General Women’s Meeting: ‘Cause you gotta have faith (and also charity)

Beknownst to some, and unbeknownst to others, Saturday was the first session of General Conference, the semi-annual General Women’s Meeting. Did you go? I did. I wouldn’t have, but I knew that if I didn’t, no one else would recap the meeting for BCC and its gentle readers. Once again, I am working from notes, not transcripts, so please forgive any inaccuracies, unattributed quotes, etc., usw. I am just trying to give you a general feel of this General Meeting. Interestingly enough, there were no special video presentations breaking up the talks this time. I wonder if they’ve completely given up on making the meeting eight-year-old-friendly. Or maybe the General A/V Guy was sick. Your guess is as good as mine. On to the meeting!

For those of you not already in the know (or the beknownstment), Linda K. Burton, General Relief Society President, was conducting. The First Presidency was in the house. (Like, the whole thing. All three guys.) A choir made up of women and teenage women (no “tween” women that I could see) dressed in various shades of pink that looked like a sea of Pepto Bismol from afar (but not in a bad way) graced us with a rousing rendition of “Arise, O Glorious Zion.” (Actually, I don’t recall if it was rousing or not, exactly. I just like to say “rousing rendition,” particularly for songs that begin with the word “Arise.” I am resisting the temptation to make further plays on words. You, of course, may do what you feel. It’s not like we’re in the chapel or anything.) Bonnie Goodliffe was at the organ. [1] [Read more…]

Early Morning Seminary and Sleep Deprivation

Is Early Morning Seminary worth it? This is a question I ask myself every year. At the kickoff for seminary, the seminary director explains each year that the reason we do Early Morning Seminary is to teach the kids they can do hard things. That’s the same reason we were told we do manufactured Trek reenactments, too. But is doing hard things a good justification in and of itself to do something? I have seen fairly severe impacts to my kids as they’ve gone through 4 years of seminary. The sleep deprivation at a crucial growing period when they are supposed to be achieving grades that enable them to get a good college education seems like a high price to pay for daily religious education from amateur volunteers. [Read more…]

Winter Quarters in Omaha #PioneerDay

MTCExterior4_DetailWe didn’t plan on being in Omaha on the day before Pioneer Day. To be frank, the approach of July 24 doesn’t generally trigger anything in my mind. I mean, the ward I went to when I was a kid usually had a picnic at Lake Poway sometime around the end of July that was loosely inspired by Pioneer Day, but it was mostly baseball and hamburgers and hot dogs, and rarely made any mention of 1847 or pioneers or anything.

But months ago, we’d decided that Omaha was a decent halfway(-ish) point between Rocky Mountain National Park[fn1] and Chicago, and so that was our stopping place on Friday night.  [Read more…]

Heaven’s Light

We’re pleased to feature this guest post from EOR.

Like many people, my relationship with The Church is a complicated one.  I converted from Catholicism at the age of 15 and despite over 20 years of membership there is nothing that necessarily ties me to The Church.  I come from a large family, none of which are LDS nor have any intention of becoming so.  So I have walked this road largely alone.

My faith in God and in the Gospel has never been in question, even sometimes at great aggravation to myself.  However, The Church and I have had what can aptly be described as a “love-not exactly hate” relationship.  I have gone through periods of inactivity for varying reasons which I won’t address here including one currently.  I also have a similarly complicated relationship with myself.

In Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Quasimodo and Frollo have what is (in my opinion) the single greatest song in Disney history.  It succinctly sums up each character as well as compares and contrasts them with rich, spiritually infused vocals.  This 2-part song also serves to sum up my interactions with The Church and with my inner self.  Heaven’s Light/Hellfire sees Quasimodo and Frollo both relaying the story of their object, Esmeralda.  Both characters are profoundly impacted by her but in two very different ways.  The Church is my Esmeralda; my object for purposes of this analogy.

[Read more…]

Stop Skipping the Establishment Clause

For as much as we love religious freedom (BYU just finished its annual two-day conference on the topic), Mormons don’t pay much attention to the Establishment Clause.  Which, if you think about it, is astounding.  What else is Mormonism, if not the greatest Establishment Clause failure of the 19th Century?

