Becoming Converted

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Below is an approximation of a talk I gave in sacrament meeting this morning on the assigned topic of “Becoming Converted.” (I had a little more time than I expected, so I also talked about several other practical ways to become converted that are not in this written out version, such as being humble = teachable [riffing on the become as little children part of the Matthew passage], studying the scriptures, and communing with the Saints.)

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For Many Years My Voice Shook

I wrote a book for the Maxwell Institute.  It came out on November 1st.  In the last three weeks I have traveled and spoken at fifteen different events.  Up until November 1st, even when I practiced reading for my husband in our living room, my voice would shake so badly that the words would get caught up in my throat and finally stumble out in a bundle of nervousness.  I was quite serious in my consideration of hiring actors to read my work for me at the events I knew I was going to be speaking at.  I did not want to take up people’s time.  I did not want to be in the spotlight, I felt so much nervousness about what I wasn’t,  or at least the part of me that had spent a lifetime overdosing on what I thought humility meant.

On the opening night of the book, I stood in front of about 150 people and looked down aUtah Photographert the words on the page, unsure if my voice would shake and render me incapable, or if it would carry steady.  I believe by an act of pure grace, and genuine love from the people in these audiences, my voice, for literally the first time in my life, read the words I had written without a crack or waver.  Something kind and believing has carried them each night as I’ve read the pieces about my own life, which are intensely personal and nakedly honest.

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The curse of the land: dragon-sickness in Tolkien and in the Book of Mormon.

There’s a handful of books that I return to again and again. Among that handful are the Book of Mormon, the New Testament, and Tolkien’s works. And a recurring theme that I find winding through both the Book of Mormon and in Tolkien’s stories is that of cursed, elusive treasure.

The prophet Samuel, the Lamanite, pronounces this curse on the Nephites in his day, prophesying that “whoso shall hide up treasures in the earth shall find them again no more, because of the great curse of the land.” Helaman 13:18. Samuel goes on at length: “[Y]e are cursed because of your riches,” he says. “And also your riches are cursed because ye have set your hearts upon them.” Helaman 13:21. To put in concrete terms the elusiveness of the riches, Samuel uses the highly evocative adjective “slippery.” God “curseth your riches, that they become slippery, that ye cannot hold them; and in the days of your poverty ye cannot retain them,” he says. Helaman 18:31. [Read more…]

Interview: J. Kirk Richards and the Gospel Vision of the Arts

The following is an interview with J. Kirk Richards, LDS Artist and board member of THE VISION OF THE ARTS FUND, which was established in 2015 as a home for the Gospel Vision of the Arts Auction, which provides scholarships and opportunities for LDS artists.  As I’ve learned and talked personally with the people working behind the scenes to make this happen, I am both touched and so grateful for their optimism, enthusiasm and patronage of the arts within Mormonism.  Recently I visited one of their homes, which is brimming with intelligent, well-crafted, beautiful and spiritually engaging art by Mormons and I left feeling such a strong desire to be a part.  I’m excited about this work and the opportunity it will give many people to pursue their own work in the arts.  You probably want to take a moment to check out the auction, there are really beautiful pieces up for bid http://visionofthearts.org/auction.html

Q:   Tell us about the current state of LDS visual arts.

A:   I’m hugely optimistic about the future of Mormon art.  I think pessimists focus on a very small segment: the few pieces of artwork that meet the rigorously dogmatic requirements of correlation.  But there is a much larger art community outside of correlation—from new classical revivalist schools along the Wasatch front to New York artists showing in the MoMA; from traditional to conceptual and everything in between.  There are energetic and supportive networks of LDS artists, encouraging and lifting each other to new heights.    

Auction piece “Believe” by David Linn.

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We’ve Seen this Show Before (and We We Will See It All Again): Ether and the Patterns of Sacred History #BOM2016

From a narrative perspective, the Book of Ether is a frustrating problem. It comes just as the Book of Mormon is winding down–after the chief redactor hands the whole work over to his son, who then writes several chapters of his own and seems to say “goodbye.” And then, “wham,” the narrative hits us with 1600 years or so of history that we didn’t know about before. At precisely the moment that we anticipate closure, the narrative opens up wider than it has ever been.

