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…]

Abandoned

Abandoned...: I grew up in rural Pennsylvania, outside the small village of Bainbridge on a country lane called Locust Grove. We lived atop a hill surrounded by corn fields. The Conoy Indians used to live there [1] nestled between the banks of the Susquehanna and the Conoy Creek. We sometimes found arrow heads in the corn fields or shards of pottery by the banks of the creek, the only remnants of a population that vanished a couple hundred years before we lived there. [Read more…]

Adam Miller’s Nothing New Under the Sun

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

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

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

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

[Read more…]

Justice and Mercy: A Rape Survivor’s Perspective

Today’s guest post is from Rachael.

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

If Jane Austen Wrote the Book of Mormon

Where are our marriage prospects in this godforsaken wilderness?

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

Book Review: Adam Miller’s Future Mormon

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

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

[Read more…]

Ski Lessons with E. Stevenson #ldsconf

Dude, Where’s My Car Keys?

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

Mormon Deepities

What is a deepity?

Something that sounds profound but intellectually hollow.
Usually has the following characteristics. 1. True but trivial 2. False but logically ill informed. 3. Usually a use-mention error or (UME)  To the extent that it’s true, it doesn’t matter. To the extent that it matters, it isn’t true.

What is a UME?  Confusing the word used to describe a thing, with the thing itself.

Daniel Dennett, the prominent atheist author who coined the term “deepity” in 2009, argues that theology is full of deepities.  To which I say, I know you are, but what am I? [Read more…]

To Be Perfectly Honest . . .

Honesty is cool.

In Gospel Doctrine this week, the class discussion revolved around how we can be more honest, and the subtle forms of dishonesty that creep into our lives.  According to one study [1], 10% of communication in marriage is dishonest.  Another study showed that 38% of interactions between college students were deceptive [2].  And as we all know, 83% of statistics are made up [3].  Why do people lie?  Does everyone do it?  How can we be more honest?

“It’s not a lie if you believe it!”  George Costanza [4]

[Read more…]

Authenticity: Will the Real Me Please Stand Up?

It’s a common claim among participants of Mormon internet groups that people feel they cannot be themselves at church or can’t say what they think for fear of being ostracized.  They feel they are discouraged from being honest or authentic, that they would be rejected if they disagreed with the party line or articulated a non-conforming viewpoint.  Certainly many examples have been given of individuals who were viewed suspiciously for sharing unpopular opinions openly.  These are complaints that they feel they must be inauthentic to be accepted. [Read more…]

Did You Watch Saturday Session? #ldsconf

I realized the other day that, until I went to BYU, I had probably never watched a Saturday session of Conference (other than Priesthood session).

The thing is, my parents were (and are) tremendously active and participatory in the Church. I can probably count the number of Sundays I missed as a kid on one—or at most, on two—hands. And two of those Sundays had me in the hospital after an appendectomy.

I mean, when I was really little, suburban San Diego didn’t get Conference over cable, so my parents would have had to have bundled the three, then four, of us over to the Stake Center. But even when the station that carried nothing 50 weekends out of the year started showing Conference on the other two, I don’t remember watching Saturday sessions.  [Read more…]

Rules & Relationships

It is common for westerners in India to be amazed at the utter chaos and yet the seemingly laissez-faire attitude of the Indian drivers.  One of our Indian drivers remarked about the traffic:  “In India, nothing is impossible because I-M-Possible.”  He chortled over his cleverness, and repeated that saying many times in our nine day trip. [Read more…]

As a Little Child

Ashley Mae Hoiland received a BFA in studio arts and an MFA in poetry, both from Brigham Young University. She served a mission in Uruguay. She now lives in Palo Alto, California with her husband, Carl, and two children, Remy and Thea. She has written and illustrated several children’s books and once headed a project that printed poetry on billboards. More of her writing can be found at www.birdsofashmae.com. We are glad to welcome Ashmae as a guest of BCC.

There I am, a little sprite of a girl, lion-haired and scrape-kneed, taking bouncy skipping steps along the dirt path. Quiet morning sun peers through the leaves like the light through stained glass at the front of a cathedral. As a thirty-year-old, I stand at the top of my childhood hill and look down. I can see my 8-year-old self stopping to bend near the ground and hold some leaves between her fingers. I hear the scuffle and scrape of dust and rocks beneath worn tennis shoes. My tiny self is alone and canopied by the canyon oaks and crooked spruces.