Today’s guest post is from Carolyn Homer.  Carolyn Homer is an attorney and religion constitutional law enthusiast in California. She has represented the Anti-Defamation League and other religious organizations as amici before the U.S. Supreme Court, most recently in Zubik v. Burwell, which concerned religious exemptions to the Affordable Care Act. [Read more…]

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

e6b50358faa97c5f2c9a889a5d3ea8f5On the second of June, 1953, around 20.4 million people in the United Kingdom crowded around only 2.7 million television sets to watch the coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in Westminster Abbey. This was a watershed moment in the modern era, a day on which the ancient rituals of an ancient kingdom were open to the public in an unprecedented way. [Read more…]

Adam Miller’s Nothing New Under the Sun

I just finished reading Adam Miller’s latest modernization of ancient scripture: Nothing New Under the Sun.  This is a very quick read, a modern version of Ecclesiastes:

Because the modern language made the parallels to modern wisdom literature so clear, I was curious about the links to Buddhism. According to Wikipedia, Ecclesiastes was written between 450 and 350 BCE.

The presence of Persian loan-words and Aramaisms points to a date no earlier than about 450 BCE, while the latest possible date for its composition is 180 BCE, when another Jewish writer, Ben Sira, quotes from it. The dispute as to whether Ecclesiastes belongs to the Persian or the Hellenistic periods (i.e., the earlier or later part of this period) revolves around the degree of Hellenization (influence of Greek culture and thought) present in the book. Scholars arguing for a Persian date (c. 450–330 BCE) hold that there is a complete lack of Greek influence; those who argue for a Hellenistic date (c. 330–180 BCE) argue that it shows internal evidence of Greek thought and social setting.

Is Ecclesiastes Buddhism in the Bible?  Or is it simply the case that all wisdom is roughly the same and there is nothing new under the sun.  Buddha dates to 600 BC. Adam Miller’s book doesn’t dwell on these parallels, but merely hints at them.  Wisdom is wisdom, no matter the source. It’s an interesting question, though. His modernized take on Ecclesiastes also demonstrates that there really is nothing new under the sun, including Christian wisdom.

[Read more…]

Justice and Mercy: A Rape Survivor’s Perspective

Today’s guest post is from Rachael.

I was sexually abused as a child and later raped as a teenager and again as an adult. All of these horrific experiences were at the hands of LDS priesthood holders. Of course, those who did these things were sinning and were not true representatives of Christ or His priesthood. It was relatively easy for me to separate out in my mind these evil men from what I knew God wanted.  But it was much harder for me to figure out how to make sense of the good men, bishops and stake presidents, who counseled me to forgive, to bury the past, to not hold my perpetrators legally responsible.  Because I believed that these men were representatives of God, I believed them when they told me that it was God’s will that I let my rapists (and abusers) off the hook.  And so I did.  I earnestly practiced the forgiveness that I was taught to practice, burying any hint of anger the moment it tried to rise up in me, and consequently, I believe, that buried emotion took on a life of its own, to the detriment of my health. [Read more…]

If Jane Austen Wrote the Book of Mormon

Where are our marriage prospects in this godforsaken wilderness?

I was considering a post on the Book of Mormon & the Bechdel test when it occurred to me that Gospel Doctrine class is kind of like a book club.[1]  Which got me thinking how much better, and perhaps with more vocal women in it (as well as a few more humorously identified human foibles), the Book of Mormon would be if Jane Austen had written it. [Read more…]

Book Review: Adam Miller’s Future Mormon

Adam Miller’s new book Future Mormon:  Essays in Mormon Theology is laid out in a series of digestible-length short essays.  Reading his essays is like talking to a smarter, more esoteric friend or maybe sitting next to a chatty and interesting professor on a flight.  His essays generally follow a pattern for me:

  • Adam says something moderately profound but provocative that makes sense and that I totally agree with.  I think to myself, “This is going to be good.  Go, Adam!”
  • Adam follows that up by saying something that sounds really smart but is completely incomprehensible to me.  I re-read it several times, and then give up, shaking my head at how stupid I must be not to comprehend what he’s saying.
  • Adam patiently walks back from Adam-land to where he left me in confusion and patiently, even respectfully, takes me through the steps to get me to the newfound understanding that is the true thesis of his essay.
  • Along the way, like a dad walking on a beach with a small child, he points out interesting things, thoughts I can mull over at a later time, ideas I haven’t ever fully formed before, observations, and insights that have been hiding in plain sight and feel immediately familiar but newly articulated.
  • When each essay concludes, my inner world of ideas has become a bigger place.  My curiosity is awake.  I’d like nothing more than to sit and think my new thoughts, but there are more essays to discover, so I keep reading.

[Read more…]

The Mormon Church in the @PanamaPapers?!? [Updated]

[Update below]

Yesterday, the ICIJ released its searchable Panama Papers database. (For some background on the Panama Papers, you can look my BCC post or my Surly Subgroup post. Or the ICIJ’s site.) Some enterprising individual appears to have plugged Mormon-related words into the search bar, and came up with at least two hits: Bonneville International and Deseret Investment.

Now, this is exactly what we’re supposed to be doing with this database: searching for those who think they can use tax havens to avoid meeting their obligations. So should you be outraged that the church is doing this?

Short answer: no. But I’m a law professor, so the short answer is never enough.   [Read more…]

God has not vanished

For Ascension Day 2016.

Luke Skywalker has vanished.

These are the opening words of the opening crawl of the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens.

Luke Skywalker—Jedi Knight, conqueror of the evil empire, redeemer of his father Darth Vader—has vanished. If you have seen the film you will know that this vanishing has been wholly bad for the galaxy: in his absence, a new empire, a new Death Star, and a new dark lord have arisen.

Luke Skywalker has vanished and the galaxy is suffering.

The gospels also tell the tale of a vanishing and vanished hero. The original ending of the gospel of Mark has the women come to Jesus’ tomb only to find it empty. Jesus has vanished and this leads to shock: the women “went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (16:8). [Read more…]

No Man is “Trash”

Angry? You bet. Tyler Glenn’s latest song and video boil with rage. Glenn, a gay man and former missionary, was embraced by the church for his advocacy in building the inclusivity bridge. That is, until the LDS church’s November 5th policy change regarding homosexuals—a change that codified those in same-gender marriages as apostates, required their excommunication, and forbade the baptism of their children under certain conditions. The policy change hit him hard, like a gut punch, he says. Feeling himself betrayed, denigrated, and literally dismissed over his sexual orientation, Glenn took a hard look at less-visited areas of Mormonism and decided he could no longer believe. The release of “Trash” depicts a stunning reversal of attitude toward his faith heritage. [Read more…]

Sampa

ipiranga-saojoao-575x431Last week, as I waited in the car to pick my daughter up from school, I heard an All Things Considered review of the recently-released album from Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. And, as these things do, it got me thinking about my mission.

When I got my call to the Brazil São Paulo East mission, I knew three things about Brazil: first, it was in South America. Second, they spoke Portuguese there. And third, it was the home of Bossa Nova.  [Read more…]

Clara Barton

Clara Barton hated nothing more than feeling useless, and it was this impulse that led her to become a very effective schoolteacher, an intrepid Civil War nurse, an important early feminist, and ultimately the founder of the American Red Cross. She was genuinely heroic: amidst a civil war that, like the one in Mormon’s time, spread blood and carnage throughout all the face of the land, she fought to get close enough to the action to do some good, dodging bullets at Antietam as she rescued wounded soldiers from the field. Efforts to do the same during the Franco-Prussian War brought her into contact with the Red Cross, recently founded in Switzerland. Barton’s engagement was so strenuous that from time to time she’d collapse in exhaustion, her heart stricken and withered like grass. [Read more…]

Elder Holland: We Get Credit For Trying #ldsconf

Back when I was in high school, I was warned not to guess if I didn’t know the answer to an SAT question. It’s been years, so my memory may be off, but I believe the test awarded points for correct answers, no points for blank answers, and took away points for wrong answers. If you weren’t at least reasonably certain that you were right, not answering the question was better than risking choosing a wrong answer, and losing points.[fn1]

As of last month, apparently, that changed: wrong answers still won’t get students points, but they also won’t cost students points. Where before, students had a strong incentive to refrain from participating, now the incentives have changed.  [Read more…]

President Uchtdorf’s Theology of Grace

I mean this post to complement Tracy M’s reflections on the same talk. Go read them if you haven’t already.

