How would Jesus play board games?

I love board games.  I have for my entire life.  The more strategic, the better.  I’m not sure whether it’s because my family and friends consist of nerds, boring adults in their 30s, or Mormons, but they all play along with my obsession.

(Pictured: my game shelves as of 2 months ago.  They’ve grown since then.)

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Death by (Correlation) Committee

Image result for primary teacher ldsA topic that often comes up in online discussion groups among Mormons is the teaching manuals. As most of us know, these are written by a committee called the Curriculum Committee (under the oversight of the Correlation Committee). [3] “Correlation” was a byproduct of decades-long efforts to standardize materials, culminating in the 1960s, a huge effort to amass all leadership, budgets, publications, and teaching materials under one hierarchical, priesthood-overseen umbrella rather than separate auxilliary heads as it had been in the past. (See footnote 3 for a much more thorough explanation of the history.) This was to quash rogue teaching that might occur when these things were being done under separate oversight. As with anything where uniformity is the goal, blandness and groupthink is often the result (whereas rogue teaching, inequity, and folklore is often the result of the other approach). Because teachers in the church are average church members using these manuals to the best of their ability, lesson quality varies greatly. Additionally, everyone who has held a teaching calling (and that’s most active members) has an opinion on the materials they are provided and how effective they are.

You can listen to a podcast describing the curriculum process here. Just reading the overview of it on that same page is very interesting. You can read the transcript of an interview with Dan Peterson about his time on the Curriculum Writing committee here.
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A helpful guide to understanding the source of inspiration

As we all know, true revelation comes to both the heart and mind and teaches of Christ. And yet, our ability to rationalize frequently renders us incapable or unwilling to discern such revelation. On occasion, people ask how to know the difference between divine revelation or inspiration and the wayward desires of our own heart. It is no easy task. Or, at least, it wasn’t prior to today. [Read more…]

Zion and the State

Like many Americans, I traveled last weekend. It wasn’t a horrible trip—about six hundred miles each way, all but about three blocks of it on big four- and six-lane highways. It was around 18 hours of driving and two and a half days of visiting friends and family. It was a good trip, and I will probably do it again. Family is important.

I can only do this, of course, because the federal government spent 35 years and hundreds of billions of dollars to create the most extensive and impressive engineering project of the 20th century: the US Interstate Highway System. Most of us take this system for granted these days, but there was plenty of opposition to it in 1956. Without the strong endorsement of a popular president—Dwight Eisenhower, who saw it as a national defense imperative—it would likely have never received the funding required to make it happen.

This is pretty much how democracy is supposed to work. The Founders gave us a Constitution designed to make it possible for us to have the society we want—as long as enough of us want it for a long enough period of time. Limits on taxation and spending are, and were designed to be political, not structural. Read Federalist 30-35. It’s all there. [Read more…]

Wednesday Night: BCC Press Book Event

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Hey folks! Happy 4th! If you’re looking for something fun to do tomorrow night, July 5th, join us at Writ & Vision in beautiful downtown Provo for a release party for the new BCC Press memoir, The Burning Point. We’d love to see you, and we’ll have cookies!

“Beautifully Covered”: What it’s Like to Live in a Country with Socialized Health Care

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Vienna General Hospital in 1784 (source)

While the Grand Old Party kicks the can down the road—and seemingly ever farther from the then President-elect’s promise of “insurance for everybody“—amid turmoil about how much health care to strip from relatively many Americans to pay for a tax break for relatively few Americans, I figured there would be no better way to honor the 4th of July than to celebrate the freedom of living in a country where no political party opposes the goal of universal health care.

That probably sounds obnoxious on this tender occasion, but I’m actually not trying to gloat. Instead, I offer the following in the spirit of expanding horizons and to provide food for thought for what I hope will be a continuing and constructive debate about health care reform in the United States. I should also note that my experience hardly makes me a policy expert, and I don’t have the foggiest idea about what would and wouldn’t work given the lay of the land in the US. That will be for you to decide! [Read more…]

Failure and God’s Love

“All religions start with the cry, help.” I’ve looked for the original source of this quote since I heard it on a podcast and can’t locate it, but regardless, it is a line that spoke to me this week.