I almost remember perfectly the visceral magic of endless possibility I felt in this space. My parents were both new to the church and the missionaries still drove up the long canyon road and the steep driveway to our house every Monday evening—we knew so little. Our naïveté left us unencumbered and free, because the few facts we really grasped on to were handed to us by the joy we felt as we were sealed in the temple just months before, or when the ward wrapped their arms around my parents and celebrated their goodness. [Read more…]

Finding God in the City

Last month, my mom was in Chicago, visiting us. On the last day of her visit, we took her on the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Historic Treasure of Culture and Commerce tour. Over the course of about ten blocks and two hours, we learned about and saw a number of amazing buildings in downtown Chicago. I’d seen all of them at least in passing, of course, but I now know the history, the reasons, and the thought that went into them.

Chicago Cultural Center Tiffany Dome

Chicago Cultural Center Tiffany Dome

For me, the highlight was probably the Chicago Cultural Center’s giant Tiffany dome. But you could make a plausible argument for the Art Institute of Chicago, the Tiffany dome in the Marshall Fields (now Macy’s) store, the metalwork of the Sullivan Center, or basically anything else we saw that day.  [Read more…]

Doubting Your Doubts

In an October 2013 talk called “Come, Join With Us” Pres. Uchtdorf welcomed everyone to be a part of the church, even if they have doubts.  He famously said:

 First doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.

It’s a great line.[1]  Some have taken it to mean that Pres. Uchtdorf is saying that there is no room for doubt, that only the faithless doubt, that doubting your faith should never ever happen.  Given the rest of the talk, that seems like an unlikely interpretation.  He speaks with empathy toward those who have doubts and invites everyone to join and participate in church regardless of their doubts. [Read more…]

On Internet Rumors

These last couple days, there’s been a thing going around on Facebook. Maybe you’ve seen it. Some anonymous poster’s friend’s relative is high-up in the Boy Scouts and has the inside scoop on why the BSA allowed gay leaders, knows that the church is going to leave BSA, and knows that it’s going to be over gay issues, not in the interest of gender fairness.

And with that description, you know it’s not true, right? Like, it’s as credible as those email forwards your uncle sends every election cycle (frankly, whether your uncle is liberal or conservative, because what really matters is, your uncle’s crazy, amirite?).

And yet, people are credulously sharing and believing it. So, as a public service, and in the interest of not getting email forwards or seeing these kinds of things on Facebook, a quick review of how to evaluate the plausibility of internet rumors:  [Read more…]

Sunday Resolutions and Peter’s Denial

This post is a mashup of a Gospel Doctrine lesson I taught last week and a response to Steve’s excellently sentimental post earlier this week. 

Mark 14:72  And the second time the cock crew. And Peter called to mind the word that Jesus said unto him, Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. And when he thought thereon, he wept.

“My heart goes out to Peter. So many of us are so much like him. We pledge our loyalty; we affirm our determination to be of good courage; we declare, sometimes even publicly, that come what may we will do the right thing, that we will stand for the right cause, that we will be true to ourselves and to others.

“Then the pressures begin to build. Sometimes these are social pressures. Sometimes they are personal appetites. Sometimes they are false ambitions. There is a weakening of the will. There is a softening of discipline. There is capitulation. And then there is remorse, followed by self-accusation and bitter tears of regret.”

Gordon B. Hinckley

That’s one of my favorite quotes from President Hinckley. The example of Peter in this instance really hits me, because I tend to be a victim of “Sunday resolutions,” those bold declarations that are so easy to make and so difficult to live up to.

[Read more…]

Coleman, Cafeterias, and Choirs

orig_Ornette_Coleman_01Ornette Coleman died today.

I don’t have any idea how resonant his death is in American culture. I don’t know what pictures the words “Ornette Coleman” conjures up in your mind, if any. But I hope to add a little to that picture.

In 1959, Coleman released The Shape of Jazz to Come.[fn1]  [Read more…]

The Women’s Pull

Some of our groups had only 4 girls, and the carts had metal on them and were very heavy.

Our stake just completed its first ever Pioneer Trek activity.  In our fast & testimony meeting this weekend, most of the speakers talked about their experiences as leaders or participants.  I would have thought these contrived experiences wouldn’t be as touching as they were, but some of their experiences were moving and instructive. [Read more…]

Writing and Revelation

My wife and I recently watched “The Words,” a movie with nested stories about writers. It featured a trope that occurs fairly regularly in movies about writing: the all-night burst of inspiration that produces Deeply Moving Prose, usually after the person doing the writing has gone through a prolonged period of emotional difficulty. The desired effect of this trope is to imbue the writing with a kind of mystical power—an effect that these movies usually augment by keeping said Deeply Moving Prose more or less sealed off from the viewers, Hitchcock-style, because it’s easier to imagine Deeply Moving Prose than it is to produce it (which may explain the irony that most movies about writing, including this one, are badly written). [Read more…]