I hope that President Uchtdorf’s Sunday Morning sermon becomes a landmark, because of the smart way that it approaches the fraught theological territory surrounding works and grace. The point here isn’t the theological smarts, but the potential for pastoral comfort. We talk sometimes as though the intellectual and the spiritual can’t coexist, but I think that they inevitably do. And, as someone who believes that being critical about our God-talk matters, I’m persuaded that bringing our minds fully to bear on spiritual matters can be of great pastoral benefit, which is why I am praising this sermon. [Read more…]

Mormon Mysticism and #ldsconf

Given the way that Mormonism often seems to privilege certainty, I was intrigued to notice hints of mysticism in several of Saturday’s talks. The vein of mysticism I’m talking about involves apophatic or negative theology, which means defining things by what they are not rather than what they are. Such theology draws attention to the limits of human understanding and encourages ascetic practices, often centered on prayer, designed to bring worshipers toward experiences of the divine that transcend rational description—or at least the usual categories of certainty. Mystics are people who experience God’s “dazzling darkness” in this way.
[Read more…]

Christopher Waddell: Sometimes it’s just hard to think about Jesus #ldsconf

Bishop Waddell tells us that we must not expect our faith to protect us from sorrow. But peace of mind can be present during the storms of life. The key is to keep our focus on the Christ.
[Read more…]

Elder Snow’s Talk on Humility and Reflections on Certainty #ldsconf

Nearly every day I have occasion to cross the busiest street in the city. Given its eight lanes, I usually chose to do so at a convenient crosswalk that is regulated by a traffic light. As is the case with most of Vienna’s 1,286 traffic lights, this one is controlled by a timer. It also features an audio and tactile system for guiding visually impaired persons over the street. Basically this system consists of raised lines on the sidewalk and across the street for guiding the tip of a cane  and a box about a meter off the ground that has a raised pictogram of the number of lanes to be crossed and, hidden from plain view, a button that can be depressed to activate an audio signal that sounds while the light is green.This is important–the box pictured below does not turn the light green or in any other way influence the timer; it simply activates an audio signal whenever pedestrians are given the right of way according to preprogrammed intervals. [Read more…]

Ski Lessons with E. Stevenson #ldsconf

Dude, Where’s My Car Keys?

Elder Stevenson starts his talk by sharing a rather banal incident of getting back to the car after a day of skiing to find the keys to the car missing.  He then describes his hypothermia-induced hallucination about the priesthood keys.  Well, not exactly.  Actually, at first I thought this was going to be another story about finding lost keys.  I mean, that’s practically a rite of passage for Mormons in our spiritual journey.  Who among us has not had an experience when we lost our keys, we prayed, and then we found our keys?  It’s practically like shave and a haircut. [1] [Read more…]

Elder Donald Hallstrom: All are Children of God. #ldsconf

“In real life, we face actual, no imagined hardships.” Elder Hallstrom noted that there is real pain in life, physical, mental, spiritual pain. There are heartbreaks, when circumstances are different from what we anticipate. Social and personal injustice and it can be disorienting. There can be times of questioning, when doctrine or history is beyond our understanding at present.
[Read more…]

Good Friday

The scandal and offense of Jesus’ crucifixion lies mostly buried under 2000 years of familiarity. Isaiah writes of the shock that the nations experience when Israel, that no-account postage stamp of land they were used to running over en route to fighting more important peoples, turns out not only to be exalted and lifted up on high, but also the means of their salvation, in accordance with the Abrahamic covenant. Similarly, that a minor Jewish political threat hanging like a ragged corpse on a cross outside Jerusalem—just like so many others, before and especially after—should turn out to be the Savior of the World ought to surprise us, or at least inspire a little incredulity. We often say that the Jews were expecting the wrong kind of messiah, but really, who can blame them? According to the Gospel accounts, even Jesus’ closest associates did not expect him to die, and certainly not like this. Their shock still resonates through the stories recorded many decades later. [Read more…]

