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…]

Advent Sunday: Finding Hope at the End of 2017

advent-week-1.jpgToday is the First Sunday of Advent, and the candle lit today represents Hope—specifically, the hope we have in Christ, that He was born, that He lived, that He suffered, that He died and lived again, and that He prepared a way for us to follow Him. These musings are part of the Mormon Lectionary Project.

“A stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man, did he become, from the night of that fearful dream. On the Sabbath-day, when the congregation were singing a holy psalm, he could not listen, because an anthem of sin rushed loudly upon his ear, and drowned all the blessed strain. [Read more…]

What if Beehives Passed the Sacrament Too?

I can still remember turning 12. At least the church parts of it. After I turned 12, my dad ordained me to the Aaronic priesthood, and then I got to pass the sacrament.

And I continued to pass it for the next two years.[fn1]

Passing the sacrament was an important part of my development as a Mormon. It provided me with a tangible connection to the church. My participation in the church stopped being passive, the receipt of knowledge and culture, and started being, well, participatory. I felt a certain amount of pride, a certain amount of responsibility, and even a certain amount of ownership over my church experience. I remember intricately figuring out who would go where, negotiating the pews to make sure that everybody got the sacrament, watching the priests, waiting for them to stand up so I could return my tray.

And lately I’ve been thinking, what if Beehives passed the sacrament, too? [Read more…]

Snippets from Martin Luther’s Treatise On Christian Liberty

Years ago, I stumbled upon Martin Luther’s Treatise On Christian LibertyI still turn to it often, marveling at the insights regarding the intersection of faith and works.  Here are just a few of my favorite passages.

“Since, therefore, this faith can rule only in the inward man, as Romans X says, With the heart we believe unto righteousness; and since faith alone justifies, it is clear that the inward man cannot be justified, made free and be saved by any outward work or dealing whatsoever.”

“Although it is good to preach and write about penitence, confession, and satisfaction, our teaching is unquestionably deceitful and diabolical if we stop with that and do not go on to teach about faith.” [Read more…]

1309-1417: Avignon and the Papal Schism

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For two centuries before the official launch of the Protestant Reformation, corruption and strife in the papacy prompted calls for reform within the Catholic Church.  Back in the early 14th century, the Pope had fled Rome and set up the offices of the church in Avignon, France.  There, over the next 100 years, a series of Popes created ways to increase religious taxes and fiscal intakes, funding construction of a grand palace of opulence (pictured).  As one Italian poet described Avignon, it is “a receptacle of all that is most wicked and abominable…In this city there is no piety, no reverence or fear of God, no faith or charity, nothing that is holy, just, equitable, or humane.”

Two women, later canonized by the Catholic church, led the calls to repentance.  St. Bridget implored Pope Gregory XI to show humility — “Why in thy Court dost thou suffer unchecked the foulest pride, insatiable avarice, execrable wantonness, and all-devouring simony? … Arise and seek bravely to reform the Church which I have purchased with my blood, and it shall be restored to its former state, though now a brothel is more respected than it.”  [Read more…]

Protestant Oktoberfest 

Germany has a major celebration every October — but this year is special.  500 years ago, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the doors of Wittenberg Church.  This symbolically launched what later historians would dub the Protestant Reformation.

As a lover of religious history — and appreciator of the LDS Church’s indebtedness to many things Protestant — I hereby proclaim October to be Protestant Reformation month at By Common Consent.  I hope you will enjoy and contribute to our celebration of Protestant hymns, quotes, churches, leaders, theologies, and other snippets of history.  I pray that through this celebration, we can all rediscover a love of scripture and delight in faith.

[Read more…]

On Listing Grievances and Emotional Labor #ldsconf

In his talk on Sunday Morning, Elder W. Craig Zwick, now an emeritus Seventy, told of a woman who kept an electronic list of things her husband said or did that irritated her. He relates that later, while taking the sacrament and reflecting on the Atonement, she realized that this practice was driving the Spirit from her life, so she deleted the list. The emotion with which he said “Let it all go!” suggests that he found this story a powerful example of forgiveness, and he offered it as an example of overcoming spiritual shortsightedness. [Read more…]

Succession Crisis by the Numbers: What Would You Do?

I was recently discussing the 1844 LDS Succession Crisis with some fellow bloggers. Although as a second gen Mormon I have no pioneer ancestors, I do sometimes wonder what I would have done had I been there. The Mormon Succession Crisis was truly unplanned, resulting in confusion, bad feelings, and schism.  If you had been in Nauvoo in 1844, which faction would you have followed? [Read more…]

Two Temple Worker Restrictions Removed

Several years ago I discovered three weird restrictions on temple service.  Often, while I was attending the temple, the workers mentioned they needed help; they invited the patrons to pray and talk to their stake to seek out temple worker callings. Several friends of mine felt inspired to follow through.  They met the basic qualifications – devout Mormons, in good health, without records of Church discipline.  But they were denied. [Read more…]

How Do You Solve a Problem Like the JST?

