The God Who Stoops

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In discussing the advance of women’s rights, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has often remarked that when we set women on a pedestal, we actually lock them in a cage.

I’ve been wondering lately whether the same could be said about God.  (And even more so, Heavenly Mother.)  When we consign our Heavenly Parents to a throne of glory in the distant heavens, we’re actually locking them behind human constructs of divinity.  We’re building a wall of checkpoints and purity standards, then barring all we deem unholy or unclean from approaching their mercy.

Our all-to-common vision of God on a celestial pedestal gets it all backwards. To borrow a phrase from Rachel Held Evans’s latest book Inspired: our God stoops. [Read more…]

John 1: “We Have Found the Messiah”#BCCSundaySchool2019

High Christology and Discipleship in the Gospel according to John

This week’s BCC Gospel Doctrine lesson was written by Eric Huntsman, Professor of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University. Eric has written multiple books on the New Testament, including Good Tidings of Great Joy, God So Loved the World, and The Miracles of Jesus. Last month, he published a book-length study of discipleship in the Gospel of John, Becoming the Beloved Disciple (see our review here). We are beyond thrilled (and a little bit verklempt) that Eric has agreed to share his expertise with us and our readers as we study the opening chapter of John’s gospel this week. Footnotes for this post are located on a separate page and can be accessed through the provided links or by clicking here.

The assignment for this week’s lesson is the first reading that we have had from the Fourth Gospel, the account of Jesus’ ministry and mission traditionally attributed to John the Son of Zebedee, one of the Twelve and one of Jesus’ closest disciples. Before discussing chapter 1, which comprises the Prologue of this Gospel, we will first consider a few points concerning the Gospel’s authorship, composition, audience, stated purpose, and structure.  Hopefully this background will be useful in future lessons that include passages from the Gospel of John.

[Read more…]

Teaching Young Primary Children (ages 3-7) #TeachingPrimaryCFM

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Lyndsey Jarman is a Kindergarten Teacher with a Masters Degree in Education and 11 years of teaching experience. She blogs with her mother (also an early childhood educator) at Kindergarten Kiosk about early childhood education and podcasts about teaching kindergarten here. This year she is posting ideas to help parents and primary teachers teach young children at Primary Plus. Lyndsey and her husband have three young children at home who serve as her Guinea pigs for all of her education related ideas.

In the TED Talk “What Do Babies Think?” Alison Gopnik, a child development psychologist, explores the relationship between the length of childhood and the development of the human brain. For example, she compares the development of a crow and a chicken, correlating the length of their childhood. The crow, who is a very intelligent bird has a childhood of one year, and a chicken, less than a month. She states, “The disparity in childhood (of these birds) is why the crow ends up on the cover of Science, and the chickens end up in a soup pot.”

Our long human childhoods are a gift for our development, and teachers who work with our youngest primary children (3-7) should first understand that they are undergoing important physical, social, and emotional development that should be as much a part of any lesson as spiritual development. With that in mind, here are some ideas to help you as you plan New Testament lessons for our very youngest Church members.  [Read more…]

Our Spiritual Relationship with Language

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Natalie Brown is a former By Common Consent blogger. She is currently writing a memoir on the stories we tell about houses. You can follow her on Twitter @BtwnHouseHome.

Someone once asked how I could have prepared better for the temple. My response was bluntly honest: Nothing anyone said or taught me could have altered my initial experience, because the words I found inside the temple felt wrong.

Those words have now changed. Whether something more than words has changed is debatable. Over the past twenty-four hours, I have heard people say that nothing has changed and others that everything has changed. I’m with those who think everything has changed, because for me it has. That’s because I am a woman who learns primarily through words.
[Read more…]

Rethinking Worthiness

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Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.

For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him. (D&C 18:10)

I learned an important truth this year: the worth of souls bears no relationship to a soul’s “worthiness.”

A year ago I left the corporate world to pursue my civil rights lawyer dream.  One aspect of my new work is fighting for Muslims’ right to follow the pillars of Islam in prison.  My first visit to prison will forever stand as one of the most spiritual days of my life.  I met with humble men who frankly admitted their mistakes, implored God to grant them the mercy to improve, and asked for an opportunity to practice their faith in peace.  They sought to better the religious experience not just for themselves, but for all of their brothers and sisters.  Sitting with them, I glimpsed the depth of God’s abundant love.

