On the Sweetness of Mormon (Studies) Life

We just heard the news that historian Ronald Walker has passed away after a long illness. Later this week, we’ll post a proper tribute to his life’s work and his wonderful contributions to our understanding of our shared faith. But today, I’m crying because his daughter is my friend and lives down the street from me, and his grandson was in my Primary class. And through my tears, I’m glad for all the ways Mormonism makes the world small enough for us to know each other, to have a right sense of the scale of things–we are all small, and we all matter infinitely.

May is #BikeToChurch Month–even on Mother’s Day!

Bike to Church Month continues here at By Common Consent blog. This week we feature the completely car-free Farley family of Oakland, CA, @maryaagard of Boise, ID rocking her Mother’s Day corsage, and BCC’s own Sam Brunson of Chicago, IL. Keep biking to church all month long in May (and beyond!), and send us your pics on Twitter @bycommonconsent #BikeToChurch, Instagram (I’m sisterblah2), or email sisterblah2@gmail.com.

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MSSJ Swiss Pilgrimage, 2016: Update

Back in January the The Mormon Society of St. James announced its fourth annual pilgrimage in August 2016, this time along the Swiss Road of the Via Francigena (St. Francis’s Way), the ancient trading and pilgrimage route from Canterbury to Rome.

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Via Francigena marker on the way to Dover.

Since plans have solidified somewhat since the initial announcement, I’m posting this update to encourage those who may be on the fence to consider joining us. [Read more…]

The Logic of Job’s Comforters: Why We Keep Blaming Victims, Even When We Say We Don’t

Let’s start with the Job, the archetypal tale of the phenomenon I want to discuss. After Job loses his property, his family, and his heath, his three best friends travel long distances to comfort him. And by “comfort,” I mean, “do everything within their power to convince Job that he is responsible for his own misfortunes.” Job’s comforters are the world’s first and most famous victim-blamers. [Read more…]

The Image of the Mothering God

I gave this talk in my ward today.

As a man tasked with speaking on Mother’s Day, I feel that my job is to “look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen,”[1] in the sense that I have to testify of things that I have grown up not knowing how to see, but which I believe are true. So, I begin in gratitude for the women in my life who have taught me to see, although for my part it is still through a glass, darkly.

In the first creation account in Genesis we read: “So God created humankind in his image, / in the image of God he created them; / male and female he created them.”[2] One question that this passage immediately raises is what it means for women to be created in the image of an apparently male God. On Mother’s Day, this question seems worth pondering. Can we think Lorenzo Snow’s couplet—“As man now is, God once was; / As God now is, man may become”—beyond the ostensibly universally-human “man” and toward something specifically feminine? In Mormon terms, if we cannot imagine exalted womanhood, I do not think that we can imagine women fully human. I have friends—faithful churchgoers 51 weeks out of the year—who stay home on Mother’s Day because they see the version of motherhood presented in our discourse as too cramped and narrow for their experience. Perhaps there are women in our own ward who make a similar choice (if you know one, go knock on her door and give her a hug, or a fist bump, or whatever seems right). Our talk of “angel mothers” seems exalted, but is it really “image of God” material? My friends’ experience suggests not.

Why does this matter? When asked about the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus answered: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’”[3] If we collectively do not know what it means for women to be created in the image of God, can any of us—female or male—truly see the image of God in ourselves, enough to love ourselves as we ought? Are we then loving our neighbors in impoverished ways? Is our love of God, however ample it may be, only half of what it could be?

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Review of JSP Documents Vol. 4

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Let me begin by warning our fair readers that I do not claim the historical chops of, say, my blog mates J. Stapley or WVS, but I do claim a layperson’s interest in Mormon history. So this will be more of a personal reaction than a scholarly dissection.

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God has not vanished

For Ascension Day 2016.

Luke Skywalker has vanished.

These are the opening words of the opening crawl of the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens.

Luke Skywalker—Jedi Knight, conqueror of the evil empire, redeemer of his father Darth Vader—has vanished. If you have seen the film you will know that this vanishing has been wholly bad for the galaxy: in his absence, a new empire, a new Death Star, and a new dark lord have arisen.

Luke Skywalker has vanished and the galaxy is suffering.