I want to try to answer the question, “why”? That’s kind of a hard question, because any possible answer will be colored by one’s assumptions about what the Book of Mormon is. One answer is, “God wanted it this way.” But even if we accept that as unproblematically true, all it does is shift the uncertainty to a new question. Why did God want it this way? What is the spiritual value of this particular story in the place that it occupies? [Read more…]

Catharsis and empathy in David Bazan’s “Dark Sacred Night”

bazan_darksacrednight1400_1024x1024At first glance, David Bazan might seem as unlikely an artist to release a Christmas album as Neil Diamond, not least of all because neither are Christian. Religion seems to have played a very small role—if at all—in Diamond’s career, whereas Christianity has been a central theme in Bazan’s discography from his Pedro the Lion days to his present solo work. But Bazan “broke up” with Christianity in 2009 when he released his album “Curse Your Branches.” Why a holiday album now? [Read more…]

M is for the many things she gave me

Before we were married I told my husband that when we had children, I wanted to stay home with them. It never really occurred to me that I would do otherwise. I like to think that I was not particularly brainwashed into this decision by my Mormon upbringing. I don’t know. As a youth, I rebelled pretty strongly against the cultural, sometimes pseudo-doctrinal message that women belonged in the home. From a young age, I assumed that I would have a career. I didn’t want to have kids, probably because my mother had five children for whom she was the full-time caregiver, and I saw firsthand how difficult it was for her. I didn’t assume that I could do it better. I assumed it would probably kill me. [Read more…]

Saints At Devil’s Gate: A New Exhibition Opens at the CHM

An example of some of the art of displayA little over a year ago, the Church History Museum unveiled “The Heavens Are Opened,” a new interactive art and artifact exhibit that walked viewers through the early days of the Church through the martrydom. While that period is of course vital to our history, it is far from the complete story of the Latter-day Saints.

A new exhibition, “Saints At Devil’s Gate”, continues the Mormon story as the Saints traveled to the Salt Lake Valley. [Read more…]

Things Mormons Would End Up Doing in Westworld, Ranked

Do you watch Westworld? I don’t, but Steve does and he says it’s great and he’s never wrong (I guess?). It’s about a place where there are human-looking robots that are available for people to hunt or kill or do whatever to without consequence. SOUNDS FUN. Even though visits to this place aren’t technically forbidden by the TR questions, it seems pretty clear that it’s not a place for the devout Latter-day Saint. But would a Mormon even have fun there, anyway? Steve and I considered this question, and the answer heavily depends on what you’d call “fun.”

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

Advocating for Refugees

Erica Eastley is a longtime friend of the blog. See her previous guest post here.

Around 6am on Wednesday morning as I was watching the US election results in my time zone, I posted on Facebook that I hoped refugees would still be welcome in the US after the vote was counted. As the hours disappeared while I sat stunned on the couch with my teenagers next to me, that hope slipped away.  When I learned that Mormons had supported Trump by a large majority, I was even more troubled by the result.

I do not believe that a majority of Mormons or other Trump supporters voted for him because they actively support racism and xenophobia. I do believe that every voter needs to realize that they own the negative parts of their vote as well as the positive.  I won’t rehash Trump’s negatives, but might I suggest that one way we begin to make amends for those negatives is to recommit to the refugee relief effort.

There are so many ways to support refugees.  I posted this google doc here in May with ideas of ways to get educated and to get started.  I heard from people who had donated to resettlement agencies, signed up to sponsor newly arriving families, gathered supplies for welcome kits, and so much more.  The Church’s refugee site has videos highlighting things members have done. In the last few weeks, the Church has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to several different refugee resettlement agencies in the US.  The worldwide refugee crisis is far from over and tens of thousands more refugees have been resettled in the US since April with more coming, at least until January 20th. [Read more…]

Book Review Roundup

Some really exceptional books out there, but not a lot of time to review. Below are some quick roundup thoughts on some of the major Mormon Studies books that have crossed my path in the last several months. Each deserves a far lengthier treatment than I’m able to provide, so view these brief reviews as more of a condensed thumbs up-thumbs down approach. [Read more…]

Remembrance Sunday

Ross has been serving as a bishop in the United Kingdom for the past 8 years. In his spare time, he attempts his best Poldark impression on the cliffs of Cornwall. Here are some of his remarks, made earlier today.

