Missionary Safety: Brainstorming

A recent Tribune article talked about issues with sexual assault among missionaries.

I have a lot of opinions on this. First of all, let me just say that when I was a missionary, I was as guilty as anyone for being cavalier about my safety or thinking I would be protected. I think part of that is just being young, feeling invincible. Young people often feel they are safer than they are because they don’t have life experience yet. I was also in a relatively safe place, the Canary Islands, which is basically the Hawaii of Europe. The only things that happened to me were: [Read more…]

Fearful Tales of Interlagos, Brazil

XDxRvANaHeather Collins is a convert and in-progress author of a book on patriarchal blessings she never shuts up about, but will probably never finish.  Follow her on Twitter.

The only time I ever trained a new missionary was in the most dangerous area I was ever assigned to in Brazil. She was Argentinian, and we dealt with a triple language barrier. I’d come without suitcases to take her back to our area, deep in the interior of São Paulo state. Tatuí was rural, relatively safe, and hours away from the city by public transit. We had a small branch to work with and had just baptized a child with no support at home.

I wasn’t happy about that baptism. I was tired of baptizing young kids whose parents wanted nothing to do with the Church. That was how I was baptized, and I knew the years of heartache that would be ahead of every child we did this to. The price of staying without parental support is higher than most people know.

I was frustrated with my area. I wanted to go anywhere else where I felt like baptism would be more likely. In my mind, that meant going back to the city. 

Then our phone rang. It was my mission president. There had been a change of plans. [Read more…]

Book Announcement: God and the IRS

I’m thrilled to announce that my book God and the IRS: Accommodating Religious Practice in United States Tax Law (New York: Cambridge UP, 2018) has just been published and is available for your reading pleasure.

As background to the book, the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment (as well as the jurisprudence courts have used to interpret and apply the Religion Clauses) have a sometimes-complicated interplay. Because the law sometimes imposes on individuals’ ability to practice their religion, the government can sometimes accommodate their religious practice, exempting religious individuals from generally-applicable laws. At the same time, though, in general, the law can’t favor religion over non-religion; as a result, sometimes religious people can’t get an exemption from the generally-applicable law. A lot of religious litigation turns on where, in a given situation, the line between permissible and impermissible accommodation falls. [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…]

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…]

Twenty Years

In preparing for day’s Primary lesson on missionary work, I did a quick search to see if I could find anything out Seymour Brunson’s mission.

The short answer is, not a lot of detail on an iPhone during sacrament meeting. I mean, access to the D&C tells me he was called on a mission in 1832. And, thanks to the Joseph Smith Papers Project, I know that his mission was in Ohio, Kentucky, and Virginia. And, per Ferron Olson’s Seymour Brunson: Defender of the Faith, he went through those states, baptizing hundreds (as missionaries did in the 1830s) and organizing branches along the way. [Read more…]

Missionary Safety: That No Harm or Accident May Befall Us

Image result for missionaries helmetsPeggy Fletcher Stack reports in the Salt Lake Tribune that the church is going to survey missionaries about safety. This survey is likely related to rising global terrorism as well as several outbreaks of disease that have been problems in recent years and required adaptation in terms of missionary dress codes and where missionaries serve. It’s important to note that existing mission rules help prevent a lot of injuries, rules like being with a companion 24×7, no swimming, and wearing helmets and seat belts. Compared to same age cohorts, missionaries suffer fewer injuries–this, despite being in areas of the globe that may be more perilous than their native communities. We’re obviously doing some things right to protect our missionaries. [Read more…]

2nd Missionary Month: Still Waiting for the Gift of Tongues

Image result for lucy's italian episode

Similar to how we washed our clothes.

You can find my first two installments in this series here and here.

My second companion was Hermana C who had also served in my first area. We both got transferred back to the city of Las Palmas together, to the horrible piso (apartment) I had seen during my first day in the mission. There were two bedrooms, one that was used as a dressing room and shared closet, a tiny kitchen, a living area with a telephone, and a bathroom. The bathroom didn’t have a shower head, and the shower hose didn’t connect to the wall. You just held it up and hosed off with it. There was also no curtain, and no real tub – you stood in a square basin that had tile built up around it, like a very small bathtub. We also had to wash our clothes in this, by hand, because we didn’t have access to a washing machine. Usually I would just put some shampoo in with my clothes and some water and stomp around on them like Lucy’s Italian episode where she is stomping the grapes. Then we would hang our clothes up on a line in the air shaft outside the window, on lines hung in our apartment, or draped over furniture. [Read more…]

My First Month as a Missionary: Dazed & Confused

Me, on the balcony of our piso overlooking Arrecife 28 years ago.