Today after I’d dropped my two older children at preschool for the afternoon and my six-week old baby slept in the back of the car, I said aloud the word, “help.” Nothing in particular was or is wrong, in fact, most is right, most is perfectly right, but I was overwhelmed, tired, full of doubt about my own abilities. I’ve learned to validate the difficulties that accompany parenthood, particularly motherhood, because for far too long I glossed over them as if they weren’t real (a topic for another post). My “cry” today was one of deep humility stemmed from my own insufficiencies, “please help,” spoken aloud and with a hope that someone might be listening.  That “cry” often seems to be the beginning of something useful in my life.one019 [Read more…]

Your Sunday Brunch Special. Time.

Sitting in an upstairs room.
It is still winter as I write this, and dawn takes her time. Everyone else is asleep, wandering in dreams where I’m the blind observer.

I’ve been thinking about my parents lately. Both have been gone more than a decade. My memories of them are fragmented and naturally limited by the way most of us store such things. I’ve been wondering about their thoughts, something I’ll never be able to access, but nevertheless still wondering. How did they experience their own memories? Looking into their lives lately, I’ve realized that most of their experience was hidden from me. It differed greatly from the seeming uniformity that I watched as a teen and young adult. Oh sure, I had a glimpse now and then. But it quickly submerged below the surface of present attitudes and behavior.
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Love Song of the Dandelion Mama

 

 

I was poor. I was divorced. I was a single mother. I was a welfare mother. I was heading back to college in my thirties. I was learning to love and accept myself for the first time. I was helping my children heal and grow after the trauma of losing their father. Everything I had feared, every stigma I had hoped to avoid, had become part of my life. In the prevailing narrative distilled down, my ex-husband was a drug addict, and I was an uneducated single mother on welfare.

So what? What are you going to do about it?

I’m going to reject the pre-written script and write my own story from here on out. All of it. I’m going to own it —The Burning Point, p. 168

By Common Consent Press is proud to announce the publication of our second book, Tracy McKay’s long-awaited memoir, The Burning Point: A Memoir of Addiction, Destruction, Love, Parenting, Survival, and Hope. The book is now available on Amazon and our online store—and the Kindle version will become available at midnight tonight (though it can be pre-ordered at any time). One way or another, you need to read this. It is the sort of book that changes lives. [Read more…]

Naming the Dead

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The site of the Ebensee concentration camp today

Several weeks ago I visited the site of the Ebensee concentration camp, part of the network of forced labor camps managed from the more notorious Mauthausen camp. In less than two years of operation, which ended when American troops liberated the camp, 8,412 known inmates were murdered or died in the course of digging tunnels into the nearby mountains to shield armaments production from Allied bombing.

Today little remains of the site. Walking through what has become a leafy neighborhood of single family dwellings nestled peacefully in a scenic alpine valley on a sunny morning, it’s hard to imagine the suffering the camp’s inmates once experienced—the present feels far from the past, even when standing upon the very place where the bones of those who perished rest—if one can say such a thing about the remains of the victims of such gross injustice. In fact, it would be easy to imagine that nothing out of the ordinary had ever happened here at all. But for those who venture off the beaten path and follow the signs to a parking lot that might fit ten vehicles in a pinch, a memorial reminds us that something did. [Read more…]

Transfers

Mormon mission life has its own unique culture and a part of that culture is the “transfer.” Transfers happen for a variety of reasons, redistribution of man-woman power, training procedures, covering for departing missionaries, social issues between missionaries and/or members, etc. Transfers are sometimes fraught for various reasons but usually they don’t mean anything in particular beyond the mundane. But sometimes, they are unusual.
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Sunday Sermon: The Spirit Abides

d5651f961e6f3c93b4292c0cf150e715I gave this talk today in my ward in the D.C. Metro area.

When I joined the church in 2002, I came into this faith backwards. I was raised in a gently agnostic home by good parents in a melting pot of the west—San Francisco. Yes, you can be agnostic and value home life, children, your community, and country. My parents did a fine job raising conscientious, moral children—while they may not have believed, they tried to allow room in the margins of our lives for their children to discover their own beliefs.

When I approached the missionaries I was already a wife and mother, and had been church shopping for quite some time. I had visited dozens of churches of different denominations, some Christian, others not. When I found the missionaries and asked to be baptized (yes, I am that person) as a Mormon, I wasn’t even sure I believed in Jesus, but I had received a searingly powerful witness that God was real—that was it. That was all I had. That witness was my mustard seed, holding the tiny bits of faith I had collected over my lifetime. [Read more…]

What if they had a ward activity and nobody came?

On the last Sunday in April, one of the counselors in the bishopric asked to meet with both Brother J and me. Whatever could this be about, we wondered—for about three seconds before my husband figured out that it must be about the upcoming Fourth of July Breakfast.

