Stoic Maxims to Enhance Your Mormonism

Glen Fewkes is a health policy attorney in DC.  He listens to podcasts at double-speed and lives life at half-speed.

For a 2,000 year-old philosophy, Stoicism is currently having a bit of a moment.  For some reason, it’s particularly resonant amongst the “bro” set, and if they don’t find a way to wreck it then we’ll know it’s really built to last.  At its core, Stoicism offers a useful way of engaging with the world and has a rich history of interactions with the Apostle Paul and the peoples of the New Testament.

Stoics, ancient and modern, love to repeat maxims – condensed phrases of wisdom – in the hopes that certain virtues will sink into people’s psyches through repetition, much like repeated bicep curls build muscle (OK, maybe I’m starting to see the “bro” connection). These maxims are meant to be applicable to people of all walks of life.  Indeed, example sources span the spectrum from a Roman Emperor (Marcus Aurelius), to a freed slave (Epictetus), to a playwright (Seneca), a fact that is not at all irrelevant to the Stoic philosophy. [Read more…]

Invisible and Overqualified

“Whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies” is a statement often used in Mormondom to give us hope that our volunteer workforce will be able to fulfill callings if they rely on the Lord. It’s a fine sentiment, one that should be humbling and aspirational all at once. But what about when a calling requires specific qualifications, such as a certification or degree, to be able to perform that role? Well, in those cases we are a bit more specific in whom we call. I noticed decades ago that our stake had called someone to the role of financial auditor who had no financial acumen, despite the fact that there were women in the stake who were CPAs and had the right qualifications; however, it was deemed a “priesthood” calling for some mysterious reason, so these women were not considered, essentially invisible to those extending the callings. That was decades ago, though, and we’ve entered a new era of gender inclusiveness, right?

Perhaps not. [Read more…]

Three sub-degrees in the Celestial Kingdom?

Shannon Flynn is a life long student of Mormon History and a member of the Mormon History Association. 

About four weeks ago a discussion was started on the Mormon Historians Facebook page that asked about the common belief that there are three distinct sub-degrees or separate places within the celestial kingdom.  The reference that is usually pointed to is D&C section 131 verses 1-4 especially verse 1. “In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees.”

In the discussion that followed it was my contention that there are not, in fact, three sub-degrees or divisions. Moreover, this idea and all of the variations and speculations on the nature of the sub-degrees has become one of the most significant pieces of false doctrine that pervades the LDS church today. Part of the discussion came from Kevin Barney who linked a post he had done back in 2006 on BCC, that the three sub-degrees was not the original interpretation of the verses in section 131.  I had an experience similar to what Kevin describes in his post when he said he heard it from a friend who heard it from California temple president. [Read more…]

#TaxDay 2018: For Ye Were Strangers

The foreigner who resides with you must be to you like a native citizen among you; so you must love him as yourself, because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.   —Leviticus 19:34

My liturgical calendar tells me today is Tax Day,[fn1] and so it’s time for another installment of my annual Mormons and Taxes post.

This year’s has nothing to do with the income tax, and, in fact, very little to do with the United States. Instead, we’re going to look south of the border to the Mormon colonies in Mexico. [Read more…]

Prayer for Easter Morning

Praise be to the God of the dawn,
our God of the morning light,
whose Son this morning lives again,
dead in the tomb though he was!
Grant that we, too, might come forth
from the dark places of our own hearts
and find together the fullness of life,
in the rich vigor of the Holy Spirit
and the renewing presence of the Son;
in your strength may we rise together
as the living body of Christ,
proclaiming the message of peace
in all the world, until we become
one people as you are one God. Amen.