Friendship (Maundy Thursday)

Joseph Smith called friendship “the grand fundamental principle of Mormonism,” so it’s fitting that friendship should resonate so deeply with one of the most sacred days of Jesus’ mortal life: the day when, according to the synoptic gospels, he instituted the sacrament, bathed his disciples’ feet, and went on to pray in Gethsemane while his closest friends slept nearby, and when, according to the Gospel of John, he gave those whom he addressed as friends the vital commandment to love one another. [Read more…]

Monday in Holy Week

As we approach Easter, the Lenten anticipation of a new creation rises to a new pitch. We hope for the healing of all the injustices we see around us—including those smaller things we’ve tried to leave behind for Lent. Sometimes those hopes hinge on what we expect to be a grand and mighty act, but Easter offers something different: the shame of the cross and the quiet, publicly unheralded resurrection. Easter, in other words, teaches us to look for redemption in the small things–the servant who, instead of crushing the nations, will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoking flax. Jesus, rather than shedding the blood of others, spilled his own—once for all. On the side of this redemption are not the mighty, but the meek. [Read more…]

Honoring Stephen Webb

We are sorry for the occasion of this post, but grateful to Hal Boyd of Eastern Kentucky University for this tribute to someone whose work many of us at BCC have learned from and deeply appreciated.

The man who so often contemplated eternity has now stepped beyond its threshold. Dr. Stephen H. Webb passed on this weekend.

A protestant convert to Catholicism, Dr. Webb increasingly dedicated his immense intellect to Mormon theology.

For him, the Latter-day Saint doctrine of an embodied God held the potential to rejuvenate what he saw as moribund mainline theology. The Mormon notion of the material essence of “spirit” was a novel breakthrough. [Read more…]

Talking with Children about Death and Resurrection

It was just the two of us at the dinner table. We were eating my daughter’s favorite meal and talking about the kinds of things that concern preschoolers.

After a lull in the conversation–part of which took place in a make-believe language–about her stuffed animals, drawing, playing in the gym and funny things other kids said at preschool, she turned to me and said: “I don’t want to die.” I was taken aback–her closest brush with death was when her grandmother died nearly two years ago when she was, I thought, too young to remember. [Read more…]

Our Faithful God

Even though Lent can be a time for drawing closer to God, sometimes our wanderings in the wilderness leave us feeling abandoned—even when God has promised to stay with us! We can share Abraham’s incredulity: when God promised him a great reward, he replied, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” And yet, as with Abraham, God can take the occasion of our realism or even skepticism to create bonds of covenant faithfulness, making the promise of progeny that prompted this response: “[Abraham] believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Abraham’s example isn’t about willing belief against the absence of evidence (“I think I believe, I think I believe, I think I believe”), but rather about affirming loyalty to God when God affirms loyalty to us. [Read more…]

Ash Wednesday: Repentance toward a New Creation

Today begins Lent, the season of preparation for Easter. Lent is a time of fasting, known even to many who don’t observe it for the things that people give up. I believe that giving something up is important, but that giving something positive is even more important. What’s the good of giving up whatever it is if we can’t give God the broken heart and contrite spirit that constitutes a true sacrifice? Joel reminds us to rend our hearts, not our clothes during this time, and I think he’s right: Lent should send us inward, calling us to prepare our hearts to receive the risen Jesus, who forgives our sins and redeems us from the grave. [Read more…]

John, The Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith: Part 4-More on Community-Feasts-Doctrine and Covenants 7.

[Part 3 is here. Part 5 is here.]

You can find the whole series here.

Another unfortunate thing about this divorce between John’s group and the synagogue: they lose a powerful and fulfilling tradition. The feasts, celebrations, and cultural links with the past that acted as a continuing force of discipline, values, and stability drifted away, their meaning diminishing over time. You lose your own identity when something like this happens in some respects. That seems represented in the Gospel.
[Read more…]