How Loving My Body has Changed Me Spiritually

This afternoon my son, Remy, got to missing his dad who is in Japan doing field work.  I found him in the backyard sitting on a rock crying tears that were so sincere and alone that I immediately cried right along with him–both out of sadness for him, and also a sense of joy that he, after a mere five years on this earth, was able to feel so deeply for someone else.

We Brave Women Button 3Because I was crying, I was short on words, and really didn’t have anything that great to say anyway, but I sat on an overstuffed chair and let his little heaving body fill in every space on my stomach and chest.  We stayed there for a long time without words while he calmed and seemed to want to melt right into me until any hurt he felt was gone.

I’ve been thinking a lot about bodies and the spirit lately and have come to a few abstract ideas and conclusions, but that moment for me was made of clarity.  My body is home to my children.  I lay between them each night while they fall asleep and they reach out in the dark and stroke my face or reach for my hand. It’s like the reaffirmation of both their place in the world, and their place in a larger plan, as they run their tiny hands across the familiar and tangible landscape of my body.  My body for them is a manifestation of home, and home is what the spirit has always felt like for me. [Read more…]

Missionary Fights

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While reading Rosalynde’s excellent review at Dialogue of Craig Harline’s (also) excellent Way Below the Angels, for some reason my mind turned to an experience from my own mission when I got into a fight with my companion. [Read more…]

Joseph Smith’s First [re]Vision and how historians think about the stories people tell

msr3-cover“That quilt shows all the different versions of Joseph Smith’s First Vision.”

I was caught flat-footed, a fifteen year old kid alone in a homely bookstore at the edge of Nauvoo, Illinois. She was a sweet grandmotherly type dripping with pity. If I doubted it before, it was now clear I wasn’t in an LDS bookstore despite the temples and angel Moronis gracing book covers all around. I stood in front of a nine-squared quilt hanging on the wall, each square depicting familiar but odd scenes. I understood the shopkeeper’s message loud and clear: Surprise! Joseph Smith made it all up.

I was surprised. My heartbeat quickened—it was my first encounter with an “anti-Mormon” in the flesh. I was a lifelong member of the LDS Church—a teacher’s quorum president for Pete’s sake! I’d read Joseph’s account of the First Vision countless times. I’d seen the film showing barefoot glowing Father and Son floating above the boy from Where the Red Fern GrowsMultiple versions? I knew what she was saying couldn’t be true. [Read more…]

Prayer: “Gladness of the best”

Part 20 in a series; see other parts here.

Although our world roils with its share of ugliness and violence, it also brims with beauty and goodness. Everything from a child’s hug to Duruflé motets to an insalata caprese with perfectly ripe summer tomatoes and basil fresh from the garden, good fresh mozzarella, a little sea salt, a robust olive oil, and aged balsamic vinegar purchased at an acetaia in Modena—such things enliven our world and carry with them the savor of divine life.

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Prayer: “Exalted Manna”

Part 19 in a series; see other parts here.

We wander in this wilderness of life, sojourning strangers for our threescore and ten, our time marked out by the recurring cycle of hunger, whether for the fleshpots of Egypt or the milk and honey of the promised land. Hunger leads us into a strange temporality, its present pangs bound up in memories of past satiety and the hope for future feasts. Sometimes we can almost even taste what is no longer there or what soon will be, and thus we pray, straining to bring near what still feels so far away.

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LeBron James and the Miracle of Human Consciousness

Eliza N. has been our guest before. We’re glad she came back to share these thoughts.

As I watched LeBron James weep while embracing the NBA championship trophy Sunday night, I was flooded with my own emotions. I have this thing about crying whenever I see someone else cry, but I also have this thing where I get really emotional anytime I witness a really incredible moment—something that stands out, when time slows down just a little, and I am overwhelmed by the blessing it is to be alive, to be on the earth to witness something amazing. (Also, I was still very tired from my own achievement of running the Ragnar Wasatch Back past weekend, and isn’t everyone more emotional when they’re tired?) [Read more…]

Abandoned

Abandoned...: I grew up in rural Pennsylvania, outside the small village of Bainbridge on a country lane called Locust Grove. We lived atop a hill surrounded by corn fields. The Conoy Indians used to live there [1] nestled between the banks of the Susquehanna and the Conoy Creek. We sometimes found arrow heads in the corn fields or shards of pottery by the banks of the creek, the only remnants of a population that vanished a couple hundred years before we lived there. [Read more…]

“In Remembrance of Me”: the Sacrament of Root Beer Floats

I have a wonderful home teacher. He tries to visit every month, despite our frequent too-busyness; he remembers every child’s birthday, and mine; he shows up to baseball and basketball games and high school improv nights to cheer for my kids. Once I posted something on Facebook about how much I love lilacs, and he and his wife were at my door within the hour, arms full of gorgeous blooms–I think they must have cut down an entire lilac bush in their yard. When he asks if there is anything he can do for us, I know the question is sincere and heartfelt and would be followed by the relocation of at least a New England-sized mountain if I asked. He seems disappointed when I can’t think of anything to ask for. [Read more…]

Prayer: “Bliss”

Part 18 in a series; see other parts here.

