Death by (Correlation) Committee

Image result for primary teacher ldsA topic that often comes up in online discussion groups among Mormons is the teaching manuals. As most of us know, these are written by a committee called the Curriculum Committee (under the oversight of the Correlation Committee). [3] “Correlation” was a byproduct of decades-long efforts to standardize materials, culminating in the 1960s, a huge effort to amass all leadership, budgets, publications, and teaching materials under one hierarchical, priesthood-overseen umbrella rather than separate auxilliary heads as it had been in the past. (See footnote 3 for a much more thorough explanation of the history.) This was to quash rogue teaching that might occur when these things were being done under separate oversight. As with anything where uniformity is the goal, blandness and groupthink is often the result (whereas rogue teaching, inequity, and folklore is often the result of the other approach). Because teachers in the church are average church members using these manuals to the best of their ability, lesson quality varies greatly. Additionally, everyone who has held a teaching calling (and that’s most active members) has an opinion on the materials they are provided and how effective they are.

You can listen to a podcast describing the curriculum process here. Just reading the overview of it on that same page is very interesting. You can read the transcript of an interview with Dan Peterson about his time on the Curriculum Writing committee here.
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The Supreme Court and Religious Liberty: The Plot Thickens

The last day of the Supreme Court term never disappoints on drama.  And this morning, the drama related to the First Amendment and religious liberty.  Religious school funding, bakery objections to same-sex weddings, and President Trump’s Travel Ban — major action on all three fronts happened today.

SCOTUS

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Religious Tourism

Last fall, I returned from a trip to the Baltics. One of the best things about traveling to other countries, in my opinion, is coming into contact with other forms of worship and considering how those “other” sacred spaces and forms of worship feel in contrast to my own experiences as a Mormon. When you enter these places, you have to realize that to their worshipers, past and present, these are the places they have gone to experience the divine, to find comfort, and to understand their place in the universe. Come with me on a tour of some of the places I visited.

20160826_103935Copenhagen’s Cathedral: Church of Our Lady

We started our trip with a day in Copenhagen, Denmark. This first church didn’t make my short list, but my husband wanted to see it, and I’m glad we went!  The original Christus status by Danish sculptor Thorvaldsen is found inside.  The chapel is currently lined with white statues of the apostles (also by Thorvaldsen). The interior is simple and light colored with graceful architectural features like the dome over the altar (see picture). The simplicity of the interior invites silence and reflection and has a feeling of peace and welcome.

There have been several churches built on the same site over the centuries (they kept burning down), with the original one dating to 1209. The current church, like most churches in Northern Europe, is Evangelical Lutheran (since the reformation came to Denmark in 1536). The church is still actively in use; in fact, a friend of mine attended a gay wedding there a week after I visited. Both Kierkegaard and Hans Christian Anderson’s funerals were held in this church. Of all the churches we visited, this one felt the most like a Mormon worship space in terms of mood and architecture. [Read more…]

Threats to Religious Freedom, at Home and Abroad (A BCC Discussion)

It is our duty to raise our voice for the voiceless.”  ~Kristina Arriaga, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (May 17, 2017).

Last week, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (“USCIRF”) hosted a discussion on their most recent annual report, which details the “countries of particular concern” regarding religious freedom.  The State Department periodically issues a similar International Religious Freedom Report.  As does the Pew Research Center on Religion & Public Life.

The international threats to religious freedom are serious.  Although colloquial use of “religious freedom” varies, encompassing a wide variety of public and private actions that in some way implicate religion, I propose limiting our discussion to a more precise definition.  Religious freedom is violated by official government action targeting the peaceful expression of religious belief.