I may have been physically sitting with convicted criminals behind seven layers of lockdown security, but spiritually I stood with angels on hallowed ground.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God.  (Romans 8:38).  Prisons that day became my temples.  For I was in prison, and ye visited me.  (Matthew 25:36). [Read more…]

Jesus, Born of Woman

The book of Matthew sets the scene for Jesus’ life and ministry by delineating a selective genealogy. Among the names listed, Matthew names five socially controversial women, each with a fascinating back story of her own: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. Each of these women was failed by a patriarchal system, and each overcame that adversity through cleverness and loyalty. Although each of these women represents a controversial story in a patriarchal society, they each turn that system against itself to their advantage. Each of these women was regarded by early Christians as righteous for it, even if their own contemporary society would have cast them as sinners. The stories told about them reveal them to be more righteous than the clueless men who held them back until they educated them. [1] What better forebears for Jesus could there be? [Read more…]

The Word of God

When Joseph Smith was explaining our faith’s beliefs to John Wentworth, he wanted to point out that we believe in the Bible, but that he felt it had errors.  After all, he was working on a new translation of it.  He said:

8 We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.

Literal and historical

But what does this mean exactly?  Given that Mormonism teaches that Christianity has essentially been the same from the dawn of time including before Christ (although under the Law of Moses), there is an inherent historical literalness implied, a belief that the events of ancient Israel are essentially like modern Israel (Mormonism).  The loophole provided in the 8th Article of Faith is explicitly around translation errors.  It also doesn’t include the Book of Mormon, as if the possibility of translation errors (or abridgment errors) wasn’t considered. [Read more…]

And in His name all oppression shall cease

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This post started as a reaction to President Dallin H. Oaks’s commentary on religious freedom published Tuesday in the Deseret News.  It morphed into a Christmastime commentary on social justice.  It still dissects Oaks’s words, but that’s relegated to the very end. 

Born into humble circumstances.  Trained as a carpenter.  Rejected as a prophet.  Crucified as a rabble-rouser because he dared speak truth to both secular and religious oppressive power.  Jesus Christ is my model of an activist. [Read more…]

Women Don’t Cast Sustaining Votes?

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My sister Cheryl called me this morning, annoyed at a procedure her Indiana stake just used to call a new counselor in her Stake Presidency.   An old counselor had moved and been released between Stake Conferences, so the new one was called and sustained during an interim Stake Priesthood meeting.

“This isn’t like an Elders Quorum President,” Cheryl mused.  “A Stake Counselor doesn’t just serve men in his quorum, he has stewardship over the entire stake.  But he can be set apart without a single woman knowing about the calling or sustaining him?” [Read more…]

Informal Gospel Study Groups

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“Do you have Priesthood approval for that gathering?”

It’s a question I’ve heard numerous times, and it’s always bothered me.

Over the years, across the country and even the world, I’ve participated in many informal gospel study groups.   They’ve often sat at the core of my social circles and been the site of some of my powerful spiritual insights. [Read more…]

Mormon Obedience: On Disregarding the Prophet’s Preferences

On Sunday morning, President Nelson dedicated his full full talk to shutting down the use of Mormon and other nicknames for the church. This seems to be something he feels passionate about, and something that has been weighing on his mind for a long time. He went so far as to assert that Jesus is offended if we use, or allow others to use, nicknames for the church, and at least intimates that the use of nicknames represents both a victory for Satan and disregard for the Atonement.

So what are we, as faithful members of the church, to do with this? We absolutely have to take it seriously.

But that raises the question of what taking it seriously means. And I believe that this is a tougher question that it appears at first blush. Because taking it seriously isn’t (necessarily) the same as obeying. To take it seriously requires that we engaged, spiritually and intellectually, with what Pres. Nelson has said. [Read more…]

A Proverbs Acrostic For My Daughter

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Kaylee McElroy only wears sensible shoes (if she has to wear shoes at all) and is passionate about pants with functional pockets (even her Sunday slacks). She has degrees in physics and electrical engineering, but has spent the last few years as a rather alarmingly domesticated mostly-stay-at-home mom.

Proverbs 31 holds a special place in my heart.  I found it using the “open the scriptures to a random page” method, and marveled at the wonderful and rare picture of a strong, capable woman. You see, I had been praying to know if I should get engaged to the man I now call my husband, and I felt a strong impression that a marriage with him would allow me to become a capable and praiseworthy wife like the woman depicted in the text. (We’re over a decade in, and I’d still call it a good choice.)