Gerrit Gong and Susan Gong, my marriage, and why #RepresentationMatters

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Susan and Gerrit Gong (Church News photograph)

There are any number of reasons I couldn’t be happier about the newly-called Elder Gong and Elder Soares. Elder Soares, a Brazillian, brings long-overdue representation from the southern hemisphere. I know several members of Elder Gong’s extended family, and they couldn’t be a more dynamic, talented, kind family. But if you would indulge me for a moment, I want to focus on one area of very specific, personal appreciation: the marriage of Elder Gerrit Gong, as an Asian-American man, to his wife Susan Gong, a white woman.

[Read more…]

Prayer for Holy Saturday

Our God of the darkness,
who meets us this day in Jesus’ tomb:
grant us your Spirit
to show us the darkness
in our own hearts,
from which we long to rise. Amen.

Prayer for Good Friday

O God of our godforsakenness,
appearing this day to us
only as a broken man on a cross:
grant that we, in his cross,
might see ourselves,
might see the myriad ways
we find to crucify one another,
until the Spirit, rending our hearts
like its fierce wind
rent the temple veil,
reveals the face of God
in all the people we have forsaken,
that we may renounce forever
our daily crucifixions
and proclaim at last the Prince of Peace,
becoming one people as you are one God. Amen.

Prayer for Maundy Thursday

O God of our garden prayers,
to whom our souls cry out of the depths:
grant that we in our dark hours
might sense Jesus kneeling before us,
gently washing our feet,
and then find him feeding us
with the bread and wine,
his own body and blood,
and promising us another Comforter,
found when we love one another;
guide us, Father, in the works of love,
that through your Son and in the Spirit
we might become one people as you are One God.
Amen.

Prayer for Palm Sunday

O God of our ecstatic praises
and tumultuously shouted joys:
grant us the courage of rejoicing,
for although our hearts will soon
slip back into their stony selves,
wishing to cry out, but not,
and although everything we now celebrate
will soon go heartbreakingly wrong,
in this hour of Jesus’ triumph
let our hearts open wide with joy
and overflow with the Spirit’s power,
making us for this hour one people in the delight
that forever flows within you, the One God. Amen.

The Burden of Choosing to Believe

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Image Credit: Delphine Devos

“I envy you your faith, somedays,” an agnostic friend in college once remarked as we ate lunch in the spring sunshine.  “I wish I could have faith.”

“You can, you know.   Faith is a choice,” I urged with perhaps a touch too much missionary zeal.  “In the Book of Mormon there’s a famous sermon about how faith is like a science experiment.  If you even have just a ‘desire to believe,” and choose to act on that desire, you’ll feel God’s love, and see results.”

 

“But logic is too deeply engrained in me for that to work,” he responded.  “I’d just dismiss any positive feeling as a weird firing of brain chemicals, a manufactured emotional manipulation.  It’s not tangible or real.” [Read more…]

Holding An Abuser Accountable

With the latest news story about Joseph L. Bishop, the former MTC president accused of sexually assaulting women serving missions, there have been a lot of discussions in online forums, including many women who’ve shared personal experiences of going to leaders for help when they were victims of assault, only to be told that the leader could not or would not pursue any disciplinary action against their attacker. In some cases, the individuals they accused went on to assault others. Given that the church is firmly on record as being against any abuse, in very strongly worded terms, even considering it as an impediment to entrance to the temple, how do these things happen as often as I’ve heard about them? [Read more…]

Prayer for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Our God, whose heart has become a wilderness
wide enough to receive our cries
and spacious enough to hold our suffering:
grant that our own wilderness journey
might teach our hearts to be more like yours,
so that as we prepare to remember your Son’s Passion,
we might open our hearts to the truth of his life
and the agonizing sorrow of his death,
until, thus stretched by the Holy Spirit,
we might turn in Jesus’ name to each other,
greeting one another in the Lord’s peace,
able at last to see and be seen in our truth
and to share together in the promised healing
that will make us one people as you are One God. Amen.