So much of prayer feels like a lover’s quarrel, hashing out a messy but committed relationship. Love provides the foundation, but manifests as struggle. Like any relationship, ours with God has its ups and downs. But oh how high are the highs! With feet on the ground and arms raised to the heavens, our souls, in ecstatic elevation, can mingle with the rich fires of star-birthing nebulae or rise with the morning fog as it clears out of a cold spring canyon.

[Read more…]

Divine Intervention in the Zion’s Camp Expedition

We’re pleased to announce this talk by Dr. Matthew C. Godfrey, General Editor and Managing Historian of the Joseph Smith Papers, in the Assembly Hall at 7pm on Thursday, 23 June. Here is Dr. Godfrey’s description of his talk:

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have had a complicated relationship with the Camp of Israel expedition, more commonly known as Zion’s Camp. On its face, the expedition appears to have failed in its goals—that of redeeming Zion, or helping the Saints regain their Jackson County, Missouri, lands. Therefore, church members have often looked for ways to depict the expedition as a success. The lands may not have been obtained, some say, but it was a proving ground for future leaders. The group may have been disbanded without ever entering Jackson County, others state, but the entire expedition gave Joseph Smith an opportunity to showcase his leadership skills to individuals who had never met him before or who had only a casual acquaintance with him.

[Read more…]

Book reviews: Brown, Holbrook/Bowman, Mason

Book reviews never do the books justice, not fully – the complexity of argument, the fine examples, these are always lost. So, try not to be too disappointed in micro-reviews of these three fine books, each of which are extremely valuable resources. [Read more…]

A Mighty Change of Heart #BOM2016

Alma 5

Both rhetorically and typologically, Alma the Younger occupies the same space in the Book of Mormon that Paul occupies in the New Testament. The typological similarity begins with their conversion stories, which share so many structural elements that they can plausibly be considered variations of the same basic narrative.

After their conversions, the two men continue along similar trajectories. Alma gives up the Chief Judgship and travels throughout the land, visiting the Churches that his father had set up. Paul goes on multiple journeys to set up and visit the Churches of Asia Minor. They both encounter congregations that have become divided and fractious—thereby implicitly rejecting the baptismal covenant to be united in faith. Both Alma and Paul make it clear that followers of Christ must do better. [Read more…]

The New Arrington Bio

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At the recent MHA Conference at Snowbird, Utah, I spent some time between sessions browsing the books in the sponsor rooms. I had flown to Utah for the conference and so had precious little space for books. One I knew I was going to purchase so I could start reading it there at the conference and on the flight home was Gregory A. Prince, Leonard Arrington and the Writing of Mormon History. I just finished the book moments ago. [Read more…]

Prayer: “Love”

Part 17 in a series; see other parts here.

Prayer can be both an immersion in love and an education in it, precisely because prayer is a central venue in our ongoing repentance, or turning toward God. Nothing illustrates love’s richness in paradox quite like prayer, for in prayer the experience of being overwhelmed by grace and acceptance can coincide with that of feeling deeply that serious things in our lives need to change. Adding to the complication, sometimes in prayer we learn that we need to accept the things we thought needed to change and that we need to change things we’ve long accepted. Love is always both simpler and much more difficult than it appears.

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Prayer: “Joy”

Part 16 in a series; see other parts here.

So often, prayer means wrestling with the angel, refusing to let go until God leaves us with a blessing. For all that, though, sometimes prayer is pure joy, the sun clearing the horizon and driving out the shadows. If there are prayers of anguish, there are also prayers of exultation, when we find ourselves so awash in grace as to be overwhelmed. Through heaving sobs of joy we can find no other words than: “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

[Read more…]

Mormon Theology Seminar: Conference Program

This summer’s Mormon Theology Seminar—in cooperation with the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Students, the Maxwell Institute, and BYU’s Wheatley Institution—will hold its concluding conference on Wednesday, June 15, at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California.

Join us in the Chapel of the Great Commission, The Graduate Theological Union, 1798 Scenic Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709.