“No,” I said. “NO.”

“But this could be our chance to restore it to its former glory,” my husband said.

“NO.”

As long as we’ve lived here—which I guess is thirteen years now—our ward has provided breakfast for the neighborhood’s annual Fourth of July celebration, which also includes a parade and a modest carnival with bouncy houses, snow cones, a dunking booth, a clown, etc. In the beginning, the ward provided a full breakfast, complete with pancakes, bacon, and eggs in addition to fruit and beverages. As attendance grew (much) higher, we had to jettison the bacon and eggs and just serve pancakes, fruit, and beverages. Then the parks and rec district stopped providing us with tables, so we replaced the pancakes with muffins, bagels, and donuts, making it a “grab-and-go” breakfast. Obviously, the baked goods were much more expensive than pancakes, but what else could they do without tables? But every year I think to myself, “Why the hell am I getting up this early for half a muffin and a Dixie cup of fruit?” Well, why the hell does anyone? But everyone does. Last year, I think, we served this paltry breakfast to 1,200 people. Or maybe it was 1,300. I don’t really remember, just that the number was astonishing. Because seriously, why the hell? [Read more…]

Reading Thucydides at 40,000 Feet

Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question, inaptness to act on any. Frantic violence became the attribute of manliness; cautious plotting, a justifiable means of self-defence. The advocate of extreme measures was always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected. . . . The cause of all these evils was the lust for power arising from greed and ambition; and from these passions proceeded the violence of parties once engaged in contention.

The History of the Peloponnesian War, Book III

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And There Was No Sick Among Them

“And remember in all things the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not my disciple.”  D&C 52:40

I remember the day – 10 years ago this month –  I first realized that government-sponsored healthcare might not be inherently evil.

A British friend and I were engaged in an impromptu debate on social policy.  I started lecturing him on the defects of British healthcare compared to true red-state and Mormon principles of self-reliance.  Any form of welfare, especially government-sponsored healthcare, perpetuated a cycle of dependence.  If an individual legitimately needed help, family, friends, and nonprofits should step in.  Government involvement was wasteful, anti-capitalistic, and coercive –  it could never heal society.

He offered a pithy response: “I can think of nothing more barbaric about America than that you let people die because they can’t afford healthcare.”

“Barbaric” hit me with a jolt. What an absurd word!  And yet, one with truth. [Read more…]

The Thermostat Wars

There’s one thing that’s driving a wedge between men and women in the church every single week, that creates discomfort and distrust for both. Is it polygamy? Gender roles in the proclamation? No. It’s the Gospel Doctrine Thermostat Wars. Every week the drama plays out again in my Arizona ward: the men want the AC cranked up, and the women are shivering under pashminas and cardigans. It’s largely because of the ridiculous dress code at church in which women (who are often colder anyway) have bare legs and feet in sandals and short sleeves while the men (who are often warmer anyway) are wearing socks, closed shoes, heavy pants, jackets, long sleeved shirts buttoned to the neck.

I would say this is a heated argument, but not from where I’m sitting. [Read more…]

Paul Bunyan and the Mormons

On Wednesday, we left the Paul Bunyan Logging Camp Museum[fn1] in Eau Claire, WI, and drove to the Goose Island Campground[fn2] in La Crosse, where we were going to spend the night. As we followed the GPS to our campsite, it suddenly gave us this direction:

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SBC and LDS vs the Alt-Right

Maybe not everyone follows the news around religious conventions, but this year’s meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention had some fascinating turns. After having at first rejected a proposal condemning white nationalism and the alt-right, the SBC faced some major internal chaos, changed course and adopted a reworded proposal. The proposal itself is worth a close read. [Read more…]

Four queer folk

I no longer go very often to the LDS church. This post partially explains why.

One: J

When I was dating the woman who would become my wife, she struggled to tell me something. It took her a while before she eventually said, “my brother J is gay.” I wasn’t bothered at all but Rebecca was scared it would scupper our relationship. After all, if her brother was gay, the idea that I — a Returned Missionary — might contemplate marrying a woman from anything less than the perfect Mormon family was in danger. It seems silly now but that’s what she thought. I’m not sure why it didn’t bother me. I am no font of tolerance and charity . . . I just didn’t care. Plenty of other Mormons don’t either but she had this idea from somewhere, I suppose. Perhaps it was from some of the people in our branch whose virulent homophobia was on display in Sunday school? And where did that come from? At the time, I would have absolved the church. Bigots are everywhere, I thought. It’s not the church’s fault. [Read more…]

JP is an Israelite

 

I. About a week ago, Christian Parker, Jabari’s older brother, posted the above clip from youtube to his Facebook page. It shows a group of black men telling Jabari that he is an Israelite. Jabari, as is his nature, listens politely, interacts with them a bit, and then goes about his business. I can’t make out what he says, but the men seemed happy, so I’m guessing that maybe he acknowledged that yeah, he was an Israelite. When I first watched the video it made zero sense to me, the conversation just seemed a curious oddity, and I quickly put it out of my mind and went on to other things.