The gospels also tell the tale of a vanishing and vanished hero. The original ending of the gospel of Mark has the women come to Jesus’ tomb only to find it empty. Jesus has vanished and this leads to shock: the women “went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (16:8). [Read more…]

The Passing of a Senator

bennettSenator Bob Bennett, a three-term Republican senator from Utah, passed away Wednesday evening. I never met him, and never particularly cared for his political views. But my wish to bow my head, offer condolences to his family, and wish his soul godspeed at this time isn’t simply a consequence of the vague imperative we all so often feel to speak well of the departed. The plain fact of the matter is that Bob Bennett in so many ways very clearly embodied the classic ideal of a “senator” (the original meaning of which being, quite simply, “wise old man”), and that is a thing worth high praise. [Read more…]

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…]

Teasings

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So this Sunday’s GD lesson is Mosiah 7-11. The very first verse of the reading, 7:1, reads as follows:

 And now, it came to pass that after king Mosiah had had continual peace for the space of three years, he was desirous to know concerning the people who went up to dwell in the land of Lehi-Nephi, or in the city of Lehi-Nephi; for his people had heard nothing from them from the time they left the land of Zarahemla; therefore, they wearied him with their teasings. (Emphasis added.)

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The LDS Church and Higher Education: The Case for Divestment

If you were a  Mormon child any time before the mid-1970s, you probably remember the Pennies-by-the-Inch” campaigns in primary. They worked like this: from time to time, they would bring out the Pennies-by-the-Inch materials, and we were all supposed to collect one penny for inch of every of our height. We would measure ourselves to discover how much we owed, and then we would spend the next week or two gathering pennies to donate to the Church-owned Primary Children’s Hospital. For many of us, it was our first brush with philanthropy. [Read more…]

Send a note of thanks to Richard Bushman

Bushman-RichardI started my first podcast from scratch six years ago after cajoling FAIR—now FairMormon—into sponsoring it (meaning they paid for the webhosting and the show carried their name). I started from scratch and I was thrilled when Richard Bushman agreed to be on that unknown show. He appeared in episodes 3 and 4. You can tell from the sound quality, if not from my nascent interview skills, what sort of popsicle stand I was operating at the time, but Richard’s candor, gentleness, and intelligence is evident throughout. He played a pretty substantial part in my then-growing interest in history. I owe a lot to him, and I’m glad I’ve been in a position to let him know that.

Chances are, many BCC readers have been impacted by Richard’s work, perhaps Rough Stone Rolling most of all, but also in many lesser known ways. Now’s your chance to express your gratitude. [Read more…]

I’d Like to Bear My Testimony…

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 9.37.15 AMI don’t enjoy bearing my testimony. Well, I don’t enjoy bearing my testimony in front of a congregation. I can write bout my feelings until the proverbial cows come home, but standing up and proclaiming what I believe in front of 200 people I only marginally know? Thanks, I’ll keep my seat.

Based on what I’ve heard over the years, many (a lot? most?) Mormons aren’t super-fans of Fast & Testimony meeting. In my head, I think of it as Open Mic Day, and my son with autism asks me every Sunday “Is this THAT Sunday??” hoping against hope it’s not. Sometimes we just stay home. I mean, I get it- I know why we do it, and I think the nexus of the idea is probably a good one- we need to clarify what we believe, and standing before your community and speaking up is a good exercise in personal faith and in finding- or at least asking for- that clarity. It’s hard to stand up and say what you believe- or rather, it is if you are actually speaking from your heart. [Read more…]

They need not depart; give them to eat.

From the time I was a kid, I knew the story of the five loaves and two fishes. However, it wasn’t until recently as I re-read Matthew 14 that I really took note of the context in which Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes.  The first half of Matthew 14 tells the horrifying story of John the Baptist’s murder, and how the disciples took his body and buried it and then brought the news to Jesus.

In response to the news, Jesus leaves by a ship into a desert place. But as he goes, the people follow him on foot out of their cities.

And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick./And when it was evening,  his disciples came to him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals./ But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat.

For all my life, when I have eaten so eagerly of the parable, I had never stopped to consider that the miracle was born of what must have been one of Jesus’ most lonely and sad mortal hours.  The loss of his cousin could not have been slight, could not have been anything less than devastating.  Jesus’ initial reaction to jump on a ship and get to a place where he might mourn and pray alone seems appropriate, but there is always a yet.  

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May is #BikeToChurch Month at BCC

Happy May Day, and welcome to ByCommonConsent’s 2nd annual Bike To Church Month!

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Codes, Ranked

After the snot-nosedness from some of the commenters last week–suggesting that The Process is somehow non-revelatory in nature–Steve and I decided that you’ll no longer be treated with clear insights into how stuff gets Ranked. Anyway, all of the talk recently about Honor Codes led us to seek inspiration on the true ranking of Codes.

