The 60-Minute Sacrament Meeting: An opportunity to build a new Christ-centered worship service.

The change about two-hour church that has attracted the most attention is the elimination of the “third hour” and the alternating classes for the “second hour.” Kevin’s post yesterday discusses some of the logistics of these changes. But as I’ve read through the October 6, 2018 first presidency letter and enclosure, one part that has caught my attention is the potential to use this change to radically re-work sacrament meetings. [Read more…]

Notes on Two-Hour Church

I spent last weekend with a childhood friend doing Nauvoo. So I learned of the announcement of two-hour church in the Browning gun shop, from a senior missionary with an earbud in his ear listening to Conference. The rumors have been around for years, but now the long promised day has finally come. Hallelujah! [Read more…]

DeKalb

DeKalb

In 1965 when I was six going on seven, my father got a job as a professor of education at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, IL, two hours due west of Chicago. So I grew up there, from second grade through high school. For decades I have lived just an hour east of DeKalb, and my MIL still lives there, so I go back to visit often, most recently a week ago yesterday as a fellow DeKalbian and I made our way to spend a weekend in Nauvoo.[1]

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Movie Review: Jane and Emma

Some topics of Church history are so ugly, so complex and so fraught with conflicting priorities that they seem impossible to talk about in meaningful ways. Racism in the Church is one of those topics. Polygamy is another. Each attempt to examine these topics is like performing an autopsy on a live patient, each little dissection an injury. How, then, can we address these matters, because it is both morally crucial and communally necessary to know ourselves and see as we were then and are now? Melissa Leilani Larson (screenplay, story), Tamu Smith and Zandra Vranes (story) believe that the medium of film, the dramatization of historical characters, can bring us closer to an understanding that is both sensitive and sensible. Jane and Emma is their work, a film that portrays the intersecting lives of the freshly-widowed Emma Smith and Jane Manning, a black woman seeking her spiritual birthright among the Mormons of Nauvoo. While the film is not perfect, it represents the best on-screen attempt to capture the complexity of Nauvoo and the staggering internal conflicts these women faced. [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…]

Hello, My Name Matters

Screen Shot 2018-10-10 at 10.26.19 AMWhat’s in a name? If you’re a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you know that names are important. Aside from the current focus on jettisoning Mormon (so long, two years of my life spent working for the Church on the “I’m a Mormon” campaign!) in favor of the more ponderous official name of the church, we have a pretty mixed bag of focus and dismissal of names, and the preferences around those names. Take a look with me… [Read more…]

Review: McDannell’s Sister Saints

Colleen McDannell, has been the Sterling McMurrin Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Utah for several decades now. Mormonism has popped up in chapters in her widely circulated Heaven: A History, Material Christianity, and in a few articles. For the most part she has concentrated on other topics. This month, however, Oxford University Press is publishing McDannell’s overview of Mormon women’s history since the winding down of Polygamy. Do not make the mistake of thinking this isn’t the central history of the church.

Colleen McDannell, Sister Saints: Mormon Women since the End of Polygamy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), 291 pp., $29.95.

[Read more…]

Lesson 38: “Beside Me There Is No Saviour” #BCCSundaySchool2018

Reading: Isaiah 40-49

These chapters are a flashpoint for several reasons, most having to do with context. Scholars generally see Isaiah 40 as the beginning of “Deutero-Isaiah,” because whereas (most of) the earlier chapters of Isaiah assume a location in 8th century BCE Judah, chapter 40 depicts God returning to Jerusalem and its temple after a long absence, and chapters 44 and 45 explicitly name Cyrus (ca. 600-530 BCE), founder of the Persian Empire. For this reason and others, scholars therefore associate these chapters with the exilic or post-exilic period.

