormon Studies: Toward a Conversation
 
Academic study of the Book of Mormon has never been more promising than at present. Royal Skousen’s work on producing a critical text is nearing completion, and the Joseph Smith Papers Project is making the manuscripts of the Book of Mormon widely available. Terryl Givens and Paul Gutjahr’s work has provided a basic outline on the reception history of the book. Brant Gardner has provided students of the Book of Mormon with a richly sourced and substantive commentary. Grant Hardy has introduced the content and the depth of the Book of Mormon into the larger academic world, and scholars associated with Community of Christ have recently made a case for renewed interest in the volume. The Journal of Book of Mormon Studies has begun to provide a space where various kinds of serious research on the book can be published. Book of Mormon Central has laid the foundation for a comprehensive archive of previous scholarly work. The Mormon Theology Seminar has begun assembling a body of close theological readings of specific texts. And promisingly, non-Mormon academic presses and journals have begun to publish important work on the Book of Mormon.

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The Elephant in the Bed: A Canadian Mormon Looks at Trump

Jennifer Quist is an award-winning novelist as well as an essayist and a youth Sunday school teacher (which is its own reward). She has five sons but studies comparative literature at the University of Alberta anyway, and her Chinese is terrible.

I was worried about my boy. He left our home and our country as the youngest missionary in my family’s sixty-years history with the Church to go to a foreign nation. It’s a place with an unstable government led by an authoritarian madman elected by a mob that sees themselves as beset by outsiders and their leader as justified in violating international treaties, denying residents’ rights, taunting foreign governments, and doing nothing as the sick poor suffer and die. My missionary wrote home about culture shock, glossing over it in his mass emails, telling me “no, but really” in our private letters. What could I do but remind him to thank God for his Canadian passport? Then six weeks into his mission, his time at the Provo Missionary Training Center was over and he could move on, leave the surreality of Donald Trump’s post-truth America, to serve his mission in countries we’re more comfortable with right now: Romania and Moldova.

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Lesson 8: The Restoration of the Priesthood #DandC2017

The restoration of the priesthood can be somewhat difficult to approach because there have been so many layers of re-reading. For example, we often say that John the Baptist restored the Aaronic Priesthood and later Peter, James, and John restored the Melchizedek Priesthood. The thing is, those terms and their meanings didn’t exist for another five or six years after the events occurred.
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Preaching in the Provinces: Lorenzo Barnes and Early Mormon Missions

Lorenzo Barnes (1812-1842)—early Mormon convert and perennial missionary—left some record of his preaching efforts in two small journals. Barnes was schooled in early Mormon ideas and mission work, and his methods probably mirrored what many lay-minister Mormons did to spread the word. I’ve been thinking more about Barnes lately and I’ve written a bit about him in something that appears in the most recent issue of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (though that piece is altogether different from this blog entry). Barnes ends out with a chapter in the sermon book (Every Word Seasoned with Grace: A Textual Study of the Funeral Sermons of Joseph Smith) since Joseph Smith preached a sermon in honor of Barnes in April 1843—Barnes died in mission service (December 1842, Idle, England). Here I’m just going to quote from one of Barnes’s journals about his 1835 preaching travels Barnes was in the Camp of Israel — Zion’s Camp — and subsequently was called as one of the original Seventy whose special duty was mission work. Spelling and punctuation as in the original.
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Risky Religion, or, The Terrors of Love

Keep the commandments; in this there is safety and peace.
—Barbara A. McConochie, Hymn 303

The world’s a tumultuous place, no doubt about it: roiling with uncertainty. No wonder, then, that we seek safety. Mormonism has a strong discursive bent toward treating the gospel as the means to safety in a perilous world. Get on board the Old Ship Zion, we say, and you’ll weather the storm. The watchmen on the tower will warn of impending danger, and, if we heed their precautions, we can sleep soundly at night.

On the cosmic level, I believe that this is right, and in some more proximate ways as well: trying to steer clear of sin is probably a good idea. Even so, I think that the safety the gospel affords turns out to be more painfully paradoxical than we usually like to let on.

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Kingdom Come

Adapted from a talk I gave recently.

“Thy kingdom come.” Let there come the full establishment of thy realm. This is the first thing Jesus teaches us to pray about after addressing God and honoring God’s name. There’s a Jewish saying used in the yeshivas, “a prayer where there is no mention of the Kingdom of God is not a prayer.”

Jesus puts it up front and center. Zion is not just something to pray for, it is the first thing to pray for. It is both a wish – because the arrival of God’s kingdom means rest and paradise – and a pledge of allegiance, submission to God as the real commander in chief. Whatever authorities and governments we have over us now, Jesus seems to ask us to look to God and say, “thy kingdom come.” [Read more…]

Letter to a Young Jihadist

About ten years ago, I led a group of students on an art-viewing tour through Morocco. On the last day of the trip, I went to the marketplace in Marrakesh, where I found a beautiful, hand-crafted writing journal with only the first few pages written on in a beautiful Arabic script. I was still unclear about the currency, so I ended up paying more than a hundred dollars for it, which, my guide later told me, was ridiculous. But I was satisfied because it was beautiful, and it has been on our mantle ever since.