As always, these rankings are authoritative. [Read more…]

A Feminist Foreign Policy

Last Tuesday the Swedish ambassador to Austria and the permanent representative to the international organizations in Vienna gave a presentation on Sweden’s foreign policy. Yeah, I know you’re thinking–another empty suit regurgitating prefab boilerplate. Yawn. But this was a rather unusual presentation for the standards of Viennese diplomacy (which is a lot like the standards of diplomacy everywhere else–a bunch of greying men debating the future of the world). First of all, it was an all-female panel and secondly, the topic was Sweden’s feminist foreign policy. [Read more…]

Review: The Mormon Jesus: A Biography

Mormon JesusJohn G. Turner, The Mormon Jesus: A Biography (Cambridge: Harvard UP 2016).

Just this month, Turner followed up his excellent biography of Brigham Young with something almost entirely different: an intellectual history of Mormonism’s approach to Jesus. And, just so that I don’t bury the lede here: you need to read this book.

Turner approaches the Mormon Jesus thematically and relatively comprehensively (or, at least, as comprehensively as he can in a 350-page book). He spends the bulk of his words on 19th-century Mormonism, but he touches on events as recent as Denver Snuffer’s claim to have seen and spoken with Jesus (83-84) and as ancient as Clement of Alexandria’s view in the late second century that “the gospel had abrogated polygamy, not monogamous marriage) (220).  [Read more…]

No, George Washington Didn’t Believe in the Mormon God

WashingtonWe live in an age and a country where intellectual authority is validated through an appeal to the “founders.” Even if one doesn’t believe in the extreme, and wrong-headed, philosophy of “originalism”–where we pretended all the men who crafted America’s foundational documents believed the same ideas, that those ideas could be objectively reconstructed today, and that those reconstructed ideas could serve as arbiters for modern society’s issues–it is still typical to couch our arguments in a way that adds historical heft. (On this modern dilemma, see these two recent and excellent volumes.) It just makes you feel good to know, in the words of #Hamiltunes, that “Washington is on your side.”
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Rape and The Miracle of Forgiveness

Today’s Guest Post is by Chris Kimball.

Although nobody accuses me, every time the (now out-of-print) The Miracle of Forgiveness comes up, I cringe and feel guilty. It’s really not my work and I know that. But the author is my grandfather Spencer Kimball and somehow I feel responsible in a vague but troubling way.

Rape is a difficult and touchy subject, yet I want to contribute to the discussion. I offer this as my personal opinion (I certainly cannot and would never claim to channel Spencer Kimball.) [Read more…]

More Love

It has been a hard week. It can’t be wrong to repost this.

 

More love, more love!

The heavens are blessing,
the angels are calling.
O Zion, more love, more love.

If ye love not each other in daily communion,
how can you love God whom you have not seen?

More love, more love,
O Zion, more love.

2016 Mormon History Association Annual Conference – Early Bird Registration

The Mormon History Association is the single best source for information about Mormon history and to engage in Mormon studies. Every year the association holds a conference where professional scholars, engaged non-professionals, and interested observers gather to present and interact with the latest research on topics ranging from Pioneers to Race, and from Liturgy to Gender. This year the conference will be held on June 9 through 12, at Snowbird, Utah. And to be fair it isn’t the cheapest thing in the world, but it is absolutely worth it. Discounted early bird registration is open until May 7. I encourage you to join us.
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Can You Be Good WITH Religion?

I am not a fan of the so-called “New Atheists”—Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and the late Christipher Hitchens. I find their rhetoric to be little more than religious fundamentalism disguised as rational argument, and I think that they intentionally misunderstand the difference between religion as something that makes people do bad things and religion as something that bad people know how to use to do bad things. Don’t get me started on this; I can go on all day.

But I do respect the fact that these thinkers have shifted our discourse from the question, “Can you be good without religion?” to  what I see as the much more important question,“Can you be good WITH religion?” I believe that the answer to both questions is “yes.” [Read more…]

A quick note to the new Newsroom

ilovethisjobAs the Church Newsroom undergoes leadership changes, I have some completely unsolicited advice for the PR team:

Stop talking so much. Please. The kingdom of God on the Earth already has mouthpieces, called Prophets and Apostles. You are not the face or the voice of the Church, they are! Help them be effective in their role.

God wouldn’t have called them to be Prophets and Apostles if He didn’t trust them to speak in public. Set them up with the biggest possible platforms on which to speak for our Savior.

I would love to read their columns in newspapers. I’d love to see them on TV more. I’d love to follow an actual Twitter feed from an actual Apostle. Enough with the canned quotes. It doesn’t have to be that hard…

“I had a fresh insight during scripture study this morning…”

“The Wasatch Front looks beautiful in the Spring.”