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We Should REALLY Argue More at Church

Image resultI hope I will be forgiven for co-opting Sam Brunson’s excellent post and title (found here), but I wanted to investigate the WHY a little bit more. Ardis points out that debate used to be a staple at church (at least for the men of the YMMIA) during the early part of the 20th century. We also know that in the earliest days of the church, the School of the Prophets was known for hearty discussion and debate (as well as tobacco spitting and smoking). Based on my own memories, growing up in the church in the 70s and 80s, church classes used to involve more debate than they have in my advancing years. That could be the nature of the ward I grew up in, but I suspect that it’s a byproduct of the calcification of correlation that has continued since its introduction. The church–like every organization–becomes more bureaucratic with growth, not less. I’ll explain what I mean. [Read more…]

LGBT Questions: An Essay

Bryce CookThis week, Bryce Cook published a new comprehensive essay on the church’s stance toward LGBT members. Bryce Cook is a founding member of ALL (Arizona LDS LGBT) Friends & Family and a co-director of the annual “ALL Are Alike Unto God” Conference held every April in Mesa, Arizona. He is married to Sara Spencer Cook and together they have six children, two of whom are gay. Since their oldest son came out publicly in 2012, Bryce and Sara have become public allies for LGBT people in and out of the church.

The essay is a long but fascinating read. I’ll cover a few highlights here, but I encourage you to read it in its entirety for yourself here[Read more…]

Risky Religion, or, The Terrors of Love

Keep the commandments; in this there is safety and peace.
—Barbara A. McConochie, Hymn 303

The world’s a tumultuous place, no doubt about it: roiling with uncertainty. No wonder, then, that we seek safety. Mormonism has a strong discursive bent toward treating the gospel as the means to safety in a perilous world. Get on board the Old Ship Zion, we say, and you’ll weather the storm. The watchmen on the tower will warn of impending danger, and, if we heed their precautions, we can sleep soundly at night.

On the cosmic level, I believe that this is right, and in some more proximate ways as well: trying to steer clear of sin is probably a good idea. Even so, I think that the safety the gospel affords turns out to be more painfully paradoxical than we usually like to let on.

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Receiving Grace: Mozart’s Great Mass

51nbxoelzl-_ss500Becoming familiar with Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor (K.427) is a good way to both deepen one’s appreciation for WAM, especially his church music, but also to find a way into understanding the rich and ancient eucharistic liturgy of the western church. The Great Mass, composed in 1782/3, is unfinished* but the missing parts are often added for modern performances and recordings.

In the Great Mass we proceed in stages through music until we receive the grace of God in the Eucharist.

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On not correcting mistakes

I don’t think I believe in bibliomancy but when I randomly opened my Essential Dogen today, I opened to a teaching that spoke directly to a problem I have been mulling over for a while now, viz., how one should, in this new world of fake news, best respond to misinformation and its amplification via social media. I would like to know what the BCC community thinks:

Even when you are clearly correct and others are mistaken, it is harmful to argue and defeat them. On the other hand, if you admit fault when you are right, you are a coward. It is best to step back, neither trying to correct others nor conceding to mistaken views. If you don’t act competitively, and let go of the conflict, others will also let go of it without harboring ill will.

My whole soul rebels against this. If you are clearly wrong, and if the wrongness matters, I have this overwhelming urge to correct you. The thing is it generally seems to be a futile exercise and has this unwelcome outcome of tieing knots in my own wellbeing. Maybe Dogen is right . . . ? (#zen)

Lesson 6: “I Will Tell You in Your Mind and in Your Heart” #DandC2017

This week’s lesson is a continuation of the aborted Oliver Cowdery translation attempt. Bummer for you teachers who rotate weeks with another teacher; there’s a BIG overlap in chapters here with both this week and last week’s lesson focusing on the same three sections of the Doctrine & Covenants: 6, 8, and 9. This one throws section 11 in the cart, but really, the majority of the lesson is still focused on the same material as last week. You’re the loser who drew the short straw because your rotating cohort got first dibs on the good stuff.

The first “attention activity” is the suggestion to bring a radio to class. Apparently, a radio is an old-timey electronic device that was used to receive transmitted sound waves from the air. People used to use these devices to listen to talk show programs as well as music, all interspersed with housewives gushing about the newest dish washing soap and doctors recommending their favorite brand of cigarette “for your health.” Radios were also used in the Netflix series Stranger Things to communicate with the Upside Down. Since it’s probably impractical to drive your car into the classroom, perhaps there are some functional portable radios at the Desert Industries or in your grandfather’s attic you could pick up for your object lesson. [1] [Read more…]

Why Require a Temple Recommend for Church Employment?