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James E. Talmage’s College Finals

Talmage was a student at the Provo BYU Acadamy in 1879 (he was 17). Talmage kept his blue book (actually eggshell book) and it ended up in an archive. I thought it was only fair that you all take the same test. Something tells me it will destroy you. Now, no cheating, looking on the internets or encyclopedias or whatever. Get out your paper and prepare for make or break. You can attempt answers in the comments. Possible grades James could earn (they are labeled “Marks of Criticism”):
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Religious Tourism

Last fall, I returned from a trip to the Baltics. One of the best things about traveling to other countries, in my opinion, is coming into contact with other forms of worship and considering how those “other” sacred spaces and forms of worship feel in contrast to my own experiences as a Mormon. When you enter these places, you have to realize that to their worshipers, past and present, these are the places they have gone to experience the divine, to find comfort, and to understand their place in the universe. Come with me on a tour of some of the places I visited.

20160826_103935Copenhagen’s Cathedral: Church of Our Lady

We started our trip with a day in Copenhagen, Denmark. This first church didn’t make my short list, but my husband wanted to see it, and I’m glad we went!  The original Christus status by Danish sculptor Thorvaldsen is found inside.  The chapel is currently lined with white statues of the apostles (also by Thorvaldsen). The interior is simple and light colored with graceful architectural features like the dome over the altar (see picture). The simplicity of the interior invites silence and reflection and has a feeling of peace and welcome.

There have been several churches built on the same site over the centuries (they kept burning down), with the original one dating to 1209. The current church, like most churches in Northern Europe, is Evangelical Lutheran (since the reformation came to Denmark in 1536). The church is still actively in use; in fact, a friend of mine attended a gay wedding there a week after I visited. Both Kierkegaard and Hans Christian Anderson’s funerals were held in this church. Of all the churches we visited, this one felt the most like a Mormon worship space in terms of mood and architecture. [Read more…]

Welcome!

welcome

We are the most missionary-oriented, proselyting church this side of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. So you would think we would love to have visitors come to our services. And in theory, we absolutely would love that! Come one, come all, you are certainly most welcome!

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Patriarchal Blessings, Race, and Lineage: History and a Survey

Joseph Stuart is a graduate student in the History department of the University of Utah. We’re grateful for his thoughts.

Today marks the thirty-ninth anniversary of the release of Official Declaration 2, the statement most recently canonized by the LDS Church. The 1978 Declaration made it possible for all people of African descent, male and female, to participate in LDS temple liturgy, including the endowment and the sealing ordinance. The statement, now as accepted as revelation in the LDS Church, also made it possible for men of African descent to hold ecclesiastical priesthood office. I applaud the LDS Church’s scripture and am grateful that it has been included in the LDS Doctrine and Covenants. Teaching its historical context from the point of view of President Kimball and from African-descended members is one of my favorite Sunday School lessons of the year.

However, discrimination against peoples of African descent has not disappeared from modern Mormonism.  In a previous post at Juvenile Instructor, I explored the ways in which race has been espoused by LDS leaders and average Latter-day Saints alike, and how the vestiges of those teachings remain in modern Latter-day Saint teachings. In today’s post, I’d like to explore the ways in which patriarchal blessings continue to identify Latter-day Saints by race, and, in some instances, place people of African descent as separate than “white” Mormons. Zandra of Sistas in Zion has stated that her patriarchal blessing does not declare an Israelite lineage. I do not claim that this is a widespread practice, but I think it is important to find out if African-descended folks are having their lineage declared in modern Mormonism, or if the practice has slowly disappeared.  A link to an anonymous survey can be found at the bottom of this post. [Read more…]