A week or so ago, Dr. Sid Hamete Benengeli, my colleague from the university, came to dinner. He was immediately taken with the journal, and he opened it up and said, “why do you have a book called “Letter to a Young Jihadist” on your mantel? I was shocked. I had no idea what was written in the journal, but I figured it was pretty ordinary. That night, Dr. Benengeli translated the whole text, which turns out to have been a letter from an uncle to his infant nephew. I am reproducing it here because of the potential interest in the topic and the author, though I have no way of knowing if it is a genuine letter or just the doodling of an idle child. 

September 10, 2001

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What If the Church Didn’t Remain Politically Neutral?

On Sunday, Carolyn Homer wrote a thoughtful post about why, even if Donald Trump manages to “totally destroy” the so-called Johnson Amendment, the church shouldn’t start publicly endorsing or opposing candidates for office. On almost every level, she is certainly right: anything else opens the door to real discomfort and mischief.

And yet, I want to propose that, if Trump succeeds, the church (or, rather, members of the Quorum of the Twelve) should start endorsing candidates.

Stay with me—this isn’t any kind of modest proposal, and I’m being completely serious. But my proposal requires some explanation and significant caveats. [Read more…]

Lesson 7: “The First Principles and Ordinances of the Gospel” #DandC2017

We believe that through the atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel. We believe that these ordinances are 1st, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; 2d, Repentance; 3d, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; 4th, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

– Joseph Smith, the Wentworth Letter, 1842

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On Getting New Garments

garments

So I’ve needed to buy some new garments. For, like, a long, long time. But I had been putting it off. Being a participant in the Bloggernacle had sort of freaked me out, because of all the conversations (dominated by women) about how horrible the fit is and all the money they’ve wasted on ill-fitting, uncomfortable garments. And I have to admit, all that talk worried me. But I finally screwed up my courage and decided I was gonna do it. [Read more…]

The Church Should Remain Politically Neutral

Today’s guest post is from Carolyn Homer. Carolyn Homer is an attorney and religion constitutional law enthusiast in Washington, D.C.

The silence is eerie.

Ever since Donald Trump became a serious presidential contender, Sunday meetings (at least in my wards) have been free of passing references to politics and thinly-veiled endorsements of the Republican platform. Instead there’s been a renewed focus on love, Christ, repentance, and refugees.

I love it. And I hope it stays that way. [Read more…]

Receiving Grace: Mozart’s Great Mass

51nbxoelzl-_ss500Becoming familiar with Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor (K.427) is a good way to both deepen one’s appreciation for WAM, especially his church music, but also to find a way into understanding the rich and ancient eucharistic liturgy of the western church. The Great Mass, composed in 1782/3, is unfinished* but the missing parts are often added for modern performances and recordings.

In the Great Mass we proceed in stages through music until we receive the grace of God in the Eucharist.

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Some Thoughts on National Security–Introduction

On, March 3, 2016, notable scholars and practitioners in the national security field (many of them republicans who had served in former administrations) released a foreign policy-based letter opposing the candidacy of Donald Trump.[1]  While it made headlines for a day or two, the move—which would have been game-changing in any previous “normal” election season—scarcely made waves in the tumultuous campaign season.  Privately, many of my friends who work in the field of foreign affairs were baffled.  Why aren’t people paying attention to this?  This was the wonkish equivalent of an 85 yard hail mary in the last seconds of the Super Bowl.  [Read more…]

Book Review: William Mackinnon’s Utah War

William P. MacKinnon, At Sword’s Point, Part II: A Documentary History of the Utah War, 1858-1859 (Arthur Clark, 2016). 

16521725_10103176001684139_1837689960_nFor such a small chronological scope, William MacKinnon’s documentary history of the Utah War covers a lot of ground. Though the armed confrontation in 1857-1858 was theoretically isolated to the Rocky Mountains, its tentacles touched far and wide. Soldiers were sent as far south as New Mexico to purchase supplies. Facing the threat of another Mormon relocation, the British government set to fortify their Pacific lands. Fearing an invasion, the Russian Tsar sought to sell the territory of Alaska. California appeared as both a boundary and a revolving door for either side of the conflict. And at the center of it all was American President James Buchanan, Mormon Prophet Brigham Young, and the very stakes of federal sovereignty in a country ready to go to war. This was no small, insignificant, nor parochial skirmish.  [Read more…]

On not correcting mistakes

I don’t think I believe in bibliomancy but when I randomly opened my Essential Dogen today, I opened to a teaching that spoke directly to a problem I have been mulling over for a while now, viz., how one should, in this new world of fake news, best respond to misinformation and its amplification via social media. I would like to know what the BCC community thinks:

Even when you are clearly correct and others are mistaken, it is harmful to argue and defeat them. On the other hand, if you admit fault when you are right, you are a coward. It is best to step back, neither trying to correct others nor conceding to mistaken views. If you don’t act competitively, and let go of the conflict, others will also let go of it without harboring ill will.

My whole soul rebels against this. If you are clearly wrong, and if the wrongness matters, I have this overwhelming urge to correct you. The thing is it generally seems to be a futile exercise and has this unwelcome outcome of tieing knots in my own wellbeing. Maybe Dogen is right . . . ? (#zen)