For those interested in attending, the conference is free and open to the public. This year’s text is Alma 12:19-13:20. I’ve included the conference program below: [Read more…]

Rough Draft Commandments, Ranked

Ranking stuff in sets of 10 seems normal and natural for us now, but that’s because we have thousands of years of conditioning that all started with the very first list of Stuff, Ranked–the 10 Commandments. Since Moses went up the mountain, mankind has continually ranked things in sets of 10 (though most of these rankings are non-authoritative and therefore wrong). But you probably didn’t even know that the 10 Commandments were actually the result of a negotiation between God and Moses; God wanted to give more commandments; Moses didn’t want to carve too much stuff in rocks. That’s right, folks–the 10 Commandments are just a compromise of divine counsel and human laziness. Had Moses not been so adamant, we would have had a much longer list of commandments, and the history of ranking stuff would have been fundamentally different. Steve and I aren’t sure exactly how many commandments were in the original draft, but we know it was at least 21. We also don’t know whether revealing these missing commandments causes them to be binding on all mankind for the rest of eternity.

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

How Much Accommodation?

130114152903-abc-schoolhouse-rock-just-a-bill-horizontal-large-galleryLast week on The Surly Subgroup, I wrote about a bill making its way through the House right now. The last section of that bill would make it even harder than it already is for the IRS to audit churches it suspects have campaigning for or against candidates for office.

Reading the bill (and writing the post) crystallized for me a question I’ve had at the back of my mind: how much accommodation should we push for? That is, should there be an upper to the exceptions churches and other religious organizations seek from the law?  [Read more…]

Writ & Vision: Evening with Adam Miller

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I’ll be at Writ & Vision (274 W. Center Street, Provo) this week. Here’s the official event description:

Join us Thursday, June 16th, at 7 pm for a panel discussion of two new works by Mormon philosopher and theologian Adam Miller. Adam’s books—including Rube Goldberg Machines, Letters To A Young Mormon, and Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan—have broken fresh ground and had an enormous impact on LDS intellectual conversations and debates.

This week he will be discussing and signing copies of two new books:

Future Mormon: Essays in Mormon Theology 
Nothing New Under the Sun: A Blunt Paraphrase of Ecclesiastes

Come Thursday evening for what promises to be a lively and thoroughly interesting discussion, and to meet Adam. The event is free and open to the public, and will likely be robustly attended, so show up early. Light refreshments will be served.

God for Grown Ups

hqdefaultWhat is the meaning of the suffering of innocents? Does it not prove a world without God, an earth on which man is the only measure of good and evil? The simplest and most common reaction would be to decide for atheism. This would also be the reasonable reaction of all those whose idea of God until that point was of some kindergarten deity who distributed prizes, applied penalties, or forgave faults and in His goodness treated men as eternal children. —Emmanuel Levinas, on “Yosl Rakover Talks to God”

[Read more…]

Prayer: “Peace”

Part 15 in a series; see other parts here.

Peace is the prayer on our lips that our own hands must answer. As human beings we are capable of great evil, but also great beauty and goodness. We live most of the time not altogether resolved between them, and sometimes we purchase a sham peace by dissociating ourselves from the evil around us. “Not I,” we say, instead of “Lord, is it I?” To which the answer, if we’re really being honest, is usually at least partly “yes.” We are of a species with the human horrors we see, and there will not be peace so long as we deny that fact.

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Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

e6b50358faa97c5f2c9a889a5d3ea8f5On the second of June, 1953, around 20.4 million people in the United Kingdom crowded around only 2.7 million television sets to watch the coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in Westminster Abbey. This was a watershed moment in the modern era, a day on which the ancient rituals of an ancient kingdom were open to the public in an unprecedented way. [Read more…]

Adam Miller’s Nothing New Under the Sun

I just finished reading Adam Miller’s latest modernization of ancient scripture: Nothing New Under the Sun.  This is a very quick read, a modern version of Ecclesiastes:

Because the modern language made the parallels to modern wisdom literature so clear, I was curious about the links to Buddhism. According to Wikipedia, Ecclesiastes was written between 450 and 350 BCE.

The presence of Persian loan-words and Aramaisms points to a date no earlier than about 450 BCE, while the latest possible date for its composition is 180 BCE, when another Jewish writer, Ben Sira, quotes from it. The dispute as to whether Ecclesiastes belongs to the Persian or the Hellenistic periods (i.e., the earlier or later part of this period) revolves around the degree of Hellenization (influence of Greek culture and thought) present in the book. Scholars arguing for a Persian date (c. 450–330 BCE) hold that there is a complete lack of Greek influence; those who argue for a Hellenistic date (c. 330–180 BCE) argue that it shows internal evidence of Greek thought and social setting.