Image result for temple recommendWhy does the church currently require that its employees have a current Temple Recommend? It’s a question I’ve often heard my friends who work for the church ask, and over my lifetime, we’ve continually ratcheted up the requirement for a Temple Recommend to callings and ordinances also, even when one has not been historically required. A recently leaked handbook document details the church’s reasons. Some of these were surprising to me, as a person with decades of leadership experience in Fortune 500 companies. [Read more…]

When Church Is Boring

The church posted a message on Facebook on Sunday to help members focus their attention in church, quoting a talk by Bishop Dean Davies. This post has gotten a few people in online communities asking questions.
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Some of the questions I’ve heard in response to this post are:

  • Who’s responsible for boring talks and lessons?
  • Does this mean the church is acknowledging that our meetings are boring?
  • Is the onus entirely on the listener or is this blaming the victim for their bad attitude?
  • Is “shaming” people an appropriate tactic? [1]

Pres. Uchtdorf’s opening talk at the Saturday morning session of General Conference addressed this question also. He spoke of the spiritual experiences we’ve had that brought us to church in the first place and asked, quoting Alma 5:26: “Can ye feel so now?”

Thinking over my own church experience of nearly 50 years, my honest answer to that question is “Depends.” Sometimes I can “feel so,” but sometimes I simply don’t have it in me. Life is long. They wouldn’t call it “enduring” to the end if it was non-stop enjoyment. So yes, when a lesson or talk is boring, partly that’s because I’m just not feeling it right then.  [Read more…]

Are You Listening to the Maxwell Institute Podcast?

There’s no delicate way to put this: if you’re not listening, you should be. Blair Hodges is an excellent, thoughtful interviewer who invites really smart, thoughtful people on the show. He talks with his smart, thoughtful guests about really interesting religious topics, which sometimes touch on Mormonism, but more often, introduce listeners to religious thought that isn’t Mormon-specific.  [Read more…]

Women of Vision

WomenofVision-599x449Yesterday my family and I went to Chicago’s Field Museum. After checking out several other exhibits, we went to the Women of Vision exhibit.

Women of Vision shows some photography that 11 female photographers have shot for various National Geographic stories. The exhibit is (not surprisingly) spectacular. Organized by photographer, the subjects range all over the map, from women’s lives (there was a great display of women in Afghanistan) to architecture to religion (Muslims, Uigars, Christians in the Middle East, shamanism) to African animals.  [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…]

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.

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No Man is “Trash”

Angry? You bet. Tyler Glenn’s latest song and video boil with rage. Glenn, a gay man and former missionary, was embraced by the church for his advocacy in building the inclusivity bridge. That is, until the LDS church’s November 5th policy change regarding homosexuals—a change that codified those in same-gender marriages as apostates, required their excommunication, and forbade the baptism of their children under certain conditions. The policy change hit him hard, like a gut punch, he says. Feeling himself betrayed, denigrated, and literally dismissed over his sexual orientation, Glenn took a hard look at less-visited areas of Mormonism and decided he could no longer believe. The release of “Trash” depicts a stunning reversal of attitude toward his faith heritage. [Read more…]

Variable fallibilities and church leadership

It is well known, at least among Mormons, that Mormons don’t worship their prophets. We don’t pray to Joseph Smith. We are not expected to blindly follow every dictum that comes from President Thomas S. Monson. We test the commandments (in prayer or by trial) and choose the ones whose fruits are most godly. And yet, we frequently hear the refrain that God would never allow the church to be led astray by a false prophet. Whether it is God’s word or the word of his servants, it is the same. The path of safety is to treat the Brethren like they are infallible, even though we know they aren’t, because maybe they are, even when we think they aren’t.
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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…]

The Book of Mormon and the Bechdel Test

Speak up, but don’t talk too much.