The Proverbs 31 woman is empowered and not oppressed. A while ago, I read a book that challenged my thinking of women’s place in ancient societies. Women’s Work – the First 20,000 Years discusses textile manufacture in a variety of ancient cultures.  The Bronze Age in the Near East was a time and place of relatively great freedom for women, and I was delighted to learn that the woman of Proverbs 31, while certainly idealized, was also based on historical norms. [Read more…]

Go and Do Likewise?

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Rusty Clifton is a longtime friend of BCC.

A couple months ago I came home from work to my wife in the front yard chatting with a lady who, by all visible measures, appeared to be homeless. I had never seen this woman before, but my wife later assured me that she was known by many people in our upper-middle-class Salt Lake City neighborhood. While my natural inclination is to avoid situations that have the potential to unnecessarily add complications to my life, my wife overflows with compassion for the oppressed and downtrodden. So that evening, after determining she was clean from drugs and not dangerous, we agreed to let her stay in our basement (it’s a mother-in-law apartment we use for guests or the occasional AirBNB) until we could help her secure more permanent housing and employment. Over the course of the next week or so we did what we could to accommodate her: secure privacy, food, shower, soft bed with fresh linens, rides to housing offices/employment interviews, and a friendly home base while she worked to get herself back on her feet. [Read more…]

Socialism and Satan’s Plan

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It happened. Again. On Mormon Twitter, someone mentioned socialism, to which somebody responded that socialism was Satan’s plan. (There were a couple other responses I saw that hinted at the same thing, but didn’t explicitly say it. And maybe there were others who said something similar. It’s not like I looked for every response to the tweet.)

To which I reply: that’s not the stupidest assertion based on Mormon theology ever. But it may well be in the top ten. [Read more…]

Lesson 29: “He Took Up…the Mantle of Elijah” #BCCSundaySchool2018

Readings: 2 Kings 2, 5, 8

Manual Goals:

  1. To help class members understand how the authority (mantle) passes from one prophet to another.
  2. To encourage them to obey the words of the prophets, and
  3. To assure them that the power of God is greater than any other power.

Introduction

Ahh, Elisha. The prophet of God who made bears eat children because they mocked his baldness. A reminder that even the prophets have human failings? A biblical example of male fragility? An object lesson about evil-speaking of the Lord’s anointed? We’ll talk more about the bears in a bit. [Read more…]

The Unfinished Endowment

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Cory B. Jensen is a longtime temple worker and author of Completing Your Endowment, which traces the history of the endowment.

In May of 1842, Joseph Smith first introduced the temple endowment to nine men in the room above his Red Brick Store. Over the next eighteen months, Joseph continued to add to this basic endowment. He introduced separate prayer circle meetings, sealing for time and eternity of a husband and wife, and a capstone two-part ritual sometimes referred to as the second endowment or second anointing. By the time of his death in 1844, Joseph had endowed about thirty-seven men and thirty-two women.

Unfortunately, Joseph never had the completed Nauvoo temple to work with and he left Brigham Young a charge to complete the work. Brigham Young recalled: “Bro. Joseph turned to me and said: ‘Brother Brigham this is not arranged right but we have done the best we could under the circumstances in which we are placed, and I wish you to take this matter in hand and organize and systematize all these ceremonies with the signs, tokens, penalties and key words.’ I did so, and each time I got something more, so that when we went through the temple at Nauvoo I understood and knew how to place them there. We had our ceremonies pretty correct.” [1] [Read more…]

Garments are Symbols of the Atonement

P. Anderson blogged at the Exponent as Starfoxy once upon a time, but entered retirement in order to build a reputation as a bloggernacle cryptid. She lives with her family in the Phoenix metro area, and just got a new solar oven.

Screen Shot 2018-05-17 at 8.58.16 AMI had a conversation years ago where I expressed a desire for the women’s garment pattern to change to a camisole type top. The woman I was talking to stared at me blankly and asked, “Then how would we stop women from wearing sleeveless shirts?”

I wanted to shriek.

Thankfully I did not shriek. (Though after the rant I went on, perhaps my friend would have preferred the shriek.)

