Mormon Men Write Their Own Script

[part 7 in an ongoing series about LDS missions and missionary work]

The organizers of the I’m a Mormon campaign produced inspirational videos about women who didn’t fit the mold of the traditional Mormon woman. One of the campaign’s authors stated that the videos were meant to show that “Mormon women write their own script.” 

Some LDS women reacted with confusion and a sense of betrayal. Neylan McBaine, one of the creators, captured this confusion by quoting a letter received by their marketing team

[Read more…]

Option A or Option B: Coming Home Early from an LDS Mission

[part 6 in an ongoing series about LDS missions and missionary work]

photo source

A few months ago, when it seemed that you were the most unhappy and when you first started considering coming home, our branch president asked how you were doing. 

I know that disappointing our branch president and your little sisters were two of your main reasons for staying on your mission. So I thought you’d be interested in the conversation we had about you:

[Read more…]

The Problem with APs – and all Equal Partnerships – on the Mission: A Satire

-A Satire-

[Part 5 in an ongoing series about LDS Missions and Missionary Work]

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“And what are you training [missionaries] to do? To go home; to be a husband or wife…”

President Bonnie H. Cordon, General Young Women President, in an interview announcing the new role of sister training leaders (STLs).1

“Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be APs.”

-a country song I heard one time, I think. 

[Read more…]

To a Young Missionary in a Disobedient Mission, Part 1

[part 3 in an ongoing series about LDS missions and missionaries]

author as a young missionary in Germany

I am mourning the loss of the mission experience I thought you’d have. 

Imagine having a kid someday that you love more than you can put into words, and that kid has been looking forward to the Hillary Challenge all his life because you told him it would be tough-but-awesome. Your kid knows your Hillary highlights; he’s seen your pictures and heard your stories. He’s seen his older brothers’ pictures and heard their stories, as well.

While growing up, your kid prepares for Hillary, a multi-year commitment to get fit, learn to run in the mountains in all types of weather, navigate, bike, paddle, and carry a pack, and then he chooses to try out for the team. You anticipate the good stuff that’s about to happen.

And then imagine that Hillary turns out to be nothing like the epic Hillary environment that you’d been telling your kid about since he was little. What if the Hillary squad wasn’t tough-but-awesome at all, but loose, mutinous, slack?  

[Read more…]

Dear Missionaries: 5 Tips for Working With Members Like Me

 

Part 2 in an ongoing series about LDS missions and missionaries.

photo source

Dear Missionaries,

It takes skill and courage to insert yourself into other people’s lives in a respectful way, a helpful way. When you come from a different culture and a different generation, it’s easy to misstep. 

I live in a secular, Westernized country: New Zealand. Most of my friends know very little about religion. They have rarely stepped inside a church or mosque or opened a book of scripture.

My secular friends perceive religion the way it shows up in the news and TV scripts, as fundamentalist and radical. They are wary of people who take religion too seriously. But they know me, and so they are cautiously willing to meet you. 

Although your good-heartedness will carry the day without any help from me, I’m offering you a few tips for making the most of our time together.

1-CALL ME “HOLLY” 

When you teach my friends, refer to me in the same way that I introduce myself to you. Call me the same thing that my friends call me.  

A doctor named Stella1 came to my house a couple of days ago to meet with you (sisters). You called me “Sister Jones” and referred to my partner as “President Jones.”    

Using Stella’s first name – but my last name – felt out of balance. Also, my church title would have appeared formal and unfamiliar to my houseguest and friend.

[Read more…]

Praying that All My Kids Would Serve Missions and Marry in the Temple

 BCC welcomes Holly Miller, who will be publishing a series of articles about LDS missions. Holly earned an MA in Religious Studies and an MM in Classical Piano. She is an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, raised in Utah, living with her family in New Zealand. Email: imagine.inspire.inquire@gmail.com

This is the story of a 20-year prayer experiment.

It started in 1993 in the MTC with Sr. Bean.

As I walked out of class one day, my idol-teacher, Sr Bean, asked if I’d hang back for a second.

I admired Sr Bean the way a kid sister admires a wise and glamorous older sister.  I can still picture the brown flush of the leather cross-over shoes she wore. I got a matching pair when I got home from my mission. I remember the way she’d set her jaw when she got serious, the skin on her cheekbones, and her stories.