The Church and the Wall Street Rule

wall streetEven though the federal income tax is my main professional interest, I don’t teach exclusively tax classes; every year, I also teach a Business Organizations class.[fn1]

In many business entities (especially publicly-traded corporations, on which I’ll focus here), management of the firm is separated from ownership. The shareholders are the equity owners of a corporation, but the board of directors manages it and makes the day-to-day decisions. And the goals of the board members may differ from the goals of the shareholders.  [Read more…]

Grace and Friendship

Some of life’s best examples of grace come through friendship, in little moments of surprise that remind us of the whole world that exists beyond ourselves. Sure, there are the graces that happen when strangers are unexpectedly kind, but what makes grace in friendship interesting is that we expect goodness from the other person. What is grace when kindness and generosity are the rule (even if moments of prickliness do intrude, as they will)? [Read more…]

A Short Response to President Wixom: My Return to Faith

I know I’m not the only one for whom President Wixom’s talk resonated strongly, but let me add my testimony to the chorus. [Read more…]

Poem for Good Friday

O Jesus, on the cross, alone,
you are the only God I know;
my pleading heart a barren stone
no heaven finds but here below.

I met you hanging on a tree
in woods obscure, half spent the day,
forsaken by your God, like me,
without a friend to share the way.

Companionship then let us keep—
though mortal fear each footstep bars—
as we descend through dark and deep,
together searching for the stars.

Periphery Privilege

I used to think I had it pretty tough as a missionary and then as a member of the church in Austria. It’s easy to feel isolated and maybe even a little under siege (see below!) with Mormons few and far between on the outskirts of the vineyard. [Read more…]

Sighs Too Deep for Words

Sometimes with full heart I fall on my face before God and weep my soul to the heavens. I rage and sob and struggle to pour forth my full measure. Plying the words that mingle with my tears I falter, trying plainness or eloquence or cursing—anything that might break through. On the edge of despair I am reduced to muttering the Name over and over in its many lesser names—“Oh God!” “Dear, gentle Jesus!”—and in the repetition the distinction between prayer and blasphemy begins to blur. I pray on, or I go to sleep. [Read more…]

Family History Road Trip

We caught up with the wagon train at the California Trial interpretive center.

We caught up with the wagon train at the California Trail interpretive center.

I live in Vienna while the rest of my side of the family remains scattered across the western United States. Thanks to a confluence of favorable factors, we are able to make an annual visit to the old homestead each year for several weeks, which has led to a tradition of a trip within a trip–we fly home, spend about a week moving from couch to couch paying our respects, then take a week to be tourists and travel somewhere I never got around to visiting while growing up , and wrap things up by cooling our heels at the parental roost for a few days.

[Read more…]

The Most Controversial Bloggernacle Post in the 6,000-Year History of the World. This Week, at Least.

Historicity.

Role Models

Charlie_Parker,_Tommy_Potter,_Miles_Davis,_Max_Roach_(Gottlieb_06941)In my mission farewell talk,[fn1] I spent a little time talking about one of my teenage heroes. Charlie “Bird” Parker was an alto saxophone player who revolutionized jazz. With Dizzy Gillespie, he broke with swing and invented bebop, a faster, more cerebral, more harmonically complex style of music.

I admired the Bird’s virtuosity on the saxophone. I admired his improvisational genius. And I admired his work ethic: he may have had a natural genius, but, as a teenager, he also practiced 11-15 hours a day. And it was this work ethic, as much as anything, that appealed to me, and it was this work ethic that made me think of him as a prepared to leave on my mission.[fn2] [Read more…]

Sunday Morning Poem: Richard Crashaw, “On the Wounds of Our Crucified Lord”

Bringing a little baroque sensibility to our series, I present this poem by Richard Crashaw (1613-1649):

O these wakeful wounds of thine!
Are they mouths? or are they eyes?
Be they mouths, or be they eyne,
Each bleeding part some one supplies.
Lo! a mouth, whose full-bloomed lips
At too dear a rate are roses.
Lo! a bloodshot eye! that weeps
And many a cruel tear discloses.
O thou that on this foot hast laid
Many a kiss and many a tear,
Now thou shalt have all repaid,
Whatsoe’er thy charges were.
This foot hath got a mouth and lips
To pay the sweet sum of thy kisses;
To pay thy tears, an eye that weeps
Instead of tears such gems as this is.
The difference only this appears
(Nor can the change offend),
The debt is paid in ruby-tears
Which thou in pearls didst lend.