Prayer for the Fourth Sunday in Lent (Mothering Sunday)

O God our blessed Mother, who gathers us under your wings
as a hen gathers her chicks with tender care:
as we return this day to our Mother Church,
grant that we may love her full kindly,
the chicks tending now to the hen
with a gentle loving care,
binding up the breaches in her body
and making the covert of her wings
once again safe for her wandering chicks
that we may welcome them in love and kinship
and become one people as you are one God. Amen.

Lesson 10: Marriage in the Covenant #BCCSundaySchool2018

ReadingsGenesis 24 – 29.

Introduction:   I volunteered to give this lesson for BCC precisely because I’m a temple-divorced, now-engaged-to-a-Catholic Mormon woman.  The Old Testament manual instructs teachers “As you discuss the importance of eternal marriage, be sensitive to the feelings of class members who have not been married in the temple or whose parents have not been married in the temple.”  But other than that note, it doesn’t provide any practical tips about what that “sensitivity” might look like.  I hope here to provide a model for how we can use this episode in Genesis to spark discussion on how everyone can achieve more Christlike relationships, without assuming that all temple marriages are happy, nor that all non-temple marriages are miserable.

[Read more…]

Prayer for the Third Sunday in Lent

Almighty God, who by your powerful hand delivered Israel from Egypt and reigns forever over all creation:
grant that we, when our hearts entertain the temptations of power,
might remember the tender power that your Son exercised by coming to live as one of us.
Turn our hands, therefore, to the works of love, the works of kindness,
that we may nurture the life of the Spirit among ourselves
and gently welcome all we can into that life,
until we become one people as you are one God. Amen.

We All Worship a Different God

cloudsSomeone who studies religion knows that there are many Gods and ideas of divinity throughout theology. They understand the differences between these beliefs and the intricacies of what God means to many people. However, I am not that person, so my knowledge is much more limited. But recently I have started to notice the subtle differences between the God that I worship and the God that people around me seem to worship.

Of course, the God that I have known and learned about throughout my life is different from the one(s) that my Hindu, Muslim, and even various Christian friends know. But the more I question my own beliefs and the more I learn about the beliefs of others, the more I am sure that none of us believe the same things, even when we claim the same religion.

[Read more…]

Prayer for the Second Sunday in Lent

O God, our constant support,
whose constancy often feels like absence:
in our long wilderness walk,
some days find you nearer
than our accustomed busyness allows,
but many days, instead of presence,
we carry heavy doubt,
apparently alone,
tempted to put you, our God,
to the test;
grant us, then, the patience
to walk in our darkness
and learn our own strength,
as Jesus learned his,
that when the darkness is past,
we might walk with you
and with Jesus
in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Amen.

Domestic Abuse Resources for Bishops

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

On a hot summer morning last year, I sat in a small room with fifteen pastors and ministers. Coffee and pastries were tucked into a corner, and the men and women of my county’s Interfaith Coalition to End Domestic Violence were introducing themselves. At the end of introductions, the pastor facilitating the meeting asked: “What are the biggest challenges facing your congregation when it comes to domestic violence?”

The answers started flying. “The abuser is a member of our church board!” “She just keeps going back to him and I don’t know what to do.” “Women in our church are taught to be meek and submissive, so when the abuser tells them something, they think they have no options.” “Victims are often looked down on when they speak out.” “Abusers misuse scripture to justify their actions.” “Even after [theological] seminary, I just don’t feel I have the training I need to respond to this issue.” [Read more…]

Prayer for the First Sunday in Lent

Blessed God, the bread of life,
who feeds us with the spiritual food of your Son:
grant that this our wilderness journey,
undertaken to remind us that our lives
draw nurture from more than bread alone,
may send our roots deep into the loam of your love,
that we, blossoming into abundant life
through the nourishment of the Holy Spirit,
might share the feast of love together,
one people as you are One God. Amen.