These scholarly conclusions have resulted in pushback from some LDS teachers, though. The familiar version of the argument that I’ve heard is that “scholars don’t believe in prophecy,” which implicitly or explicitly equates “prophecy” with “the ability to see the future” by doing such things as naming Cyrus before he was born. Mormon investment in this argument derives from the fact that the Book of Mormon quotes from Deutero-Isaiah, which means that Book of Mormon historicity rests in part on these chapters’ having already been written ca. 600 BCE, before the exile.

In my view, however, texts that try to call Israel to keep worshiping Yahweh as God even though Yahweh apparently didn’t prevent the destruction of the temple or the exile should count as pretty darn prophetic, especially given that predicting the future is a pretty narrow subset of what Hebrew prophets do. I bring this up because class members are likely to have varying degrees of familiarity with these issues, and good teachers should try to be aware of the kinds of questions and objections students might make, even if they’re not voiced. Sunday School that doesn’t attend to the actual needs and concerns of class members is a waste of everyone’s time. [Read more…]

Research Grants for Global Mormon Studies

The Mormon Studies program at Claremont Graduate University is funding research grants for people studying global Mormonism.

While they will be accepting proposals for the next few months, they will be giving preference to proposals received by the end of October.  Their hope is to see significant progress on funded projects by April 2019.  They are interested in helping to fund projects that are already underway, as well as new projects.

Please see the call for proposals here (https://mormonstudies.cgu.edu/center-global-mormon-studies/claremont-mormon-studies-research-grant/)  and contact Caroline Kline if you have any questions.

Browser plugin replaces word “Mormon,” to block victories for Satan

Following the announcement by President Nelson that use of the common nickname for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its people was “a major victory for Satan,” I thought it would be helpful for Mormons members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to have a way to avoid participating in wins for the devil. I’ve made a Chrome browser extension that replaces all instances of the word “Mormon” on a web page with [VICTORY FOR 😈]. [Read more…]

The Nurturing By My Son’s Many Fathers

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Dave K. has been ‘gathered to the Ohio’ for nearly fifteen years, where he lives with his wife and five children. A data privacy attorney by trade, his goal is to take the children to every MLB ballpark before they leave home; twenty-nine down and Seattle to go. 

My two oldest sons returned home unusually late Saturday evening. They were performing at a regional high-school band competition and rain delayed the start. One is a senior who plays trombone; the other a sophomore who plays trumpet. Meanwhile, my wife and two daughters also returned late from the General Women’s Session (we live in the Midwest and they drove an hour to watch the session with family).  It used to be the first Saturday evening in October was reserved for the General Priesthood Session. I understand the Church’s need to streamline things, but I miss the fellowship and brotherhood tradition of holding that session each conference.

This all resulted in an unusual evening of just me and son-number-three.  My third son is thirteen, so not yet in the high school band. I let him choose the special ‘guy’s night’ activity. No surprise there – he picked the latest Jurassic Park movie. I defended the choice by noting the rental was only $1.50 at Redbox.  Ten minutes into it I realized $1.50 was still grossly overpriced. [Read more…]

Is it such a fast that I have chosen?

You may have heard that President Nelson asked the youth of the church back in June to take a seven day “fast” from social media, and that he repeated the same counsel (but for ten days) was to the women of the church during conference. I’ve taken breaks from social media in the past, but I always thought of it more as a “Sabbath” rather than a “fast”: a time to disconnect from worldly influences, to re-connect with the real world of creation and with the Spirit of God, and to reset and renew ourselves.

This post is an attempt to think about some of the implications of casting this social media break as a “fast.” Fasting has important implications, both inward looking and outward looking. [Read more…]

A Sister-Nurturer Reacts to General Conference

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Bobbie Smith is a returned missionary, BYU graduate, and mother of a large family in the northeastern United States with a literal and metaphorical oversized heart. Said heart greatly affects the nature of her religious worship, community service, and housework.

Ten men (if I counted right) attended the General Women’s Session this past weekend and three men spoke. As I watched them take up more than half of our meeting, I thought of how few women are invited to speak in General Conference. I thought of the women denied permission to even attend priesthood session. Yet the men invite themselves not only to attend our women’s session, they also dominate the dais and they dominate the speaking roster. Was it even a women’s meeting, really? It was more of a combined “sister and priesthood meeting” this year, really, when you consider the gender breakdown of talks and the gender count of who was on the stand. These were sobering thoughts.

I crave women’s voices.  In my lifetime in the Midwest, we’ve never had a sister church authority visit us, ever. Our only options for  help with callings, family life, and personal growth have been “Time Out For Women,” which is expensive and kind of smacks of priestcraft.  I’ve never understood why the brethren get flown out on the church’s dime, yet I need to buy tickets to an expensive program if I want to hear guidance from female church leaders.  I hoped the Women’s Session would provide a chance for some empathetic instruction, and instead the time was consumed by men.

[Read more…]

Hepeating the Covenant Path

Benjamin Keogh is in the final throes of a masters in Theology at the University of Glasgow, currently writing his dissertation on conceptions of atonement in Johann Arndt and Immanuel Kant. A native of Scotland, he and his wife have three kids who are looking forward to “daddy’s big essay” being completed.

Thanks, Elder Holland

Holland Yesterday

Dear Elder Holland,

A week ago I expressed concern with your Facebook post that included some marriage advice.  I was most concerned about how victims of abuse would hear rhetoric that “you can make the marriage you want” and “your priesthood leaders will know” when “there is a legitimate exception” justifying divorce.

Yesterday, I was grateful for your talk on peace.  Christ is the Prince of Peace, the source of healing for all pain and for all contention.  We should live together in love, and seek forgiveness and reconciliation with our imperfect brothers and sisters.  This is a core gospel truth.

Amidst this message on peace, I appreciated that you acknowledged what healing and forgiveness is, and what it isn’t.  [Read more…]

First Presidency on Coming Schedule Changes in Church Meetings

Just released letter from the First Presidency on Sunday Meeting Schedule beginning January 2019. Thoughts?
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Revelation and name change

I recently chatted with Patrick Mason, Shelby Lamar and Morgan McKeown on the Mormonism Magnified podcast from Claremont University about the recent efforts by President Nelson to use the official name of the church more consistently. I believe President Nelson has displayed a greater tendency to invoke revelatory language than any other president of the Church in the last hundred years. His presidency will be an interesting topic for study by historians.

I recommend listening to the discussion. You can download the podcast by searching “Mormonism Magnified” on iTunes, Spotify, or Stitcher, or here on their website:
http://www.mormonismmagnified.com/2018/10/03/episode3/. I am curious as to both the short and long term effects of President Nelson’s tenure and rhetoric. I strongly suspect that his style will greatly impact not only future presidents of the Church, but local leaders as well.

Worthiness vs. Confession

We’ve all seen Catholic confession in movies and TV shows. It’s a situation that we might liken to our own worthiness interviews, and yet there are some significant differences in purpose, theological implications, and in how the act is understood by believers. [Read more…]

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose

[Note:  This post is ridiculously full of spoilers for a show that has been off the air for seven years.  Consider yourself both warned and encouraged to watch.]

I’ve loved the show Friday Night Lights since I first watched it years ago.  I liked the family drama, the well-written characters, the springy beauty of Connie Britton’s hair.  It was a good show.  Recently, I started re-watching to wind down before bed and discovered a new show.  This time around, with my new foster parent eyes, Friday Night Lights was a love letter full of hope and encouragement, portraying flawed people who put their own needs aside to love, serve, and advocate for troubled kids.  It was soul balm that I needed.   [Read more…]

Making Stories Sacred

9781641700498The word “consecrate” has a special resonance for Latter-day Saints. The Law of Consecration was once the basis of our social order, and we believe that it will one day be the order of Zion, or the Kingdom of God. To consecrate, from the Latin consecrare, means to make sacred. Anything can be consecrated because everything can be made to serve God. We can consecrate our time, our talents, or treasures, or suffering, and, perhaps most importantly, our stories. [Read more…]

When Religious Tax Accommodations Are Inconsistent

On Wednesday, October 24, the Seventh Circuit is going to hear arguments in the appeal of Gaylor v. Mnuchin. I’ve written about this parsonage allowance case a number of times in the past (see here and here for examples), but as a quick summary: section 107(2) of the Code says that “ministers of the gospel” don’t have to include rental allowances in gross income. Several years ago, the Freedom From Religion Foundation challenged this parsonage allowance on the grounds that it violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. They won in the district court, but the Seventh Circuit found that the plaintiffs didn’t have standing to challenge the provision.

The Seventh Circuit also suggested, in a footnote, that if they claimed a parsonage allowance and the IRS rejected their claim, they might have standing. So they did, the IRS did, and the district court again found the provision unconstitutional. And now the Seventh Circuit will weigh in (again).

As a side note, this provision (as well as a bunch of others) made their way into God and the IRS, the book I wrote that was recently published about tax accommodations of religious individuals. The fundamental purpose of the book was to illustrate the ad hoc nature of religious accommodations in the tax law, and develop a framework that could provide some consistency as Congress and the IRS consider providing these accommodations. [Read more…]

Dissecting Problematic Marriage/Abuse Rhetoric

Dear Elder Holland,

We need to talk about today’s Facebook post.

I love that you and Pat have such an amazing marriage.  I love your folksy and relatable advice about laughing at mistakes, and being quick to forgive, and remaining committed to conflict resolution and a long-term vision of happiness.

I appreciate, too, that amidst the cheerful marriage advice you throw in an exception: “I realize there may be an abusive or violent situation giving a legitimate reason to get out of a marriage.”  I have long noticed, and appreciated, that you are consistent in condemning verbal, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse and recognizing that exception.

It is out of respect for your advocacy that I am writing.  Because your next sentence, no matter how well-intentioned, will be destructive to many abuse victims:  “When there is a legitimate exception, you’ll know, your priesthood leaders will know, and God will know.” [Read more…]

Gödel, Einstein, Smith part 2: Troubles with the Constitution

Gödel about 10 years before this story I think.

Eight years ago I wrote a post here about the mathematician, physicist, logician, philosopher, Kurt Gödel (1906-1978). I can’t remember exactly why I did this except that it had some relationship to Gödel’s belief in ghosts/evil spirits and that’s tangentially Mormon I suppose. This time, there is also a tangential reason to blog about the man again because it’s about the Constitution of the United States, a topic of interest in Mormonism since its founding days. Anyway, I noticed recently that the long-rumored story of Gödel’s application for US citizenship found more historical support. One of the participants in the episode, Oskar Morgenstern, left a memo on the incident and this was made public a few years ago. I’ve collected a number of stories about Gödel over the years but this one never had a solid basis in fact as far as I could tell. Now it does.
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Misreading Scriptures the Right Way

The strong reader, whose readings will matter to others as well as to himself, is thus placed in the dilemmas of the revisionist, who wishes to find his own original relation to truth, whether in texts or in reality (which he treats as texts anyway), but also wishes to open received texts to his own sufferings, or what he wants to call the suffering of history.–Harold Bloom, A Map of Misreading

 

Americans tend to approach two documents–the Bible and the Constitution–as self-interpreting units of meaning that neither require nor permit interpretation. These are privileged textual entities that mean what they say and say what they mean, and all anybody needs to do is figure out exactly what their authors meant by every word so we can download the right meaning directly into our brains and live our lives accordingly.

Treating the Constitution this way gives us the curious legal doctrine of “originalism,” which is fashionable for jurists to talk about in Senate hearings but has never actually been practiced in any meaningful way by confirmed judges. Treating the Bible this way gives us the religious doctrine of fundamentalism, which is at the center the Evangelical Protestant tradition–and, allowing for an expanded scriptural canon, the Latter-day Saint tradition as well. [Read more…]

God in the Dark

Editor’s Note: This post is by Keira Shae, the author of the remarkable memoir How the Light Gets In, published by BCC Press last July. This week, How the Light Get In is on sale for 40% off–a mere $7.00, on Amazon. And the Kindle version is only $2.99, which is basically free.

 

I like a look of agony,
Because I know it’s true;
Men do not sham convulsion,
Nor simulate a throe.
–Emily Dickinson

 

Many people have told me that my memoir How the Light Gets In, published by BCC Press in July, is not a very happy book. They are correct. It is not a very happy book because it describes a not-very-happy part of my life. It deals with real issues that I faced when I was growing up in Provo–things like: drugs, prostitution, sexual abuse, and profound poverty. There was nothing happy about any of it.

I know, of course, that unhappy stories make people uncomfortable. We prefer that even our most troubling narratives end on an uplifting note, in which our beleaguered heroine overcomes all of the obstacles to her happiness, is made stronger by adversity, and marries a handsome prince. I could have written the story that way, but it would not have been the truth. Except for the handsome prince part. (As my readers know, I really did marry one of those).

But I can’t say that my journey ended with perfect happiness and unshakable faith–because it hasn’t ended yet. I’m still on the road, and it’s a better road than I started on, but it still has plenty of bumps and blind spots. Happiness, when it comes, is far from perfect. And my faith is still tenuous and confused–I make my way stumbling. I still spend a lot of my time walking in the dark. [Read more…]

Choosing Between the Boat and the Ocean

This past Sunday I attended a ward that wasn’t my own. I sat in the back and left promptly after sacrament meeting. But I’ve been thinking about one of the talks ever since I left the building.

The man started his talk with a story about a friend of his recently announced that they were leaving the church. He repeated how they had been overcome by doubt. After expressing his disappointment, he followed up with the story about the individual stranded in the ocean who is picked up by a weathered boat and fisherman (You know, this one). After spending some time on the boat and noticing all it’s dents and blemishes, the rescued becomes worried and asks to be let back into the ocean to swim the remainder of the way to shore on their own. After the speaker finished the story, he remarked proudly that the boat represents the church and the fisherman is those called to lead it.

I understand the point of this story. Humans and the institutions they create cannot be perfect. In fact, small dents, paint chips, and difficult machinery shouldn’t keep us from utilizing those institutions for good. But this story, especially when listening to it yesterday, fills me with unease.

It seems to belittle and invalidate the feelings of those who are sitting in doubt while simultaneously diminishing the real institutional flaws of the church as mere “dents.” Feeling doubt is often more than uncomfortable, it is painful. And sometimes it feels like the only place on the boat you’re comfortable being requires you to hang over the edge. When we say that people who doubt are willingly climbing back into the ocean after being rescued by a perfectly safe boat, we ignore the fact that getting back into the ocean might be the only real option someone has. Sometimes the dents are actually leaks and the boat is slowly sinking. Sometimes the faulty mechanics are keeping the fisherman from being able to keep the boat on its proper course. The paint chips can be signs of a system unwilling to fix or even acknowledge the errors of its past.

Some days I feel like climbing back into the ocean. Sometimes that really seems like the safer option. The boat is rocking and sometimes looks like its veering off course. Right now I am clinging to the side rails hoping that my questions do not become to heavy to carry.

But if they do, if I find the ocean is becoming more inviting than the boat itself, I don’t need a fisherman to gently let me back in the water and leave. I also don’t need a fisherman who will jump in the ocean to save me, dragging me back onto the boat I was trying to escape. I need fishermen who are willing to jump in and tread water with me while I figure things out.

I feel like all I think about is doubt (I even think this is my third post on this topic in this past year). And maybe it isn’t productive to have this focus. But doubt is a natural companion to faith. It shouldn’t be ignored and it shouldn’t be shamed. I don’t need stories telling me how I should be ignoring my doubts. I can’t ignore them. They are as much a part of my experience as my faith. Ignoring them doesn’t make them go away.

What I need is people to sit with me and listen, for people to get in the ocean with me and tread. Maybe you’re already here in the water. Maybe we can find each other and together face our doubts head on.

A Public Apology to “the woman taken in adultery.”

*Please note, this post, while not explicit in nature, does address violence against women.

Over the past couple of years, the woman taken in adultery in John Chapter 8 has come into my mind again and again. While it is the consensus among Bible scholars that this particular passage containing the story of the woman was added centuries later and there are varying opinions on whether or not the story actually happened, that information doesn’t matter much to me, because in my religious upbringing, the story was always taught and told as truth, and so I took it as thus. Even if it is not true, the attitudes about this woman are indicative of what has pervaded culture for hundreds of generations.

The Woman taken in Adultery, c.1621 (oil on canvas) by Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri) (1591-1666); 98.2×122.7 cm; © Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, UK; Italian, out of copyright

Clearly there are good intentions to teach about forgiveness and the grace of Jesus Christ, which I have always loved, but there is also a part of this story I have missed entirely until now. I had not ever considered what this woman’s side of the story might be.

The way these scriptures unfolded themselves throughout my childhood and into adulthood was based on this idea that the woman taken in adultery had clearly done something wrong, had sinned gravely, and we can only hope that she heeded Jesus’s grace of instruction to go and sin no more. Rarely did I give the woman much more than the time it took to read the verses. I did not give her or her future much thought. Much less, her future as it was changed given that singular event.

It wasn’t until recently that I even questioned the very premise of the story. When I think of this it now, I want to go back and tell the woman taken in adultery that I am so sorry. I am sorry that for my whole life I’ve called her that, “the woman taken in adultery.” I am sorry that I was not even curious about her side of the story. I did not question, nor even think much about why she was doing what she was doing and the fact that more than likely, the adultery was not her choice, but quite possibly was a situation of rape, violence and trauma.   [Read more…]

Book Review—George Handley, American Fork

In his debut novel George Handley displays the same attentive care to the color and bend of a single leaf as he does to the tempo and tenor of the human heart. The two really aren’t so different—each existing within larger webs of relationship, each displaying something of the majesty and precariousness of God.

American Fork is a book about intersections—environmental, national, personal, and theological. Aging environmentalist Zach (Zacharias) Harker enlists Chilean immigrant, artist, student, and newlywed Alba Hidalgo to create art for his book project. As a researcher who never finished his PhD, the seventy-plus-year-old Harker wants to create a tome displaying nature’s intricate interconnectivity as well as humanity’s urgent need to change our destructive behaviors which compromise the whole. “This book [we’re creating] isn’t about finding and naming plants,” he tells the young artist, “It’s about creating relationships between the reader and this place” (141). His text, alongside her art, will guide the reader to see the inseparability between humans and our environment. [Read more…]

Required Training

On Monday, I got an email from HR reminding me that, as part of the school’s Harassment Prevention & Business Skills initiative, I needed to complete an online Sexual Harassment for Employees course.

I did it that same day, largely because if I don’t get to a work email almost immediately, it can slip out of my mind. And I prefer not to forget to do things that are required for my employment.

The training was basically a series of videos essentially aimed at letting us know what constitutes sexual harassment, with the dual purpose of ensuring that (1) if we’re harassed, we understand our rights and what we can and should do about it, and (2) we don’t do things that constitute sexual harassment. After watching the videos, I had to take a short multiple choice quiz to pass the course. All in all, it took something less than half an hour to complete. [Read more…]

What We Fear

I’m going to wade into the waters of the Sam Young excommunication.  Let me suggest that telling the truth about the church is not what got him excommunicated. [Read more…]