“We sang ‘Abide with Me’ in Sacrament Meeting today—my mother loved this hymn.”

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On KUER: Sexual Assault in the Mormon Context

This morning I appeared on KUER’s Radio West with Doug Fabrizio, alongside Erin Alberty of the Salt Lake Tribune and Prof. Andrea Radke-Moss of BYU-I. We discussed sexual assault in the Mormon context. You can listen to a podcast on KUER’s website, and I welcome further discussion of the issue here.

KUER: Sexual Assault in the Mormon Context

This month, The Salt Lake Tribune has been following the story of BYU students who say they’ve been punished under the school’s honor code because they reported sexual assaults. Some of the questions these women are facing have been experienced around the country: will they be believed, shamed or blamed for being a victim? Tuesday, we’re asking how LDS culture and theology of chastity complicates this, and if there are lessons from the Mormon experience that might help challenge assumptions about rape in America.

 

 

Nephites and Judges and Kings (Oh My) #BOM2016

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At the end of the Book of Mosiah, the Nephite’s governmental structure changes from kings to judges, bringing a full circle to the transition from judges to kings that occurred nearly a thousand years earlier in Israel (1 Samuel 8-11). In a very real way, the Book of Mormon walks back one of the most controversial political passages in the entire Bible—and it does so through a process of almost complete narrative inversion. [Read more…]

Fulfill All Righteousness

Out in the wilderness, John cries: repent! And so people come to be baptized. And then (surprise!) Jesus also answers John’s call.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. (Matthew 3:13-15)

Jesus fulfills all righteousness by ritually performing repentance even when he’s not culpable. He enacts a willingness to be responsible even when he’s not guilty. With this gesture of repentance, Jesus shoulders a responsibility that exceeds what can be demanded by the law or defined by guilt.

This is what love looks like.

It’s obvious, of course, that the law cannot be fulfilled by way of obedience because the end of the law is love. Only love can fulfill the law. And love, unlike obedience, can’t be demanded.

In this same way, it’s also obvious that only repentance can fulfill all righteousness—even if, repenting, one is not culpable. Love exercises responsibility beyond the bounds of culpability.

Jesus’ baptism exemplifies this Christian posture. Jesus is God revealed: life, penitent but guiltless.

No one repents more (or better) than God.

Christian life, individually and institutionally, looks the same. Christian life is repentance performed as a way of life—not as a gesture meant to assuage personal culpability, but as a kind of love that has put down the lawful burden of culpability to bear instead, with Jesus, that broader and deeper yoke of shared responsibility.

Disrupting the patterns of our storytelling

A few weeks ago at a writing conference I went to a panel about writing the LGBTQ narrative.  While I am not LGBTQ myself, I wanted to know what the panelists felt about writing their stories, often for the first time, and often to audiences they fear do not understand them.  Those 90 minutes were some of the most useful and enlightening minutes of the conference for me.  My empathy and love for the LGBTQ story grew, but also, an empathy and gratitude for my own story felt very real.  In some ways, I felt like the five panelists could have been replaced by any particular group of people who are concerned with the idea of telling stories that are bursting at the seams of the box they have long been kept in. My Mormon self, my female self, my mothering self, connected with what they said.
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Putting Women on a Pedestal (Nephite Edition)

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So I’m reading Mosiah 1-3 to prepare for tomorrow’s lesson on King Benjamin’s speech. Recall from Mosiah 2:5 that it was not just men present; it was also their wives, their daughters, their granddaughters who were there. [Read more…]

A few words about Prince

tumblr_n9qvk8570x1r3s3a3o1_500There are so many threads to this complicated human being. The blend of committed spirituality and enthusiastic sexuality (which, tbh, Mormons have no right to be offended about). His intense introversion and control issues, paired with bright-as-the-sun charisma and onstage courage. The way he flouted social conventions about gender, race, even geography. (Can there any cool thing come out of Minnesota? Yup.)

He could have been any age. He could sing in every register. He could expertly play every instrument.

From what I can tell, Prince applied that creativity and flexibility to everything he did. Beyond being a musical genius, he was a business genius and a technological genius. He hacked and reimagined existing structures to fit his needs (he basically broke the radio promotion and metrics system). He incorporate new technologies into his work (he was always the first to incorporate new sounds, new instruments, and digital tools). And he completely rejected industry trends that he felt compromised his work.

That combination of big abstract creativity + systems thinking is crazy to me.

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