Why 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…]
My son and his fiance are flying back home to SLC tonight after a quick four-day visit over the holiday weekend. [Read more…]
Grant Hardy is a friend of the blog and Professor of History and Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Asheville. He is the author of Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide, among others.
I am teaching the New Testament in seminary this year and we’re almost through the first semester, which focuses on Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. It’s a rare opportunity for my students because it is the only time they will have a chance to read the four gospels in a church setting sequentially, one at a time. For the rest of their lives, in institute and Sunday school, the approach will always be one that combines and harmonizes the different accounts of Jesus’ life. [Read more…]
Last Christmas–the Christmas of 2015–was my father’s last, though there was no way any of us could have known that would be case at the time. There are probably dozens of people reading this post who could say the same. And there are many hundreds of thousands, millions actually, who can say that every Christmastime–if not about a father, then about a mother, a daughter, a son, a husband, a wife, a niece, a nephew, a old and oft-remembered teacher, or a distant and mostly-but-never-quite-entirely-forgotten friend. All these endings, all these lasts. It can really make one stop and think. [Read more…]
This is an edited version of a talk I gave in Sacrament Meeting last week.
My assignment was to speak on a message entitled “Preparing Our Hearts for Christmas,” which is based on talks by the First Presidency in the 2011 Christmas Devotional. All the quotes in this post are from that message. While we don’t as a church formally observe a traditional liturgical calendar the way many other Christian denominations do, the First Presidency’s exhortation to prepare our hearts for Christmas is consistent with the very old Christian tradition of advent, four weeks of anticipation and preparation before Christmas. [Read more…]
I look forward to the Advent and Christmas seasons each year with great anticipation, but where there is light, there must be shadow. This year’s holiday season has been especially poignant in light of our ward’s efforts to serve a visitor whom I regret won’t be returning, not in this life anyway. [Read more…]
Although it is often hard to see when you are in the Intermountain West, the fact that Mormonism is and always has been a minority religion is worthy of consideration in understanding the quick retreat from a moral high ground that we’ve witnessed the church undergo in the last month and a half. Though we sing that we should always “Do what is right” and “Let the consequences follow,” our history, from the Manifesto onward, demonstrates a willingness to adapt to new political situations and to compromise strongly-held beliefs when the organization’s survival is on the line. I do not say this to accuse anyone of cowardice; when you are faced with extinction, a veritable ton of moral flexibility should be offered you. Perhaps the church believes that the Trump presidency could be such an existential threat and groveling should commence now. [Read more…]
Twenty years ago when I was in the mission field, the Lamanite Generation came to town. It was a big deal at the time, and the powers that be were determined to make the most of this missionary opportunity. So the missionaries received stacks of flyers and were commanded to be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth with them. For several weeks, our first contacting efforts centered around passing out these flyers to unwary pedestrians downtown. When the day of the concert arrived, we were also roped into singing “I am a Child of God” in the local language in a bid to ensure that the universal message of God’s love in the universal language of music didn’t get lost in translation. [Read more…]
Just a quick review, because this is an excellent last-minute gift idea. Scott Hales has created something really cool. [Read more…]
“The Height to Be Superb Humanity”: Walt Whitman’s Christmas Greeting to a New Democracy (Poems for Christmas #3)
It is quite possible that Walt Whitman sent the best Christmas card ever in 1889, and he sent it to an entire country. That year, a Brazilian field marshal named Manuel Deodoro da Fonseca overthrew Emperor Dom Pedro II and declared the nation a republic. On Christmas Day, seventy-year-old Whitman wrote a brief poem called “Christmas Greeting” to welcome Brazil into the family of democratic nations. Unlike nearly every other Christmas poem I admire, this is not a poem about the birth of Christ. It is a poem about the birth of democracy.
Whitman thought a lot about what it meant to live in a democracy. He was born at a time when self-government was a new thing—an exciting experiment whose success was by no means guaranteed. And he lived through the cataclysm of the American Civil War—one of the most severe tests that any democracy has ever faced. [Read more…]
T.S. Eliot, the versatile American (later British) poet who wrote both “The Wasteland” and the lyrics to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats also wrote what I consider to be the best Christmas poem in the history of ever that is not W.H. Auden’s magnificent book-length oratorio For the Time Being. Eliot’s poem “The Journey of the Magi” is much shorter—just 43 lines, into which the remarkable poet packs pretty much everything that matters about the meaning of Christmas.
The poem is a dramatic monologue. The speaker is one of the Three Wise Men, or Magi, who travel from Eastern lands to visit the baby Jesus. It is a hard journey, a really hard journey—which is pretty much all that the poem is about. [Read more…]
My daughter was asked to give a little talk on Sunday. Her assigned topic was “the birth of Jesus, and the second coming.” Strange combo for a four year old. My wife came up with a great strategy for helping with these talks. [Read more…]
I’m going to spend this week blogging about my favorite Christmas poems. I mean, I plan to do other things too, like all of my Christmas shopping and my ritualistic Messiah-sing-a-long-for-introverts, which occurs late at night and with no witnesses. I also plan to eat a lot of cookies. In between bites, though, I will blog about poems that, I think, get to some of the essential things about the Christmas season.
We start with a moderately famous Christmas poem that is also a moderately famous Christmas carol: Christiana Rossetti’s “In the Bleak Midwinter, first published in 1872.” Most people have probably heard the song, which has been recorded by everyone from the Choir of King’s College at Cambridge to Erasure. Even without hearing the song or reading the poem, though, most people know instinctively upon hearing the tile that it is about things like bleakness and winter. It is also a lovely poem about the birth of Christ, as the first two stanzas make clear: [Read more…]
About a year ago, I reviewed a book by Katarina Jambresic called A Global Testimony—a compilation of LDS conversion stories that she’s collected from 60+ countries around the world (available in Kindle/paperback here). The book has stuck with me, partly because the experiences in the book are so different from what I see among saints in the U.S., and partly because of the sheer scope of the project. Where’d she get all those great stories?
I recently asked her that question, and she offered to share the story of the book. So here you go, in her own words…
@smbrnsn preferably “9 ways this is stupid. You won’t believe #6!”
— Andrew S (@GASpriggs) December 16, 2016
Today, Fred Karger asked a provocative question: should the Mormon church lose its tax exemption? To answer that question, he’s asking for certain (anonymous) tips about the church’s use of its money, though implicit in the way he frames the question is that yes, it should. In short, his argument the the church should lose its tax exemption seems to follow these contours:
- The church has, and earns, lots of money.
- The church engages in for-profit businesses and investments with that money, and doesn’t pay taxes on its for-profit earnings.
- The church uses tax-deductible tithing money for lobbying, in contravention of the tax law.
He wants to collect information to ultimately file “the biggest, loudest and most comprehensive IRS challenge to a Church’s tax-exempt status in history.” [Read more…]
CTK is a great friend of the blog and a former perma.
Is it ethical to choose to bear and raise children in a world already full of millions of people with unmet needs? It’s almost a heretical question to ask in Mormondom, but I thought about it all the time before I had kids, and I still think about as I juggle my responsibilities. [Read more…]
Part 11 in a series; see the rest of the series here.
I had to take a break during my Sister Wives Series (a.k.a. my coming-to-grips-with-an-uncomfortable-polygamous-family-history series) in order to teach a fall semester, celebrate my kids’ birthdays, sew some Halloween costumes, survive an American election, eat a turkey, etc. But perhaps these excuses are just poor attempts to hide the greater struggle I have had writing about Elizabeth Dowding, another of Archie’s 15-year-old brides, a woman whose biographical details I have struggled to pin down. Even as I prepare this short bio to post on BCC, I feel that it is incomplete. I don’t feel like I am done searching for Betsey Dowding yet. But here is what I have found out so far. [Read more…]
So I’m interested in learning about your family’s Christmas traditions. I’ll begin by suggesting a possible outline to follow, then share my own traditions, and then ask you to share yours with us. [Read more…]
One of the best known episodes in The Odyssey addresses a universal truth—namely, mankind’s struggle with deadly but irresistible appeal:
“Now pay attention to what I am about to tell you—heaven itself, indeed, will recall it to your recollection. First you will come to the Sirens who enchant all who come near them. If any one unwarily draws in too close and hears the singing of the Sirens, his wife and children will never welcome him home again, for they sit in a green field and warble him to death with the sweetness of their song. There is a great heap of dead men’s bones lying all around, with the flesh still rotting off them. Therefore pass these Sirens by, and stop your men’s ears with wax that none of them may hear; but if you like you can listen yourself, for you may get the men to bind you as you stand upright on a cross-piece half way up the mast, and they must lash the rope’s ends to the mast itself, that you may have the pleasure of listening. If you beg and pray the men to unloose you, then they must bind you faster.
And thou shalt speak and say before the LORD thy God, “a Syrian ready to perish was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a few, and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous.” — Deuteronomy 6:5 [Read more…]
[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]
Recently a friend of mine shared a story with several of us about how he, while on vacation and with some spare time on his hands, decided to re-read some parts of the Old Testament. His strongest impression of what he read, he said, was that these were the records of a people struggling to understand what it means to no longer be God’s chosen people–or, if they were still chosen, why being chosen did not protect them from being defeated, occupied, and driven into exile, their temple desecrated and their community destroyed. He commended a reading of the Old Testament to us all, saying that it would remind us of the importance of humility, and endurance, and maintaining faith and hope even while our assumptions about the world all around us are being shattered.
(Please, no 2016 elections jokes. I’ve heard enough already. Besides, my friend is a Republican.) [Read more…]
2016 has been a hard year for many of us, bringing crises both personal and public, meaning that the tradition of rejoicing on the Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday) may not come easy. The awaited redemption that we celebrate today, when God “gives justice to the oppressed, / And food to those who hunger,” and finally “sets the prisoners free” and “lifts up those who are bowed down,” can seem very far away. Indeed, we seem to languish ever more irredeemably.
So how do you respond to the overwhelming complexity of the universe? If you’re like me, you get up, put your pants on one leg at a time, and try not to think about it too much. But from time to time, you’ll wonder what the point of life is, why you are here, how soon is now and who ate the last piece of cheesecake. You will not be content with a life lived uncertainly–you will look for, and find, answers. Well, at least what will pass for answers. [Read more…]
Several people have asked whether or not there would be a general index of all of the posts that were part of my #BOM2016 series this year, which came about when I read the Book of Mormon for the first time in more than 25 years and tried to blog about it from the perspective of a trained literary critic encountering its narratives for the first time. Well, yes. Here are all 45 posts. I trust BCC readers to use these for good, and never for evil.
These past weeks I’ve thought a lot about Samuel, the Lamanite. And as I’ve re-read the Book of Mormon this year, I’ve realized that in the past, I’ve glossed over how significant Samuel is to the latter end of the Book of Mormon, and how appropriate a figure he is for advent.
Arguably, the three figures that loom the largest over Helaman through Ether are Jesus, Mormon, and Moroni. And all three of them draw attention to Samuel and his prophecy. When we read Samuel’s prophecy about the destruction of the Nephites, it’s easy to see that as referring to the destruction that befell them at the time of Jesus’ death. But Mormon sees it, along with the prophecy of Abinadi, as referring to his own day (see Mormon 1-3). When Moroni describes the curse that befell the Jaredites, while abridging the record of Ether, he uses the same language that Samuel used when pronouncing his curse on the Nephites, and that his father, Mormon used when describing it’s fulfillment, suggesting that Samuel’s curse and prophecy permeated not just the way Mormon and Moroni thought about their present, but the way they thought about the past. Mormon and Moroni appear to have seen Samuel as perhaps the major prophetic figure of the latter parts of the Book of Mormon. Jesus also arguably identifies Samuel as the major prophet for the descendants of Lehi (see 3 Nephi, 20:24, more on that below).
It occurred to me this morning that Trump’s tax plan, if it passed in its current form, would impact many middle- (and some high-) income U.S. Mormons.[fn1] I mean, it would affect U.S. taxpayers in general, but it would have a particular effect on the deductibility of tithing.
And why might that be? Basically, because it reduces the cost of charitable giving, at least for taxpayers who itemize their deductions (more on that in a minute). For example, imagine I’m in the 25-percent tax bracket and I itemize. If I write a tithing check for $1,000, I’ve made a $1,000 charitable donation, and the church has an additional $1,000. But the after-tax cost to me of that donation was $750. [Read more…]
Helaman 11 is a pretty darned fascinating piece of scripture. It raises all sorts of questions about the nature of God, the ability of humans to affect the will of God, and the nature of humans to choose evil over good — and that’s just the first 20 verses. The latter half of the chapter speaks to our penchant for recidivism, our inability to root evil out from among us, and how the only way to vanquish evil is to fight it relentlessly and tirelessly.
But for this post I want to talk about the narrative in the first 20 verses, when the Lord begins to make good on Nephi’s promise from Helaman 10: repent or be destroyed. [Read more…]
Perhaps no chapter in the Book of Mormon seems more out of place than the eighth chapter of Moroni. It occurs towards the end of a genocidal campaign against Moroni’s people. He is quite likely the last Nephite left on earth. The record has already been completed, and he is now traveling across the hemisphere schlepping about 500 pounds of gold plates and trying to avoid all of the people who want to kill him, which is pretty much everybody. What a strange time to transcribe a letter from his father about infant baptism.
What’s going on? The standard Sunday School answer would be that the Lord saw our day and knew that we would struggle with the question of infant baptism, so he inspired Mormon and Moroni to include this epistle. And the standard anti-Mormon answer would be that Joseph Smith was making stuff up to speak to a major religious controversy of his day. Both of these answers, I think, treat the actual text of the Book of Mormon as evidence to support or refute a historical argument. [Read more…]
Regular readers of BCC will have noticed that posts expressing women’s discomfort or anger produce intense comment threads. Almost invariably, a male commenter comes along and attempts to engage with the ideas that he sees operating in the post, only to find himself accused of not listening. Frequently, these male commenters respond by suggesting that women don’t want discussion, but simply want their feelings affirmed. Many threads have led to this impasse—to a “conversation about the conversation” instead of whatever the original post happened to be about.
As a man, I’ve struggled to know how to respond to these threads. Knowing the women of BCC has been the most morally transformative experience of my recent life, and I feel urgently the need to honor their perspectives, for which I am deeply grateful. And yet I’ve had a hard time knowing what to say beyond “thanks.” That’s important, to be sure, but as a form of engagement it’s rather inert. At other times, I’ve tried to engage by calling out mansplaining, by, you know, mansplaining to mansplainers about how mansplaining works, and these efforts have been neither helpful nor productive. I’ve even been modded!
I’ve come to believe that both of these responses—the bare thanks and the aggressive calling out—resulted from a lack of empathy on my part. I’d listened enough to know what mansplaining was, and I valued listening enough to believe that my BCC sisters’ voices were worth hearing, but I hadn’t yet learned how listening and empathy really work. No doubt I still have quite a bit to learn, but in this post I’d like to share some of what I’ve figured out this past while. [Read more…]