When I was in 5th grade, our class was going to put on a classroom play: an abbreviated version of A Christmas Carol.  When I looked at the script, there was only one female part, that of Fezziwig’s wife, and she only had two brainless lines.  I figured that must mean all the parts were open, so I decided to audition for the part of Scrooge, which had a meaty fifty lines, plenty of scene-chewing grumpiness, and even a crying scene.  I borrowed my grandfather’s hat and shirt, and I explained to the teacher that since none of the girl parts were remotely interesting in this play, casting should be open to all comers for all parts.  She agreed with me, and I got the part! [1]

The Bechdel test [2] is used to identify gender bias in movies and literature, but it applies to any narrative story.   [Read more…]

Ted Cruz and Tithing

TithingOkay, so this post isn’t actually about Ted Cruz; it’s more inspired by an article McKay Coppins posted today on recent Evangelical criticisms of Ted Cruz. In short, Cruz, a Baptist, is courting the Evangelical vote. But he’s facing pushback from some Evangelicals (including Mike Huckabee), who argue that his charitable giving (roughly 1% of his income) belies his claim of authentic Christianity which, according to them, demands a 10-percent tithe.

So tithing. As Mormons, we’re squarely in the 10-percent-(of-gross-or-net-or-something)-to-the-church camp. But is ten percent (a tithe, after all) to the church the inevitable conclusion for what represents appropriate religious giving? Not surprisingly, no. [Read more…]

Are Mormons Anti-Modernists?

As the Ammon Bundy headlines continue to dominate the news cycle, many have been wondering whether these views are inherently Mormon as the Bundy clan claims or if Mormonism encourages these types of attitudes.  While this episode has a libertarian theme, which may or may not relate to the question of anti-modernism, I wanted to revisit a post I wrote in 2013 about the anti-modernist streak that seems to be emerging in various faith traditions, including Mormonism.

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They Have Their Reward

In Matthew 6, there are several behaviors called out as public displays of righteousness:

  • Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them (v. 1)
  • And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. (v. 5)
  • Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. (v.16)

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The Christmas Story (IV). Matthew: Sex and Wise Men.

[Part 3 is here. Part 5 is here.]

[You can find the whole series here.]

Matthew: “And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son.” It’s difficult to know where Matthew might get such detail, but it may be a nod to some kind of purification. Possibly this is Matthew seeing Jesus as divine and therefore holy and so the discharge of semen in Mary meant that Joseph was defiled and should not come near the holy child–thus, no sex. Rabbinic rules varied, but in the end, sex during pregnancy was the decision of the wife (according to the male rule makers in the writings at least). But who knows?[1] [Read more…]

Elder Costa’s Ignatian Spirituality #ldsconf

According to Wikipedia, Elder Claudio R. M. Costa grew up in a Catholic family in Brazil. [1] Although his family met LDS missionaries when he was 12, another 15 years passed before he joined the Church. His talk in the Sunday Morning session shows how Elder Costa was able to bring spiritual riches from the faith of his earlier life and use them to enrich Mormon spirituality. Specifically, his talk borrows two practices from St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises and brings them together in a powerful synthesis of Mormon sacramentalism. [Read more…]

Uchtdorf at the Women’s Session: Something for Everyone #ldsconf

The silver fox is my animal spirit guide at General Conference.

Pres. Uchtdorf, aka the “Silver Fox” as he is known in my ward and probably everywhere else, hit yet another home run in the Women’s Session, batting clean up for the three female speakers.  He opens with:

Today, I too have a story to share. I invite you to listen with the Spirit. The Holy Ghost will help you to find the message for you in this parable.

He shares the story of an 11 year old girl named Eva who did not want to go to live with her Great-Aunt Rose.   [Read more…]

Bench Strength: Predicting the Next 3 Apostles

Clear President Monson’s calendar.

The recent passing of three apostles means the Church President will likely call three replacements this week, and depending on where they come from, he might just need to call replacements for the replacements as well.
Who will they be? I’m glad you asked.

Today’s guest post is by Ken C, husband to Angela C.

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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…]