Prayer on the Anniversary of the June 8 Revelation

O God of freedom, who led the Children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt: as we recall how Pharaoh’s heart hardened to the cries of your people, so do we pray that you will soften our hearts through the Holy Spirit, that we, like your Son, might proclaim liberty to the captive and let the oppressed go free. We give thanks for Spencer W. Kimball, who had the courage to pray through his own prejudice to hear your voice, and we pray for the same courage. We give thanks for Jane Manning James, whose faithful petitions for sealing went too long unheard; tune our ears and hearts, we pray, to the petitions now arising from our African-American sisters and brothers, that we might hear and act. Bring us together, Lord, we pray, into the body of Christ, where, in love, the gifts that we once despised might now at last take their due place, for without them we cannot be the Zion you called us to become. We acknowledge that we have not loved your image in these your children with our whole hearts; for this, for all that we have done that we ought not, and for all that we have left undone, though we ought, we ask you to fill us with new love and courage to bring about your work of redemption, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Changing the Sacrament Prayers: an example of the role of human agency in revelation.

This LDSLiving article popped up in my twitter feed yesterday. The church has revised the French version of the sacrament prayer. I don’t know enough French to really have an informed opinion, but based on my knowledge of Spanish, and my spotty knowledge of Latin, it seems to me like the change is from a word meaning willing, in the sense of willing, or wanting to do something to one that means willing in the sense of available, or disposed to do something. The idea is to more closely match the English version. (And, incidentally, this also aligns more closely with the official Spanish version, which uses “son dispuestos.”)

I would be curious to know the process that led to this change. The change was announced over the First Presidency’s signatures, which suggests either that the First Presidency made the decision, or at least that somebody in the translation department brought to the First Presidency for approval. Who brought the issue to the attention of the decision maker? What were the discussions like? What kind of information did they rely on in making the decision?  [Read more…]

Useless Bloggernacle Topics, Ranked

Angel As is so often the case, Steve and I were recently pondering the truly important questions of life, like whether it would be better to be a vampire or pirate. Anyway, with that issue settled, we moved on to deciding where all of you people waste the most time on the Mormon internets.

As always, these rankings are authoritative.
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Distilled, Pure Knowledge

We try to give you not just milk around here, but MEAT. Scott and I had a conversation which, following prayerful reflection, we decided was fit to be shared with you. Do not make us regret sharing these pearls.

Steve: Scott, are you there, I need to have an important conversation with you.

Scott: lo, i am with you always [Read more…]

Death, Taxidermy, and Home Teaching: an Oblique Profile of Artist Jeff Decker

English Brooks lives in central Utah with his wife, Kelly, and their three children. When he’s not teaching, writing, or scavenging, he enjoys staring into maps, squinting at birds, and inventing poorly attended high-altitude marathons. Lately, he’s become involved with a community-building initiative and participatory performance project called “A Billion Hairs for the Billionaires.” (https://www.billionhairs.org If you’re looking for a reason to shave your head this summer, consider this an invitation!)

People love to churn out that hackneyed phrase, ‘Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.’ I always thought dancing about architecture sounded like a good idea. This is what all objects are doing with each other. After all, no object truly contacts another one. Architecture ‘columns’ (or whatever it does) about human relationships. And dogs sniff about trees. And pencils pencil about pencil sharpeners. The photon photons about the electron. The birds bird about the BP oil slick, telling us about it in bird metaphors. And weather weathers about global warming. And writing writes about music. To this extent writing about music really is like dancing about architecture—and a good thing too. Everything is like that.

Timothy Morton, from Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World (2013)

Any time spent googling Jeff Decker, artist, will immediately and overwhelmingly acquaint you with his fantastic work restoring and sculpting exquisite, badass vintage motorcycles. He’s often—and very fittingly, I’d say—referred to as a Frederick Remington of bronze motorcycle sculpture. (You may also recall the handsome goatee and rockabilly soundtrack from his “I’m a Mormon” video a few years ago.) Last month, as I got out of my truck and came up the walk of his studio, I’m certain he could already tell I knew nothing about motorcycles before I even reached the porch for a handshake. [Read more…]

What License to Shun Those who Choose a Different Path?

A collaborative online effort of like-minded female members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently took a public stand on what it characterized as a “protected class” of sin: gay marriage [Edit: please search the site yourself to find the post in question if so inclined]. See, “some members of the Church have […] been ‘drawn away after the persuasions’ of the world and support same-sex marriage” without realizing “that their support for it inadvertently supports serious sexual sin.” In case you didn’t pick up on it, the author goes on to hammer home the message that gay marriage = “sexual sin” several more times: [Read more…]