[Read more…]

I am a child of Heavenly Mother

Lily Darais is a mother of four living in Orem, UT.  She earned a B.A. from Michigan State University, a Masters of Education from Harvard, and has earned a diploma in culinary arts.  She currently spends most of her time trying to keep her toddler and baby alive and begging her older kids to practice their instruments.  The following is the Mother’s Day talk she gave yesterday.

The Apricot Blossom

“I am a child of God” is such an obviously loving statement that even–and perhaps especially–children can sing “I am a child of God” with fervent, joyful understanding. While the words, “I am a child of God,” function as a holy affirmation for all of us, they are also more than an affirmation. We can read them as an invitation–to learn more about God, to develop our own divine potential, to consider our utter dependency and also our protected, beloved status. We can even read the words as a gentle rebuke, a reminder to, in the words of President Hinckley, “be a little better.”

Depending on how we read these words, we can be healed, shaped, or driven by our understanding of them.

As I wrote those last words, I happened to glance out of the window at a neighbor’s tree. I am not a tree expert, but the puffy clusters of white blossoms recalled to mind another primary song, this one a little less theologically packed: “Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree.” As I stared at the flowering clusters, I thought of the apricots that will follow in a few short months. I compared myself to an apricot in spring. [Read more…]

Three sub-degrees in the Celestial Kingdom?

Shannon Flynn is a life long student of Mormon History and a member of the Mormon History Association. 

About four weeks ago a discussion was started on the Mormon Historians Facebook page that asked about the common belief that there are three distinct sub-degrees or separate places within the celestial kingdom.  The reference that is usually pointed to is D&C section 131 verses 1-4 especially verse 1. “In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees.”

In the discussion that followed it was my contention that there are not, in fact, three sub-degrees or divisions. Moreover, this idea and all of the variations and speculations on the nature of the sub-degrees has become one of the most significant pieces of false doctrine that pervades the LDS church today. Part of the discussion came from Kevin Barney who linked a post he had done back in 2006 on BCC, that the three sub-degrees was not the original interpretation of the verses in section 131.  I had an experience similar to what Kevin describes in his post when he said he heard it from a friend who heard it from California temple president. [Read more…]

The Burden of Choosing to Believe

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Image Credit: Delphine Devos

“I envy you your faith, somedays,” an agnostic friend in college once remarked as we ate lunch in the spring sunshine.  “I wish I could have faith.”

“You can, you know.   Faith is a choice,” I urged with perhaps a touch too much missionary zeal.  “In the Book of Mormon there’s a famous sermon about how faith is like a science experiment.  If you even have just a ‘desire to believe,” and choose to act on that desire, you’ll feel God’s love, and see results.”

 

“But logic is too deeply engrained in me for that to work,” he responded.  “I’d just dismiss any positive feeling as a weird firing of brain chemicals, a manufactured emotional manipulation.  It’s not tangible or real.” [Read more…]

Lesson 11: Because the Lord Was With Him #BCCSundaySchool2018

Readings

Genesis 34, 37-39[fn1]

Learning Outcomes

By the end of class, students will be able to:

  1. Discuss how and why the scriptures subvert our expectations as readers.
  2. Identify different models of divine aid illustrated in the scriptures.

Introduction

In many ways, the story of Joseph in Egypt is the superhero origin story of the Israelite people. I mean, yeah, we’ve had some feints at origin already, everything from Adam and Eve to Noah to Abraham. And Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all received a covenant wherein God promised them land, descendants, and blessings.

But it’s Moses and the exodus from Egypt that really kicks things off. And without Joseph? The Israelites wouldn’t have been in Egypt to miraculously escape, and Moses wouldn’t have led them in the desert for forty years (and created the typology embraced by everybody from Jesus to the Nephites to African-Americans to Mormon pioneers). [Read more…]

Lesson 10: Marriage in the Covenant #BCCSundaySchool2018

ReadingsGenesis 24 – 29.

Introduction:   I volunteered to give this lesson for BCC precisely because I’m a temple-divorced, now-engaged-to-a-Catholic Mormon woman.  The Old Testament manual instructs teachers “As you discuss the importance of eternal marriage, be sensitive to the feelings of class members who have not been married in the temple or whose parents have not been married in the temple.”  But other than that note, it doesn’t provide any practical tips about what that “sensitivity” might look like.  I hope here to provide a model for how we can use this episode in Genesis to spark discussion on how everyone can achieve more Christlike relationships, without assuming that all temple marriages are happy, nor that all non-temple marriages are miserable.