Prayer for Ash Wednesday

O God of abundance, Creator of all that nurtures us,
Giver of breath and Pulse of our hearts’-blood:
we come before you in a spirit of repentance
as we take the first steps of our Lenten journey,
not forsaking the things of life that you have given,
but leaving behind all that chokes your life in us.
Cleanse us, we pray, from whatever stops the flow of love
as it runs in eternal circuit from you to us and back again.
Fill, O Lord, these newly empty places in our lives
with the riches of the Holy Spirit,
that we may learn to love ourselves as you love us
and then learn to love others as you love them,
and, loving them, find that we at last love you.
May our fast so feed our souls with love for all people,
that we may be one as you also are one,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

Not a Tame Lion

Mette Ivie Harrison is a regular guest here at BCC and author of many books, including The Book of Laman.

I remember years ago a religious friend of mine talked to me about her view of God. She told me that she didn’t see why God couldn’t be a woman, or a bird, or a tree. She felt God in all of those different things, because to her, God had many different aspects. For her, feeling God in every part of the world was part of her practice of worship. It enabled her to widen her spirituality. It let her find the divine in herself, as well.

At the time, I thought that was kind of hippy-dippy and just plain wrong. I actually made that judgment in my head because I felt that as a Mormon, I was very clear on who God was and wasn’t. God was a white man with a beard who looked like he did in the temple film or in other paintings I’d seen of God. God was a physical being, not a bird or a tree. He was a man, and that was all there was to it. To have the wrong idea of God was to not understand anything about the “true gospel” and meant that basically anything else you told me about your religion or your worship practice was built on a false foundation.

How times have changed. [Read more…]

Lesson 6: Noah Prepared an Ark to the Saving of His House #BCCSundaySchool2018

Readings

Moses 8

Genesis 6-9, 11

Learning Outcomes

To understand the importance of the story of Noah and the flood.

To come away with an appreciation for the complexities of Godhood, prophethood, regularpersonhood.

Introduction

I know there are many spiritual lessons to be learned from the story of Noah and the flood, but what I really want to focus on is exactly how large the ark was, how many cubits deep the water would have been, and how the animals managed to not eat each other. [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…]

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…]

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…]

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…]

Who’ll Be a Witness for My Lord?

This week the Church announced changes to the proxy-baptism liturgy, one of which I’d like to focus on: witnesses. Before last week, the baptismal liturgy included two Melchizedek priesthood officers standing by, observing, and certifying that the ritual was performed in accordance to the prescribed form. The introduction of formal witnesses to the liturgy is unclear, but my sense is that is related to Joseph Smith’s letters (now canonized in D&C 127 and 128): [Read more…]

Dear Sister, Dear Elder…

A couple years back, one of my nephews was serving a mission. He’d served—like he lived life, generally—with gusto. He was now a Zone Leader or some such, and his letters home had grown shorter and a little less frequent. We’ve all been there. But I saw this as a chance to help him not only be a better missionary… but to forge those habits which could make him a better human.

My letter to him, below (edited for clarity)… [Read more…]

Baptism, Resurrection, and Women Witnesses

Mormon-landia is abuzz today with the news (broken by This Week in Mormons) that youth can now more fully participate in baptisms for the dead on youth temple trips.  Specifically, Priests (age 16+) can now perform and witness temple baptisms, just like they already perform and witness live baptisms.  And young women (age 12-18) can perform any baptistry assignment (i.e. logistics, temple clothing, towels) currently done by adult women.   Previously, all of these functions could only be performed by endowed members.

There is much to celebrate here.  I fully support increased responsibility and participation in the workings of the church for our incredible youth.  Hopefully, these additional spiritual and service opportunities will help all youth feel closer to Christ and strengthen their faith.  This change also reduces the burden on finding sufficient adults to officiate youth temple trips, hopefully increasing the total number of opportunities to perform baptisms.  In addition, it may help those young women who are uncomfortable being baptized while on their periods (despite temple pronunciations that this is permitted), feel more comfortable having an awkward-question-free opportunity to serve.

And yet.  This policy change was a major missed opportunity to increase the spiritual role of young women in the Church.  [Read more…]