I recently blogged about my first day as a missionary and how it felt to return to that place after 27 years. Because we were on a cruise last month, stopping at 5 of the Canary Islands, I had a chance to revisit the island of Lanzarote where I started my mission, a place I hadn’t been in the 28 years since then. I surprised myself by being able to pick out my apartment by sight even though the city of Arrecife has changed quite a bit, and the apartment has been renovated. The exterior balconies have now been enclosed, probably to keep out the sands from Calima, an annual dust storm that happens in the Canary Islands, bringing sand from the Sahara, across the ocean, obscuring the sun. Calima can last for several days when it comes. While I was there, our balcony would sometimes fill with sand overnight. Lanzarote is a very windy island, the most eastward of the archipelago, the closest to the coast of Morocco.

The biggest obstacle to memory was that I only served there for 5 weeks, and then never returned to that island, and most of the time I was there I felt like I didn’t know what the heck was going on. I was the only missionary being sent to Lanzarote, and I had just arrived in the islands after a long flight. When I arrived in Arrecife, I was alarmed by the 18 year old men in military garb casually holding machine guns, standing around the airport looking bored. I remembered thinking “I could easily take away that gun, and I’m not that big or strong,” envisioning the possibilities for violence and mayhem if any random person were so inclined. That’s a sight I saw in all the airports in Spain, one that I never quite got comfortable with. [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…]

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.
[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…]

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…]

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…]

It’s a Good Story

I know that the story told in this Youtube video is true. My talented brother-in-law, Gregory Welch, prepared this video and released it today. [Read more…]

“Once I Was a Beehive”: Must-See Mormon Film of 2015

“Once I Was a Beehive” (2015)

Go see this film! It’s one of those rare Mormon films that you’ll love, whether you’re Mormon or not. If you live in Utah, it’s playing in theaters until Thursday, August 27, 2015.

I do not pretend to be a connoisseur of Mormon film by any stretch of the imagination, or a movie critic in general, for that matter. In truth, I can add very little to film and theater critic Eric Samuelsen’s excellent review of Once I Was a Beehive, in which he highly recommends the film. I fully endorse his review in the sense that he says exactly what I would have wanted to say but much better than I could have. (Samuelsen’s glowing recommendation means a lot because he is known as somewhat of a cynic or at least a critic — he calls himself the Mormon Iconoclast — about Mormon culture.) But I had a few brief thoughts about it based on my own tastes in literature, film, and culture, and perhaps most importantly, from my perspective as a Mormon father of four Mormon daughters. [Read more…]

Church Autonomy and Taxes in Austria

Today is the deadline for filing an electronic tax return here in Austria, but you’d hardly know it because most tax payers, i.e., employed persons, are not required to file at all: declaring and withholding income and social security taxes are employer responsibilities. As a result, most people don’t file a return; if they do, it is to claim one or several of a limited number of deductions. If members of the Church bother to do it, they will be able to deduct a portion of their tithing—currently capped at EUR 400/year—and that’s about it as far as charitable contributions to the Church are concerned. But fifteen years ago, a local member of the Church blazed the way for an additional deduction related to missionary service.

[Read more…]

Temple Prep for Daughters: Brace Yourself

This post is an honest and personal admission of my raw feelings about attending the temple as a woman and my budding concerns as the mother of a daughter. [Read more…]

Choices, Choices

I’ve been reflecting a lot on E. Quentin Cook’s talk called “Choose Wisely.”  This was the opening talk of the Priesthood session, so I suppose that makes me not the target audience, and yet it’s clearly a talk with universal application. [1]  I won’t let that stop me.

E. Cook begins by talking about the problems when we rationalize our failures to act heroically.  He uses the example of Lucy not catching the ball in the Peanuts comic strips.

While always humorous, Lucy’s excuses were rationalizations; they were untrue reasons for her failure to catch the ball.

He then goes on to talk about the eternal ramifications when we rationalize our failure to prepare for our eternal goals. [Read more…]

Responsibilities of Zone Leaders, Ranked

Steve and I would like to formally apologize for our previous list. In retrospect, we should have been more sensitive to the possibi- OH FORGET IT I can’t even keep a straight face long enough to type this. On with the rankings!

Like a Boss
As before, these rankings are authoritative. Don’t kick against the pricks.[1]
[Read more…]

“…there’s a ton of stuff that should be covered in the MTC.”

In Sam’s post about tax liabilities stemming from membership in an organized religion in Germany, someone mentioned that missionaries destined for that land should be prepped on the topic. Sam’s reply was that “…there’s a ton of stuff that should be covered in the MTC.”

Back in my day[1], the MTC stay was 8-9 weeks for those requiring language training, and 3-4 weeks otherwise. Perhaps it’s longer/shorter/different now, but the point is missionaries don’t spend very much time in the MTC before being sent packing. A month or two, like! That’s not very long! And missionaries are really ignorant youthful! [Read more…]

Skateboarding for Jesus

Mission 18

There is a strange thing in the land; a wild man hath come among us.

It was a warm and muggy summer afternoon. My trainer and I had a single appointment that day with a family we had met the week before while tracting. Their interest was lukewarm at best, but in this corner of the Lord’s vineyard you take what you can get. [Read more…]

Mormon Jargon 2

Now in a slightly less abridged form!