One of the most important facets of Mormonism that sets us apart from other faiths is that we don’t believe the Bible to be inerrant. We believe that it contains errors. This belief alone causes us to be viewed as unChristian by many evangelicals and other sola scriptura believers who consider any alteration of the Bible to be heretical. Reformists, in breaking with the Roman Catholic church’s authority, placed greater weight on scripture as the sole voice of God (not through the filter of papal authority, but accessible to all believers directly through reading the Bible). For some, if the Bible is fallible, then Christianity has no leg to stand on in proclaiming it has access to God’s truth. [Read more…]

Peace and Love to Charlottesville

I love Charlottesville.  For nearly a decade, Charlottesville has been my favorite retreat from the chaos of big cities.  I have family who live, just barely outside of cell-signal range, in the breathtaking rolling hills west of town.  My fiancé, Brad, attended – and I seriously considered attending – the University of Virginia Law School.  I love visiting.  I’ve explored its romantic colonial streets; hiked its peaceful mountains; day-dreamed about living there forever.

But this year Charlottesville has become a flashpoint for racial tension.  After years of studied discussion, the City Council voted in February to remove confederate statutes and rename two confederate-honoring parks.  (One of those parks, Stonewall Jackson park, was built after the city in 1914 seized land from private citizens in order to destroy a burgeoning black community.)  The parks have since been renamed, but plans to remove the statute stalled when the City was sued under a state law protecting historic monuments.  A month ago a small KKK rally at Justice Park (formerly Stonewall Jackson park) was overwhelmed by a thousand counter-protestors.  When a “Unite the Right” group applied for a permit to hold a further rally, they had to obtain a federal court order protecting their right to free speech.  Counter-protestors again rallied to flood the streets.

[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…]

Resurrection

As a Mormon raised on the 2nd Article of Faith, I believed that the principle of individual responsibility made the concept of an inherited “original sin” incoherent. We each, I thought, came into the world as blank slates, given eight years to develop the capacity for accountability—at which point baptism gave us a clean start, just in case. From then on, we bore the responsibility of acting well, with repentance and weekly sacrament participation to take care of our inevitable mistakes. With Christ’s help, we would be capable of living in the world as good people.

It’s not that I disbelieve any of this now, exactly. Still, I’ve recently found myself telling people that I believe in original sin. I always hasten to clarify that it’s not the Augustinian seminally-transmitted version of original sin that has won my assent. I don’t believe that my veins flow with depravity born from Adam’s fall, and I don’t believe that newborn babies carry its taint. I do believe, though, that our common humanity has a dark side that none of us escapes. [Read more…]

A helpful guide to understanding the source of inspiration

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

And There Was No Sick Among Them

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer on the Anniversary of the June 8 Revelation

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

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…]

Prayer for Easter Morning

O God of abundant life: as we rise with Jesus from the dark tomb of our failures to love, grant that we may greet our sisters and brothers with the gentleness of his call to Mary, the sweet art of the Spirit’s loving breath making up our defects until we become one in love as you are one God. Amen.

For music, Jamie Hall singing Ralph Vaughan Williams’s setting of George Herbert’s “Easter” from Five Mystical Songs:

[Read more…]

Prayer for Holy Saturday

O God of our darkest night, when your Son was absent from us as you were absent from him: may your Spirit nevertheless breathe gently upon us as we huddle together in the darkling fright of the tomb. Amen.

For music, Paula Matthussen’s “of an implacable subtraction,” performed by Dana Jessen on bassoon and Mantra Percussion on electronics:

Prayer for Good Friday

O God of the cross, where your Son hung in abjection, icon of the suffering that we ceaselessly inflict on others: fill our emptiness with the Holy Spirit of love, that we, seeing the crucified Jesus, might at long last learn to stop crucifying our sisters and brothers in creation, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

For music, Kenneth Leighton’s setting of Peter Abelard’s “Solus ad victimam”:

[Read more…]

Refugees in The Book of Mormon: Ancient Light for a Modern Crisis

By Alicia Alba[1] (ed. Mel Henderson)

refugee: noun. ref· u· gee \ˌre-fyu̇-ˈjē\ An individual seeking refuge or asylum; especially: an individual who flees for safety (as from war), usually to a foreign country.

The Book of Mormon begins with a refugee story: Lehi was a wealthy landowner in ancient Jerusalem at a time of social and political unrest. Among the first things we learn is that Lehi was a good man who tried to share what he knew—but enemies emerged in his own community, men who “sought his life, that they might take it away” (1 Ne. 1:20). Lehi and his family were forced to flee. [Read more…]

Prayer for Maundy Thursday

O God of our Gethsemane slumbers: in our fear and confusion, strengthen us in your Spirit, that even though we do not know what tomorrow may bring, we might watch with your Son this night. Amen.

For music, Eleanor Friedberger’s “I Won’t Fall Apart on You Tonight”:

Prayer for Wednesday in Holy Week

O God of Truth: grant that we, through the grace of your Son, might learn to love one another as you love us, that when we receive the Comforter of your Spirit, we may also bring comfort to the people we meet in our way, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

For music, the Salt Lake Vocal Artists singing Bob Chilcott’s setting of “If Ye Love Me”:

Prayer for Tuesday in Holy Week

O God of all our troubles: in our longing for them soon to be done, grant us your Spirit to call us home to you, that in our remaining sojourn we might yet walk with those who need your love, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

For music, Mahalia Jackson’s “Trouble of the World”:

Prayer for Monday in Holy Week

O God of our long wilderness road: as we approach the end of our Lenten journey, let the light of your Spirit come shining from the west down to the east, in anticipation of the day when, through Christ our Lord, we shall be released. Amen.

For music, Jack Johnson singing Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released”: