What does the First Vision mean in light of a limited view of the apostasy?

Yesterday in our priesthood class in our ward we had a lesson about the apostasy and the restoration, with a heavy emphasis on the First Vision as the event that ends the apostasy.

One of the class members raised his hand and asked, how do we reconcile a belief in the apostasy with the fact that there was so much faith and spiritual devotion in the world in the middle ages and in the renaissance? I don’t think he was trying to be a rabble-rouser, either, he was being sincere.

When I was a missionary, we used to teach that the apostasy was a loss of true doctrine, a corruption of ordinances, a loss of revelation, a loss of understanding about the fundamental principles of the gospel, and a loss of priesthood authority. Over the past 5-10 years, though I’ve been more and more convinced of a much more narrow view of the apostasy. But I wonder what that means for the First Vision? [Read more…]

Spirituality as a Skill, Not a Talent

This is an attempt to bat some ideas around that I originally picked up here in a mindfulness/fitness context. Your mileage may, and likely will, vary. It’s entirely possible that this post doesn’t apply to you at all. That’s cool.

Sometimes, when people tell me that they are experiencing a faith transition or challenge, when they fail to meet the spiritual goals they’d long ago set for themselves, I hear that they just don’t think they’re the believing type. I’ve felt that way too sometimes. I wonder if people might find more peace of mind if they thought of feelings of religious devotion as a skill to be honed and refined. [Read more…]

Sunday Morning Poem: Henry Vaughan, “The Night”

I love this poem by the Welsh poet Henry Vaughan (1621-95), for its marvelous depiction of the mystical life. His phrase “dazzling darkness” owes to John of the Cross, the 16th-century Spanish mystic whose Dark Night of the Soul sets out an apophatic spirituality, and Vaughan, too, urges the night, both literal and metaphorical, as the place to find God (or, rather, to be found in God).

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Cleaning the Church

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Today our turn on the cleaning schedule rolled around once again. My wife and I both have colds, but not wanting to leave the team leader in the lurch I went in and emptied all the garbage throughout the building. Since there was a family of four and a single sister also on the team, many hands made light work and after about an hour we were done and I came home. (It helps that I only live a five-minute drive away from our church building.) [Read more…]

1/15 Deadline: Applications for 2017 Mormon Theology Seminar

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The Fourth Annual Summer Seminar on Mormon Theology
“God Himself Shall Come Down: Reading Mosiah 15”
College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia
June 5–June 17, 2017

Sponsored by the Mormon Theology Seminar
in partnership with
The Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies and
The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship

In the summer of 2017, the Mormon Theology Seminar, in partnership with the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University, will sponsor a summer seminar for graduate students and faculty devoted to reading Mosiah 15.

The seminar will be hosted by the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, from June 5 through June 17, 2016. Travel arrangements, housing, and a $1000 stipend will be provided for admitted participants. The seminar will be led by Adam Miller and Joseph Spencer, directors of the Mormon Theology Seminar, with assistance from Brian Hauglid, director of the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies. [Read more…]

Thoughts on Two Baptisms, 1989 and 2016

PCB is a professor and prior guest of the blog. We’re really glad he chose to share these sacred thoughts here.

Recently I baptized my eight-year-old son. It was an emotional and profoundly spiritual experience for me, perhaps one of the most important in my life. I know a lot of parents feel this way, but this surprised me. I love my son, love the Church, and was very happy to welcome him into the official fellowship of the Saints. Our practice of baptizing eight-year-old children hasn’t always resonated with me, though; despite Mormon’s fierce protestations to the contrary, I don’t seen a big difference between child baptisms and a baby blessings. Perhaps more to the point (and maybe not unrelated), I’ve felt some ambivalence these last few years toward many other institutional features of Mormonism as I’ve wandered through a thicket of complexity in my spiritual and religious life. All to say: I knew this gathering of family and friends to celebrate my young son would be special. I just didn’t expect it to prompt so profound a spiritual reaction. I was wrong. [Read more…]

Lesson 2: “Behold, I Am Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World” #DandC2017

At the dawn of the restoration, there were three primary views of the Atonement that swirled around Joseph Smith’s family and other early Mormon believers. [Read more…]

Sunday Morning Poem: “Pied Beauty”

2016 was, well, a mixed bag, and 2017 promises to be no different. Perhaps this poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins can serve as an inaugural prayer that we might discern God’s grace in whatever comes.

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Nihilist Gospel Doctrine Lesson #1

Introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History

Purpose:

To introduce class members to this year’s study of the Doctrine and Covenants and Church history and to help them understand their place in the dispensation of the fullness of times.
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What Tax Folks (and Kyle) Talk About When They Talk About Tithing

Yesterday, I saw this tweet from Jana Riess:

The catch: younger members are more likely than their elders to say they’re paying tithing on net, rather than gross, income.

The question of why younger generations are more willing to cop to paying 10% of their net income is an interesting one, and I have no idea if it reflects changes in religious rhetoric or in their financial situations. For that matter, I have no idea if it actually reflects a shift: maybe Mormons have always moved from net to gross as they’ve aged.

What’s clear, though, is that few people, if any, are actually paying tithing on their gross income. I tweeted to that effect, and got into a fun rabbit hole of a Twitter conversation. So, for your reading pleasure: What Tax Folks (and Kyle) Talk About When They Talk About Tithing:
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My New Year’s Resolution: No More Cheap Outrage

It’s called “outrage porn” for a good reason. Like pornography, it provides all of the sensations of a strong emotion without incurring any of the costs (time, relationship building, risk of rejection). It briefly satisfies our need to experience sensation but does not lead to meaningful engagement with anything. It is risk free, and, ultimately, it is an addiction that works against real human interaction. [Read more…]

Support for Freedom, Civility and the Peaceful Transition of Power: A Noble Vision, Built on Sand

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A preview of the 2017 presidential inauguration (Source)

In the week since the Mormon Tabernacle Choir announced its decision to accept an invitation to perform for the casino magnate and strip club pioneer cum president-elect at his inauguration, an enticing but nevertheless misleading narrative has emerged in response to the kerfluffle:

[T]the choir has performed at five other inaugurations for presidents of both parties, beginning with Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson’s inauguration in 1965, according to a news release from the choir. If the choir had turned down Trump, that would be a partisan decision. It would also open the door to every appearance of the choir being viewed through a political lens, which would add an unnecessary complication to an organization that is committed to spreading goodwill across the globe, regardless of political affiliations. [Source]

The implication is that since the Choir sang for the inauguration of a Democrat over 50 years ago, singing for a nominal Republican in 2017 couldn’t possibly be a partisan decision. I believe the historical record shows that this conclusion is not well founded. [Read more…]

LaVell Edwards: A Personal Reflection

Tribune file photo BYU Coach LaVell Edwards checks the clock during a game against the Washington Huskies in 1999.

By now I’m sure you’ve heard that 2016 claimed yet another victim. LaVell Edwards, that rock of BYU football, died today.

He coached BYU from 1972 (before I was born) until 2000 (when I graduated from BYU). I grew up watching his teams (and the UCLA Bruins) play football on fall Saturdays with my dad and, as a student at BYU, I went to almost every home game.

I never met him while I was at BYU; my sole access to (and image of) him was cutaway shots to him on the sidelines, unsmiling, arms folded over his chest.  [Read more…]

#MutualNight: Miles Davis’s “On the Corner”

miles_davis_on_the_cornerConfession: the first jazz album I owned was a Kenny G album.

“But that’s not jazz!” I hear you (some of you, anyway) saying. And I totally agree. In my defense, though, I was in 7th grade, was looking for jazz to listen to, and it’s what my saxophone teacher pointed me toward.

And in fairness to him,[fn1] Sam Goody and the other late-80s record stores classified Kenny G as “jazz fusion,” a classification that helped give “fusion” a bad name among jazz listeners and aspiring jazz musicians.  [Read more…]

Review: “Immortal for Quite Some Time”

What is Immortal for Quite Some Time, the book from Scott Abbott, the Professor of Integrated Studies, Philosophy and Humanities at UVU? Is it a memoir? Abbott explicitly disclaims this in a preface: “This is not a memoir,” he says, saying the book is a “fraternal meditation on the question, ‘Are we friends, my brother?'”. Yet even that descriptor is both incomplete and misleading, as I’ll discuss. Is the book a collection of Abbott’s pontifications on various LDS topics? Yes, it is that, but it is significantly more than this as well. If a meditation, the book is also incomplete, as Abbott’s book does not necessarily bring a level of mindfulness or self-reflection. Is it a history? It fails at that as well, leaving out key figures and telling us a partial view of major events. I believe that Immortal for Quite Some Time is best viewed as a mystery, in two senses: the author piecing together his brother’s life and what that fraternity means, but also the mystery of the author to himself and to the reader. It is the best book I read all year. [Read more…]