Is Ecclesiastes Buddhism in the Bible?  Or is it simply the case that all wisdom is roughly the same and there is nothing new under the sun.  Buddha dates to 600 BC. Adam Miller’s book doesn’t dwell on these parallels, but merely hints at them.  Wisdom is wisdom, no matter the source. It’s an interesting question, though. His modernized take on Ecclesiastes also demonstrates that there really is nothing new under the sun, including Christian wisdom.

[Read more…]

Feeling the weight of the calling

Tomorrow I’m teaching a small group of 12-13 year olds about women and the priesthood. I’m still working out what I want to say, but I think I know what I want them to learn: that men and women are true equals in the sight of God. Getting to that conclusion is weighing on my mind. The narratives of the manual are fairly limiting and frankly these students are still grappling with basic gospel principles; the complexity of Nauvoo cosmology and distinctions between ordinations for health and ordinations to offices are probably beyond them. [Read more…]

Justice and Mercy: A Rape Survivor’s Perspective

Today’s guest post is from Rachael.

I was sexually abused as a child and later raped as a teenager and again as an adult. All of these horrific experiences were at the hands of LDS priesthood holders. Of course, those who did these things were sinning and were not true representatives of Christ or His priesthood. It was relatively easy for me to separate out in my mind these evil men from what I knew God wanted.  But it was much harder for me to figure out how to make sense of the good men, bishops and stake presidents, who counseled me to forgive, to bury the past, to not hold my perpetrators legally responsible.  Because I believed that these men were representatives of God, I believed them when they told me that it was God’s will that I let my rapists (and abusers) off the hook.  And so I did.  I earnestly practiced the forgiveness that I was taught to practice, burying any hint of anger the moment it tried to rise up in me, and consequently, I believe, that buried emotion took on a life of its own, to the detriment of my health. [Read more…]

The Amlicite Revolution and the Problem of Religious Majoritarianism #BOM2016

Note: This is the second part of a discussion of Alma 1-4–and the Nehor/Amlicite War–that began here.

The story of the Great Amlicite War in Alma 2-3 is a good example of how winners write history. Mormon’s account of the event could not make the Amlicites look worse: they tried to overthrow the new system of judges but were defeated at the polls; they rebelled against the state; they joined the Lamanites and marked their own foreheads; they caused the needless death of thousands of people; and they were ultimately defeated because God was on the side of the Nephites.

Underneath Mormon’s narrative—which has few elements of legitimate history and pretty much all of the marks of historical propaganda—there is a different and more disturbing story that explains the actions of the Amlicites and casts some light on the failure of the United States in one of its most recent military ventures. It is the story of religious majoritarianism. [Read more…]

Prayer: “Softness”

Part 14 in a series; see other parts here.

Prayer is quiet, but never quite silent. So much of prayer involves learning how to calm the noise in order to hear properly—or learning how to hear through the noise. We often call the Spirit’s voice still and small, but it is also soft, in volume, tone, and affect. It manages to be gentle and unobtrusive while also pervading everything, and in prayer God teaches us how to listen.

[Read more…]

MHA Snowbird 2016

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OK, I’m opening up a thread for discussion of all things MHA during its 2016 conference at the Cliff Lodge, Snowbird Ski resort, in the mountains just east of Salt Lake City. [Read more…]

Religious Liberty and Persecution in the Era of Nephite Privilege #BOM2016

Alma 1

And it came to pass that Alma was appointed to be the first chief judge, he being also the high priest, his father having conferred the office upon him, and having given him the charge concerning all the affairs of the church.” Mosiah 29:42

There is a big difference between “religious freedom” and “religious tolerance.” Religious freedom derives from a society’s belief that human beings have a natural right to their own belief systems and that, as James Madison puts it, “in matters of Religion, no man’s right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance.”

Religious tolerance, on the other hand, derives from the will and pleasure of the state. A society with religious tolerance endorses one set of religious beliefs over all others, but it allows other beliefs to exist on terms that it sets itself (and can revoke at any time). Religious dissent in such a society is seen, not as a natural right of all human beings, but as a civil right protected by the indulgence of the state–which officially disagrees but has a big enough heart to let you be wrong and go to hell in your own way. [Read more…]

Greg Prince – evening with the author TONIGHT

From our friends at Benchmark Books:

Capture[1]We are very excited to announce that Gregory A. Prince, author of Leonard Arrington and the Writing of Mormon History (published by the University of Utah Press), will be here on Wednesday, June 8 to speak about and sign copies of his book. He will be here from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. and will speak at 6:00 and will answer questions and sign books before and after that time. We hope you will be able to make it that night but, if not, we can mail a signed copy or hold one here at the store for pick-up. To RSVP on Facebook, click here. [Read more…]

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