Earlier that day in class, I had shared a scripture about praying with real intent. I had made a case for the idea that rattling off memorized phrases while praying is useless.

After class that day, in this rare, intimate exchange with Sr Bean – the only time it was just the two of us – Sr Bean told me that her family had a tradition of ending every prayer in the exact same way. They ended every prayer by praying that they would all “go on missions and get married in the temple.” She said that all 8 (?) of the kids in that family repeated that memorized prayer from the time they were little until the time they left home, over every meal and at every family prayer. 

She said, “If there ever was a phrase that was rattled off without thinking, that would have been it. But, guess what happened? We grew up, and all 8 of us went on missions and got married in the temple.” 

This is the moment my 20-year prayer experiment was conceived.

[Read more…]

Whence the Early Baptismal Challenges

Yes, I was this cool.

A recent talk by Elder Ballard has created a bit of a stir among returned missionaries in the Church. The talk is reported in the Church News here. He decries the practice of early baptismal challenges, claiming that Church leaders don’t know where this practice originated. The gist of his talk from the article:

“These missionaries have felt that inviting people to be baptized the very first time they meet them demonstrated the missionaries’ faith and supports their thinking that inviting people to be baptized early is what is expected,” he said. “Other missionaries have felt that an invitation to be baptized early allowed them to promptly separate the wheat from the tares. In this case, some see the baptismal invitation as a sifting tool.”

Church leaders don’t know where these practices began, but “it was never our intention to invite people to be baptized before they had learned something about the gospel, felt the Holy Ghost, and had been properly prepared to accept a lifelong commitment to follow Jesus Christ,” said President Ballard. “Our retention rates will dramatically increase when people desire to be baptized because of the spiritual experiences they are having rather than feeling pressured into being baptized by our missionaries.” – Church News article quoting E. Ballard

It’s possible someone high up in the Church has read my book (which I doubt), The Legend of Hermana Plunge, but given how common these practices have been–whether attributed to Dyer’s Challenging & Testifying Missionary or not–you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting an RM whose mission culture included these practices, whether taken to extremes like baseball baptisms or just taught to increase missionary courage (as in my mission). [Read more…]

Sunday Dress

In our most recent General Conference, there has been a push for members to dress up for church. It’s long been a hobby horse of E. Oaks, and that hasn’t changed. Generally speaking, current Mormon dress standards at church are a little more dressed up than most other sects, but maybe less than Easter at a historically black church–we don’t like hats and fans.

Several years ago, we had a French boy staying with us on an exchange program. I asked if he wanted to come along with us to church or if he preferred to stay home. He said he would like to come along, for curiosity sake. I had mentioned that people in our church tended to dress up for church. He was Catholic, an occasional church-goer, but not from a super devout family. When he came down in nice jeans, sneakers, and a tee shirt with a slogan on it, I was worried he’d feel awkward when he saw all the other kids in dress pants and button down shirts. He borrowed a button down shirt from my son and off we went. He was further surprised to see our son administering the sacrament, a rite he was used to seeing a priest in vestments conduct. [Read more…]

#taxday 2019: Henry P. Richards and Hawaiian Personal Taxes

 

Henry P. Richards, public domain.

Today is April 15, which means it’s Tax Day! And, as always, on Tax Day, I wanted to bring you a story of Mormonism and taxes.[fn1]

I didn’t have anything particular in mind, though.[fn2] So I ran a quick Westlaw search,[fn3] and, before I had a chance to rearrange the results chronologically, the first result caught my eye: Kupua v. Richards, an 1879 decision from the Supreme Court of the Kingdom of Hawaii.

The Richards in that case was Henry P. Richards, brother of apostle Franklin D. Richards. But, while today we remember Franklin D. better than Henry P., it turns out that Henry P. Richards played a critical (and heralded!) role in missionary work in Hawaii. [Read more…]

Restorationism in a Foreign Key

Grant Hardy is a Professor of History and Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Asheville.  He is the editor of the new Maxwell Institute study edition of the Book of Mormon.

ReviewMelissa Wei-Tsing Inouye, China and the True Jesus: Charisma and Organization in a Chinese Christian Church (Oxford, 2018).

[Read more…]

Pants!

pants-quilt

The Victory-for-Satan Newsroom announced this afternoon that sister missionaries can wear dress pants.

YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!

But as I take a breath between celebrating, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect. [Read more…]

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…]