Book review(ish): Carol Lynn Pearson’s The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy

33bb98d31532c5a93920dabfe0ff91efThe Ghost of Eternal Polygamy by Carol Lynn Pearson was released earlier this year, but as I do not have a voracious appetite for all books Mormon, I did not get around to reading it until this month. I’d like to blame Christmas for me not posting about it until now, but the fact is that I love reading books and hate writing book reviews. I like reading and writing about stuff that interests me, and polygamy interests me. (Interest being the kindest verb I could use in this context.) So maybe this post will not be so great as book reviews go, but it is a post about a book about polygamy, and maybe that will suffice for enough of you.

What you must bear in mind if or when you read The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy is that Carol Lynn Pearson is a poet, not a scholar. This is not to say that Pearson doesn’t know what she’s talking about, that she hasn’t studied the relevant issues. Obviously, she has. But she approaches this project as part memoir, part meditation on what polygamy means to contemporary Mormons and what is required to build what she calls a “partnership Zion,” rather than a patriarchal one. [Read more…]

A Christian Nation

screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-12-51-21-amDecember is the time of year when those of us in the U.S. get to soul-search, really think about the difference between “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays,” and listen to talking heads pontificate about America’s identity as “a Christian nation.”

Which, hey, look, I’m a Christian. I believe in Christ as my savior, and I have faith that the New Testament and the Book of Mormon reflect His teachings.  

But that’s why, constitutional issues aside, I find it weird that people and politicians can push to un-decouple religion and government and argue that America is a Christian nation, while at the same time strenuously resisting the kinds of policies that institutionalized Christianity would fundamentally, necessary embrace.

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…and also with You.

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There is a small subway stop near the southern tip of Manhattan. The cast iron stairs were cold and slick as we made our way upwards, into the grey winter light. It wasn’t raining so much as the air was heavy with mist, just barely above freezing. It’s a bit surprising to find oneself rising from the subway tunnels into a church yard. If you jaunt half a block to the left, you are on Wall Street, the hustling, busy financial capital of the West, and if you reach your hand out to the right, you can touch a 300 year-old tombstone in a very old American graveyard. The dissonance of place and time is startling. [Read more…]

Lesson 1: Introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants #DandC2017

I don’t feel educated enough to truly appreciate the Hebrew Bible. The New Testament is probably the most poignant scripture for me.  It calls me to a deep and severe repentance, while filling me with hope.  The Book of Mormon gives me Alma 7, what I believe is Mormonism’s greatest gift to Christianity—an empathetic atonement.  It is a powerful call to Christ.  But, the Doctrine and Covenants is the door to something wholly different—an exploration of the mechanics of religion and its making. Because we have so many of the documents and so much of the context within reach, we can truly witness the restoration. On the one hand it is a book of revelation texts with little if any context or story.  On the other it is an invitation to find it.  It takes work, but there has never been in the history of the Restoration a better time to do this work.  This process makes simple stories complicated, but it consequently makes them more real.

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Why Require a Temple Recommend for Church Employment?

Image result for temple recommendWhy does the church currently require that its employees have a current Temple Recommend? It’s a question I’ve often heard my friends who work for the church ask, and over my lifetime, we’ve continually ratcheted up the requirement for a Temple Recommend to callings and ordinances also, even when one has not been historically required. A recently leaked handbook document details the church’s reasons. Some of these were surprising to me, as a person with decades of leadership experience in Fortune 500 companies. [Read more…]

Bishops Performing Civil Weddings

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My son and his fiance are flying back home to SLC tonight after a quick four-day visit over the holiday weekend. [Read more…]

A Resource for Seminary Teachers (and Others)

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

last-christmas 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…]

Advent 2016: Preparing our hearts for Christmas

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…]

Lifting, Carrying and Pushing to Holy Places

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Wilt thou be made whole? (Source)

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…]

Donald Trump and the Mammon of Unrighteousness

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…]

Please, MoTab, don’t sell your birthright for this mess of pottage

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The Mormon Tabernacle Choir performing in happier times (Source)

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…]

Review: The Garden of Enid: Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl (Part One)

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)

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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…]

The Journey of the Magi: Christ Must Change Us (Poems for Christmas #2)

journey-of-the-magiT.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…]