Today is Remembrance Sunday when we honour and remember the sacrifice of those who fought against the tide of extremism and fascism over two world wars. The aim of this day is to enable us to remember what happened, so that those kind of sacrifices will never happen again. [Read more…]

Struggling for Sunday

Carina has been our guest before and is still the coolest friend you have.

Nearly every election cycle I have to steel myself to return to church. I sit next to people who purportedly share the same values but want such different outcomes. Let’s be honest, it never feels great to be somewhere when you know you’re surrounded by people who are happy your team lost. Every election I mourn and then I seek hope. I overlook hypocrisies as I hope they will overlook mine. I resolve to love, even if they won’t. Every cycle I come around. I forgive. I seek forgiveness. I find the knot in my heart and I work it out with love.

But this year feels different. This time offers an enormous personal test of my Christianity.

I am struggling. [Read more…]

Mystic Chords and Better Angels: Building Zion When We Disagree

“I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”–Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861

Times have been worse in America. Much worse. After Abraham Lincoln was elected to the presidency in 1860, the Southern states resolved to secede. They were dead serious about their #notmypresident hashtag, and we know how that worked out.

In his first inaugural address, Lincoln made one last, desperate plea for unity. He told the South that they had registered no oath in heaven to destroy the Union, while he had taken a sacred oath to defend it. He told them that they would have war only if they wanted war. He appealed to everybody to stand down and consider the things that bound them together rather than the things that drove them apart. It was his last pitch for the Union, and though it was not successful, his words still matter. [Read more…]

The ground game is in our hearts

I’ve tried to write a coherent post-election post, but nothing comes together. It’s probably because I still haven’t decided what to make of the result. I was as shocked as the next person (unless the next person was Bill Mitchell) that Trump won, and so decisively too. Like a lot of folks, I really underestimated the number of white voters. In my defense, I don’t do this for a living. But I feel more than a little silly for having overlooked the most relevant fact: both candidates were about equally disliked and distrusted, and the one who was currently in the spotlight always suffered for it. Apparently, Trump’s campaign managers managed in the last week to do what they’d failed to do for the previous 15 months—take his iPhone away so he couldn’t Tweet something stupid to distract people from whatever was happening with Hillary. I guess I didn’t notice because I gave up on this election in July. [Read more…]

Stuff they told me

They told me that it was a gosh darn shame that Prop 8 and the policy make gay people feel sad, which certainly was the furthest thing from their intention! You see it’s not that they hate gays, they just love family values so much, and the Divine Institution Of Marriage is so crucial that other things must be sacrificed, even when those sacrifices are painful and unfortunate. That’s what they told me. They told me during Prop 8 that they knew that California law already granted all rights and privileges to domestic partnerships that were granted to marriage, so they were really just fighting over a word, a symbol–the word marriage. But they told me that symbols are important, that what symbols the government symbolically holds up matter so much that we need to prioritize that even over the lives of our lesbian and gay brothers and sisters. Because should even the tiniest tarnish come to the image of the sanctity of the institution of marriage, all of society would collapse. So you know it’s just awful what the gays are experiencing but you see their hands were tied. That’s what they told me. [Read more…]

What I Want the Church to Say

Yesterday the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve released a statement congratulating president-elect Trump on his victory and praising Secretary Clinton on her campaign. The letter, something of a post-U.S.-presidential-election tradition, is, I think, laudable, and functions as a valuable reminder that we need to both pray and work for the success of the country we live in.

And it makes me think of another letter that I’d like to see. It would go something along these lines: [Read more…]

Hate the sin, not the sinner.

We’ve all heard the saying. We’ve all used it. Recently, we’ve been rightfully castigated for using it… it’s a fraught calculus, to hate the sin but not the sinner. But this morning, those six words found fresh purchase in my mind… as I laid in bed reviewing the events of the last several hours.

And while I hold out a sliver of hope that the Electoral College—our weapon of last resort—will be put to good use, denying the presidency to a creature so un-prepared for and ill-disposed to that high office… I can’t really wait around for that bit of intrigue to play out.

