The Dismissive Shepherd: Leaving the One for the Ninety and Nine

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The Good Shepherd [credit]

One of the most memorable office Christmas parties I attended featured our boss sharing his management philosophy. While conceding that management problems are possible, at least in principle, he emphasized that “If you’re the only one with a problem, it’s your problem,” punctuating the air with his index finger as he spoke.

I’m not sure what prompted this burst of holiday cheer—probably the stress of a high pressure job—but it left us looking like sheep with a secret sorrow that evening, and in the months to come we came to learn he meant it—concerns were routinely dismissed on the grounds that the employee was alone in his or her concerns.

Well, in a world where the ground is cursed and we are doomed to eat bread by the sweat of our faces until we return unto the ground, it goes without saying that time is short and resources are scarce. And when you consider that problems are like a gas—at least they have a way of filling the available volume regardless of how significant they are in the overall scheme of things—I can understand the pragmatic inclination to tamp down on individual complaints in order to focus on the big picture, even if I think the approach reveals less than heroic leadership qualities. [Read more…]

Introducing Jared Cook

We’re pleased to announce that Jared Cook (aka JKC) has joined BCC as our newest permablogger. Go revisit his great “Endowment and Eucharist” series, check out his author page, and then bid him a hearty welcome in the comments!

Onward, Christian Soldiers

I decided a few years ago that I could no longer sing this hymn in good conscience, even though I always liked the music. Then, earlier this year, D Fletcher suggested that I rewrite it. Slowly, and with his able editorial assistance, I’ve done so. I decided that the hymn gets its theology of the cross all wrong, choosing the cross of Constantine and the Crusaders over Paul’s “scandalous” one. Thus, my rewrite owes quite a bit to 1 Corinthians, where Paul’s theology of the cross receives its best articulation.

Onward, Christian soldiers,
March in Jesus’ peace,
Bearing acts of mercy
‘Til oppression cease.
Christ our gentle Master
Leads us in the way;
With His grace upon us,
We’ll be kind today.

[Read more…]

None of us with perfect knowledge, or all of us with love

calvin-susieFrom the Church’s new Doctrinal Mastery materials on “Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge“:

Invite a student to read aloud the following account shared by Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Ask the class to listen for how a young woman acted in faith when faced with a challenging situation:

“Recently, I spoke with a Laurel from the United States. I quote from her email:

“‘This past year some of my friends on Facebook began posting their position on marriage. Many favored same-sex marriage, and several LDS youth indicated they “liked” the postings. I made no comment.

“‘I decided to declare my belief in traditional marriage in a thoughtful way.

“‘With my profile picture, I added the caption “I believe in marriage between a man and a woman.” Almost instantly I started receiving messages. “You are selfish.” “You are judgmental.” One compared me to a slave owner. And I received this post from a great friend who is a strong member of the Church: “You need to catch up with the times. Things are changing and so should you.”

“‘I did not fight back,’ she said, ‘but I did not take my statement down.’

“She concludes: ‘Sometimes, as President Monson said, “You have to stand alone.”

*   *   *

A different version of her experience might read something like this: [Read more…]

Prayer: “Man well drest”

Part 22 in a series; see other parts here.

Prayer often finds us* at our worst, or at least what can feel like less than our best. We sob convulsively, shout angrily, plead earnestly—or we engage in an activity so rote that we can forget we’re doing it, embarrassed at how many of our prayers are thus. True, there are those moments of pure, blissful praise, or the times when grace’s undertow pulls us suddenly into the depths of divine love, and perhaps in such moments we could think ourselves spiffy, if only the familiar pride were not suddenly and mysteriously out of reach.

[Read more…]

The Cross on the Tombstone

 

To reach B.H. Roberts’s grave in the Centerville City Cemetery you have to pass through those areas of southern Davis County where Utah still feels very much like the small town it was when Roberts settled here as a youth. Grass runs up to the asphalt of the road, the homes are as frequently generations-old brick cubes as they are modern miniature mansions, and every few lots even those give way to the rows of a garden or orchard, tended still by hand. There are few buildings higher than two floors, and the mountains loom only a stone’s throw behind. At night the deer edge warily into the flower beds.

The graveyard likewise draws you back to the near borders of frontier Mormonism. There are rows upon rows of McKays and Bensons and Pratts, and other families formed through plural marriage whose children still bring their dead here, and rarely must come far. Roberts’s grave is at the top of the cemetery, on a gentle rise, next to that of his first wife Sarah Louisa Smith and near his second, Celia Dibble. There is a budded cross graven on his tombstone. [1]

[Read more…]

In a glass

Perhaps you’ve noticed that, from occasion to occasion, people like to offer parables on the blogs. Most of the time, these aren’t really parables; they are screeds with a bit of powder and blush. But, lately, I’ve felt a parable welling up within me. I don’t know that it actually has a particular target. Feel free to discuss that in the comments, if you must. [Read more…]

One Hundred Seventy-Two Years Ago.

A Cultural, Political, and Religious Being.
A Few Scattered Random and Unschooled Thoughts.

Joseph Smith Jr (hereafter, JS) was in many ways a product of the Age of Jackson. Honor bound, captured by the flame of military pomp, the high ground of moral individualism over against the bureaucratic state, and a revolutionary and constitutional mythos. JS saw Old Hickory as a reminder of the power of individualism that (in legend) animated Washington, Jefferson, and the then current national feeling that America was divinely established and a portent of Millennial events to come. Jackson’s experience with the South Carolina Nullifiers helped prompt a revelation on future wars. JS was removed from many Democratic positions, however. He never supported the abolitionist movement, but he did offer that slavery was an economic issue, one that should be resolved by compensation and deportation. Neither Northern nor Southern Democrats could be in sympathy. Jackson had polarized the public, prophetically, JS did the same.
[Read more…]

Prayer: “Heaven in ordinary”

Part 21 in a series; see other parts here.

The idea of heaven usually stands in contrast to our everyday lives. Heaven is supposed to be where all that we have done and all that we have left undone finally gets sorted out, where at last we can give proper time to everybody and everything we care about, precisely because time is no more. In heaven, we at last escape the temporal for the eternal, which alone has ample room for our loves. Heaven becomes the projection screen for the unrealized imperfections of life, our photographic negatives in need of development.

[Read more…]

Gems from #MHA2016 – C50 minutes

The Mormon History Association held its annual conference at Snowbird at the beginning of June. It was a fine affair, and I thought I would post a few items highlighting some of the fun things that went down. First a quick primer:
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Alma in Ammonihah: The Church-State Conflict that Won’t Go Away: #BOM2016

Alma 8-14

Imagine that tomorrow, during the twilight of his second term, Barack Obama resigned from office in order to travel through the Red States preaching the virtue of medicare expansion. Imagine further that he decided to start in Utah, the most Republican state in the union, which voted 3-1 for his opponent in 2012. Given Utah’s religious population, Obama might feel that he could convince people that caring for the poor is a Christian duty. He could quote Jesus, and, if he did some advance reading, King Benjamin. How do you think this would go down? [Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

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.