[Read more…]

Lesson 6: Noah Prepared an Ark to the Saving of His House #BCCSundaySchool2018

Readings

Moses 8

Genesis 6-9, 11

Learning Outcomes

To understand the importance of the story of Noah and the flood.

To come away with an appreciation for the complexities of Godhood, prophethood, regularpersonhood.

Introduction

I know there are many spiritual lessons to be learned from the story of Noah and the flood, but what I really want to focus on is exactly how large the ark was, how many cubits deep the water would have been, and how the animals managed to not eat each other. [Read more…]

Lesson 2: God Knew Abraham #BCCSundaySchool2018

Readings

Abraham 3, Moses 4:1-4

Learning Outcomes

By the end of class, class members will be able to

  1. Describe strategies for profitably reading Abraham.
  2. Evaluate what it means that God knew us before we were born.

Introduction

Eight years ago, I was sitting in a Sunday School class in Chicago with my daughter in my lap. I was probably half paying attention to the lesson, when suddenly the discussion started getting heated. People were arguing that we definitely, most certainly don’t believe in predestination. We’re foreordination people! Then others would pipe in that they didn’t see any substantive difference between predestination and foreordination. [Read more…]

The Psychology of the Good Samaritan

O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? (Micah 6:8).

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While attending a legal ethics seminar last Saturday, I surprisingly had the most spiritual moment of my year.  A speaker there relayed the story of From Jerusalem to Jericho, an (apparently famous, but I had never heard of it) psychology study from 1973.  (A more readable journalistic summary is here.)  The authors specialized in research regarding what conditions prompt bystanders to help ailing strangers, rather than to ignore them.

The set-up was simple. At Princeton Theological Seminary, 40 theology students were assigned to prepare lectures as part of a final exam.  The exam occurred in a tight time frame: in 15-minute increments, instructors told individual students they needed to either leisurely wend their way across campus, or rush across campus, in order to make it to the building where their graded lecture would be recorded.  Half of the students were specifically assigned to speak on the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

But the lecture wasn’t the real test.  The real test was that as they darted across campus, each student would encounter a sick and distressed man, lying in their path. [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…]

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…]

Adam Miller’s The Sun Has Burned My Skin

Boom-chic-a-wah-wah. This is Adam Miller’s hot take on a sexy Biblical classic, so put on some Barry White and slip into something a little more comfortable, because it’s business time.

I remember as a young Mormon being made aware of this titillating book of pseudo-scripture. It was also a welcome loophole to the missionary injunction against reading novels (scriptures only!). Reading it secretly every now and again made me feel like a normal human being for five minutes, a feeling that never seemed to last as a missionary. Partly this was because it was clearly erotically themed, but also because some GAs had angrily suggested that it not be read, or even, in Dead Poets’ Society fashion, that it be ripped out of the Bible! Doing something forbidden was the easiest path to feeling normal. [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…]

Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness: Why a Temple? Why Sacraments?

Terryl Givens gave the following talk in my Provo ward yesterday. I couldn’t pass up the chance to ask Professor Givens if I could post it as part of our occasional “Sunday Sermons” series, and he graciously accepted.

I had a long conversation a few days ago with a much beloved daughter. We were talking about a family dear to us, of whom the last of the children just made an exit from the church. I asked what she thought the common thread to their stories might be. She said it wasn’t what I often hear to be the culprit: different accounts of the First vision, or Joseph’s seer stone, or horses in the Book of Mormon — or even polygamy or social policy. No, it was something much more fundamental. She said, the whole framework of the Restored Gospel — especially the emphasis on temples and ordinances — just doesn’t seem meaningful to many of her generation. So much structure, so many rules, so many seemingly empty rituals and ordinances. She then noted that as she was preparing her lesson for Young Women on sacraments and ordinances, she too struggled to find a convincing language, a resonant rationale. “Authority” and “obedience” don’t hold the same sway with generations who have not grown up with an almost innate deference to such concepts because, as Richard Rohr notes, they never experienced the framework of stable certainties and widely accepted verities. As the poet Robinson Jeffers noted wistfully, “O happy Homer! Taking the stars and the gods for granted.”[1] [Read more…]