I have bridges to mend.
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On Kindness

Like approximately half of the people in the United States, I woke up today bitter and disappointed that last night’s election, which I had every reason to believe was going to turn out the way I wanted it to, turned out the other way instead. I knew that approximately half of the country was going to feel exactly this way this morning, but I sincerely hoped and believed that it would be the other half. [Read more…]

This Morning

This morning my daughter wanted me to make her an owl.  I cut out the body and two wings, setting them on the paper tucked up against the paper body.  Immediately she took them and set them outwards and said, “No, she is flying mom.”

I fell asleep late last night and like so many of us woke in the early hours of the morning to the shock of a reality I did not believe would or could happen.  I rose with a pit in my stomach.  I woke with deep disappointment in the state I grew up in, the Mormon state, the one who could have proved to me that they value my body, my voice, my daughter, over possible economic advantage, but they did not.

I also woke to something I did not entirely expect, as I read through my emails, texts and social media, I found words that did not spell defeat.  I saw words about love over hate, about bravery and action.  I read the words of friends who, although heartbroken, did not miss a beat in going to one another to ask, what now?  What do we do? We will do it.  If no one else will usher in our voices, we will do it ourselves. [Read more…]

Eschatology

The Book of Mormon warns us of what happens when more people choose evil over good: the judgment of God is upon them. Helaman 5:1-

For as their laws and their governments were established by the voice of the people, and they who chose evil were more numerous than they who chose good, therefore they were ripening for destruction, for the laws had become corrupted.

I’ve never been much of a believer in the end times. But I’m starting to believe. We (white Americans) have sent a strong message to minorities, to LGBTQ people, to women, to Muslims. I’m sorry that all this privileged liberal talk did absolutely nothing to make your lives better. I’m sorry for the arrogant belief that of course a man like that could never be president. But now those rights and freedoms you had are at risk. The economy, that arm of flesh, is at risk. Climate change is a foregone conclusion. And now white nationalism reigns.

If we are getting closer to the end of things, followers of Christ need to stand together now more tightly than ever. We need to reassure and help and reach out more than ever. As the mountains tremble, our institutions tumble and the rocks melt with fervent heat, I want you to know that I love you and I won’t abandon you. God help us.

Exit Poll: Choosing between Pest and Cholera

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Decisively punched chad (Source)

Today’s the (last) day–time to make your choice if you want to secure complaining rights for the next four years! But easier said than done, right? Never before–if my carefully calibrated social media feeds are any indication–has the presidential election posed such a dilemma to women and men of faith. It seems that both candidates from the major parties are morally flawed–some claim in distressingly equal measure–but we also know that single-member district plurality voting systems raise nearly insurmountable barriers to third-party candidates–a vote for them may appease your conscience but it won’t elect a president. [Read more…]

Partisan Journalism & Hiring POTUS

Image result for political polarizationI and many others have talked in other OPs this election season about reasons Mormons disagree about this election and how we can see such strong differences of opinion among people who seem to share common values. With election day looming large, I wanted to finish off with one last look at the psychology of voting in 2016 to try to understand what I’m seeing when beloved ward members, friends and colleagues make political statements on their Facebook status that leave me baffled or worse, losing respect for them. Rather than criticizing one another, perhaps it’s better to take a minute to understand what’s behind our differences. [Read more…]

Call for Applications: 2017 Mormon Theology Seminar

mts-small

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…]

Sit with Me a While

Salt Lake City temple during a winter inversion.

 

I woke up this morning, after a night of coughing and fever dreams. It’s time for my annual autumnal bout of the blech (that’s the technical term)—flu-like symptoms folded into coughing spells so violent, they’ve literally brought me to my knees. I grew up in a house of smokers, with a fireplace roaring each winter. Now I live in Salt Lake City—where altitude, desert air, and smog thick enough to choke out my view of the stunning Wasatch Mountains, conspiring to rob me of the natural and felicitous joy I find living in Zion.

I love this city… but it’s literally killing me.
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Uncertainty

Lynnette has a PhD. in theology and pretty much runs the show at Zelophehad’s Daughters. She’s a longtime friend of BCC and one of the best people we know.