One of my most popular posts ever was a Mormon version of Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary, a satirical version of definitions of words according to Mormon culture. [1]  I thought it was time to expand that first effort.  I’ve included original definitions, a few reader suggestions, and added to the list with some more of my own.  With this preamble, I bring you Mormon Jargon the Sequel:  2 Mormon 2 Jargon.

[Read more…]

Many Are Chosen, But Few Are Called

In a well publicized pre-emptive move, the church issued a statement last week that women seeking tickets to the April 5 Priesthood session would be relegated to the “free speech zone,” traditionally the purview of anti-Mormon protesters.  Kate Kelly, founder of the group Ordain Women, was characteristically gracious in her reply.  From the article:

“We are disappointed that we weren’t granted tickets,” says Kate Kelly, one of the founders of Ordain Women. “But it is a positive step that public affairs is responding to us, indicating that one day maybe the higher authorities will be able to hear our concerns.” [Read more…]

Here’s to Me, Mrs. Robinson

Ku ku kachoo, indeed.

One recent afternoon, two new elders were visiting our neighborhood.  There is another Mormon family up the street, and after stopping in to see them, they came by our house.  For all I know, missionaries have been doing these drop ins for years.  I’ve never been home during the day before, but since my husband and I are starting up a small business, we are now both home during the day until our new office is open.  This was a new experience for me. [Read more…]

Toward a More Productive, Fulfilling, and Successful Missionary Program

A little over six months have passed since the Church held its mission president training meeting that was double-billed as a worldwide leadership training meeting relating to missionary work to which all members were invited (either in person at the BYU Marriott Center or virtually, by way of the internet) and which was preceded by unprecedented fanfare. [Read more…]

Five Goals

2013-12-07 00.02.27One of my most vivid memories as a boy growing up in the gospel-centered home that I did is of a Family Home Evening that we had when I was maybe four, in the basement of our little starter home in Bountiful, Utah. Mom and Dad helped my little brother and me trace our hands with blue marker on poster board. We cut those out, and then wrote on the five fingers of each hand our life’s goals, which we arrived at with Mom and Dad’s gentle persuasion:

1. Get Baptized and Receive the Holy Ghost

2. Receive the Aaronic Priesthood

3. Receive the Melchizedek Priesthood

4. Go on a Mission

5. Get Married in the Temple

That remains a pretty ideal life’s plan for young men in the Church today1—and there is a lot of good to it. Speaking personally, those were good goals for me, and they served me well. Over the years, I have also become more sensitive to the fact that sometimes ideals aren’t attainable, and that within Mormon culture the pain of unmet expectations or attainments can be really acute, even brutal. I want to speak in this post to a slightly different set of expectations that I wish we laid more cultural emphasis on—expectations that, in my view, are more attainable for a larger percentage of our willing young men and that might be more easily adapted to young women, as well.

[Read more…]

Missionary Memories and Regrets: Reflections after 10 Years

Look at my head of hair!

Look at my head of hair!

This Sunday marks my 10th anniversary of entering the MTC. This was back before they made you say goodbye to your family at the curbside, so I have vivid memories of sitting in the large room, watching the short video of missionaries singing “Called To Serve,” parents walking out one door while missionaries walked out another, and absolutely everyone weeping uncontrollably. (It’s probably for the best that saying goodbye is now like ripping off a bandaid.) While my opinion of my mission in particular and LDS missions in general have changed over the years—for instance, whoever thinks those were truly “the best two years” must have had a lousy post-mission life—I am still very grateful for my time spent in the Washington DC North Mission, for the people I worked with, and especially the people I served.

As I’m sure is the case with everyone, I have mixed memories. So without further ado, below are 10 of my favorite Mission moments, followed by 10 of my most painful regrets. [Read more…]

Conversion or Comfort Zone?

Pay no attention to the cricket . . .

It’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between righteousness (that needs no correction) and self-righteousness (that can’t bear or acknowledge the need for correction).  Put another way, it’s difficult to confidently consider something personal revelation unless it differs from our own conscience or our own self-justifications or what we would do (even if we are tempted to do otherwise). Yet, the more we live the gospel, the more righteous and godlike we become and the less likely revelation will contradict our own views. [Read more…]

Changes to Missionary Program? Best Guesses?

(Video clip from Habitat for Humanity, http://www.habitat.org)

For the last couple of weeks, our ward has been announcing a worldwide leadership training meeting that will be held on the afternoon of Sunday, June 23, 2013 in BYU’s Marriott Center. The meeting is being billed as a very big deal. Church leaders have requested local units to even modify their meeting times if they conflict with the 4:00 pm meeting time (which will be the case for us). If I understand correctly, the meeting is technically part of the mission presidents training but, unusually, all members of ward and stake councils and their spouses and all other members of the Church who are interested are invited to attend. My understanding is that all members of the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve Apostles will be in attendance. The upshot is that they have an important message to deliver, presumably about missionary work. [Read more…]