God Scrunching God’s Self Down

Shawn Tucker teaches Humanities at Elon University, and might contribute completely true, non-fake news stories to the Mormon Tabernacle Enquirer. He and his wife live in North Carolina and have four children. Read his recent guest post on Joseph Campbell here.

A few months ago I did a little activity that I called “40 Days with God.” The goal of the activity was to know God better. You know, no big deal. My approach was this: since metaphors are a big part of the way we understand the world and our experiences, I would develop and examine at least 40 different metaphors for God. Of course God is our Heavenly Parents, but I also explored other metaphors. One example is God is the sun, providing all of the energy and warmth that all of us need, and sharing that abundance with everyone. I thought about God as a new pair of socks that are right there when you need them, a pleasant surprise in your everyday life. I even thought that God, like socks, doesn’t mind that we don’t think about God all of the time. I thought about God as a perfect soccer pass, something perfectly timed, perfectly weighted, perfectly placed, and so well suited that it is breathtakingly beautiful in how it unlocks a defense. These were just 3 of the metaphors I came up with, and even though it was called 40 days, I only ended up with about 35 metaphors for God. [Read more…]

Erasing Race

We’ve had some outstanding Relief Society lessons in my ward this year, owing to the great teachers we have. Recently, we were talking about how to talk with people not of our faith or culture, basically how to get along with everyone without being a jerk. Something like that. I was in and out a little bit. [Read more…]

Oh Say, What Is Sin?

I’m not sure I know what sin is.

Lately, I’ve come to recognize that the theory of sin I’ve held since my youth is … wrong.  Or if not wrong, at least woefully incomplete.

For most of my teenage and young adult life, sin meant willful rebellion against God.  Sin meant knowing an action was wrong, and intentionally choosing to do it anyway.  I viewed everyday sins as a microcosm of the way Mormons describe Outer Darkness. Under that belief, almost everyone on Earth will obtain some degree of heavenly glory; the only exception is those who have “sinned against the Holy Ghost” – who have had so powerful of a witness of God’s truth they effectively walk right up to a glorified Jesus Christ, look him in the eye, and say “I am choosing to not follow you.” [1]

I considered that level of willful sin difficult to achieve.  After all, we simultaneously learned in Mormon Sunday School that things which would be sins for us (like drinking alcohol) may not necessarily be a sin for other people; non-Mormons didn’t have the same knowledge, so they wouldn’t be held to the same standard. [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…]

“For I created all things spiritually…”

Animism is the belief that “gods” and “spirits” — and the anima that imbue them with their god and spiritliness — inhabit things both living and inert. Eurocentric anthropologists originally used the term negatively, believing animism to be a stage in the evolution of religion from primitive belief to more “advanced” monotheism. This view should be rejected.

I am definitely an animist. I don’t mean that as some kind of poetic characterisation of my love for nature. No, I definitely believe nature — rock, animal, and tree — is animated by more than just the material sum of its parts. Crazy stuff.

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These are the hills and trees near my home. Should I get a good death, they may be the last thing I see as I lay dying at home as an old man. The hill is North Hill in Malvern and it looms both over the house I was born into and the house in which I now live. I believe that this hill is more than its granite and grass. It is “North Hill,” the animation of that granite and grass. It — and the things that live in it and around it — has, to borrow a Japanese idea, kami-nature (more on kami below). [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.

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“You Lost Me,” Tension in the Church

Image result for satanic smurfsThis was an interesting article I recently read by an Evangelical-raised woman about the things that happened in her life where she felt a disconnect with what her church told her. The article was titled “How I Became a Heretic (or How the Evangelical, Conservative Church Lost Me). Some of her moments included: [Read more…]

God’s Bureaucracy

In the never-ending saga of seeking permission from the Vatican to marry my fiancé, I recently had an exasperating meeting with a Priest.  At one point I asked whether there was anything more I could do to speed up the Catholic marriage-paperwork processes – for example, could my fiancé and I complete the Catholic marital counseling requirement in parallel while we await Vatican approval?

The Priest said no.  The two sets of paperwork must follow in serial, even though that will delay our marriage by (at least) an extra six months.  Those were The Rules.  Then, with an admirable level of sincerity regarding Vatican bureaucracy, he offered this counsel.  “Consider this a blessing,” he said.  “Both of you have had failed marriages before, so this extra time is a gift from God to grow together, pray together, and be sure that you are ready to undertake the serious commitment that is the Sacrament of Marriage.” [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…]

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…]

30 Years Ago In White Supremacy

Image may contain: 16 people, people smiling, people standing and outdoorThirty years ago I was a sophomore at BYU majoring in English. I lived in a house with 4 other women just two blocks south of BYU campus. 4 of us were LDS, and one was a Methodist film major who came to BYU to be near Robert Redford. I was at that time peripherally connected to some of the students who ran the Student Review, an off-campus paper that riffed on BYU culture and published student opinion pieces and poetry. We were all deeply troubled by a news story that broke in November of 1987, a story a few of our readers may remember.

A white supremacist group called Aryan Nations was coming to Utah. [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.

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If she asks for tacos, give a salad?

“Ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.  Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent…For behold, are we not all beggars?”  (Mosiah 4 16:19)

Lived Christianity is … difficult.  In a multitude of everyday encounters, I either genuinely don’t know, or my natural instinct is not to follow, how Christ would act.

I’ve dubbed these my moral “dilemmas of the day.”

Take yesterday.  The poor often congregate near where I work.  My office is in a gentrifying area — upscale cafes serving business professionals are popping up next to downtrodden public housing and shelters.  Nearly every day, someone asks me for help.

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Hypotheticals and Our Christian Duty

A quick hypothetical. (For those of you who didn’t attend law school, a law school hypothetical is a carefully constructed situation meant to tease out the implications of a rule or a law. The hypothetical itself isn’t meant to convey any truth value. What I mean is, please don’t argue for or against my hypothetical: it’s the consequences I’m interest in.)

Let’s imagine that it has been established that homosexual behavior (however you want to define that) is sinful. What do we, as members of the church and the ward, do when an LGBTQ individual comes to church? And what if it’s clear that that individual is participating in homosexual behavior (again, whatever we want to define that as)? [Read more…]

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.

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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…]