Last fall, I happened to be visiting Utah, and I made a last-minute decision to attend the annual Affirmation conference being held in Provo. It was my first time attending, and I was really struck by the optimism I encountered there, by the hope that it was possible to be both Mormon and LGBTQ. When the policy came to light just a few months later, I kept thinking about that. I saw way too many defenses of the policy that claimed that no one was getting hurt because gay people wouldn’t want anything to do with the church anyway. I found myself wishing that the people confidently making that assertion could have seen what I’d seen at that conference. [Read more…]

Spiritual Freedom and Equality as a result of the LDS Church’s Release of the new LGBT Policy

Randall Thacker serves on the Board of Directors of Affirmation – LGBT Mormons, Families & Friends and previously served as its international President, focused on growing the organization to meet the needs of tens of thousands of LGBT Mormons internationally. He is a Strategy Consultant and Leadership Coach.

November 5, 2016 was a turning point for many LGBT Mormons, as it was for me. After responding to numerous media inquiries and working with the Board of Directors of Affirmation – LGBT Mormons, Families & Friends to respond to the policy and the pain in the LGBT Mormon community, I decided to take a break from the dialogue, in particular, from social media news feeds. I needed to remove myself from the endless discussions about the new policy and its impact on LGBT Mormons. I decided to enter what I called a “Period of Discernment” for a few months.

What did I learn from this period of discernment? [Read more…]

Imagination & Integration: Reflections on LGBTQ Mormon Trauma & Healing One Year Post Policy

Laura Skaggs Dulin is a regular contributor on the Out in Zion podcast, a co-producer on the Far Between documentary and mental health professional.

Nov 5

“It all begins with make believe
A sudden spark of inspiration
And every note of everything
Started with a dream in some imagination”
-Cy Coleman

In nature, the same gene that is linked to homosexuality in male fruit flies, is also linked to an increased number of offspring when the gene is carried by females of the same species. Observation of same sex pair bonds of male penguins has also found instances of such couples rearing otherwise orphaned members of the group. In these examples, Mother Nature’s integration of homosexuality and same sex pair bonds appears seamless, ongoing and useful; a persistent variation within species that both maintains and strengthens successive generations. [Read more…]

Policy Reactions

Kendall Wilcox is a documentary filmmaker and Mormon LGBT community organizer. He’s working on a project called Far Between – which explores what it means to be gay and Mormon – and he’s a contributor to the podcast Out in Zion, which attempts to deepen the conversation intersecting membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Wilcox is gay and an active member of the LDS Church.

The story of “The Policy” and the Mormon community’s diverse responses to it is best framed in terms of moral authority; who possesses it and how it is exercised. In this specific case, the story is about how the policy impacted that authority in the hearts of the members. It highlights a debate over categorical versus consequential morality, a debate that is alive and kicking within the Mormon faith community. The policy change seems to have been an attempt on the part of the Brethren of the church to exert both their moral authority and ecclesiastical authority to define and defend the doctrines of chastity and marriage. But just because they have the ecclesiastical authority to institute the policy does not mean it is a moral thing to do and for many, this act eroded what moral authority they had given to their church leaders on these issues.

But of course this elicited diverse reactions from the membership. [Read more…]

A Bridge to Somewhere: Wrestling With the Policy, One Year Out

Erika Munson is the co-founder of Mormons Building Bridges. She teaches at The Waterford School in Sandy Utah, and serves in the Pinehurst Ward.

November 5, 2015 was a dark mirror of June 8, 1978. The dates, (oddly, both of them were Thursdays), are touchstones for me: I remember where I was each time I heard the news: the disbelief, the need to check in with loved ones, the media coverage. But the similarities end there. To an idealistic teenager, that morning in ‘78 brought joy: the long-promised day had arrived! It was announced with the dignity and solemnity that believers in continuing revelation would expect. The tent was enlarged, the cords lengthened.

But one year ago, this middle-aged, battle-hardened progressive Mormon who thought she’d seen it all, was blindsided by the discovery of an internal plan – all the more chilling in its bureaucratic character — to shut the door. It felt like someone had died. [Read more…]