Prayer on the Anniversary of the June 8 Revelation

O God of freedom, who led the Children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt: as we recall how Pharaoh’s heart hardened to the cries of your people, so do we pray that you will soften our hearts through the Holy Spirit, that we, like your Son, might proclaim liberty to the captive and let the oppressed go free. We give thanks for Spencer W. Kimball, who had the courage to pray through his own prejudice to hear your voice, and we pray for the same courage. We give thanks for Jane Manning James, whose faithful petitions for sealing went too long unheard; tune our ears and hearts, we pray, to the petitions now arising from our African-American sisters and brothers, that we might hear and act. Bring us together, Lord, we pray, into the body of Christ, where, in love, the gifts that we once despised might now at last take their due place, for without them we cannot be the Zion you called us to become. We acknowledge that we have not loved your image in these your children with our whole hearts; for this, for all that we have done that we ought not, and for all that we have left undone, though we ought, we ask you to fill us with new love and courage to bring about your work of redemption, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Changing the Sacrament Prayers: an example of the role of human agency in revelation.

This LDSLiving article popped up in my twitter feed yesterday. The church has revised the French version of the sacrament prayer. I don’t know enough French to really have an informed opinion, but based on my knowledge of Spanish, and my spotty knowledge of Latin, it seems to me like the change is from a word meaning willing, in the sense of willing, or wanting to do something to one that means willing in the sense of available, or disposed to do something. The idea is to more closely match the English version. (And, incidentally, this also aligns more closely with the official Spanish version, which uses “son dispuestos.”)

I would be curious to know the process that led to this change. The change was announced over the First Presidency’s signatures, which suggests either that the First Presidency made the decision, or at least that somebody in the translation department brought to the First Presidency for approval. Who brought the issue to the attention of the decision maker? What were the discussions like? What kind of information did they rely on in making the decision?  [Read more…]

Useless Bloggernacle Topics, Ranked

Angel As is so often the case, Steve and I were recently pondering the truly important questions of life, like whether it would be better to be a vampire or pirate. Anyway, with that issue settled, we moved on to deciding where all of you people waste the most time on the Mormon internets.

As always, these rankings are authoritative.
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Distilled, Pure Knowledge

We try to give you not just milk around here, but MEAT. Scott and I had a conversation which, following prayerful reflection, we decided was fit to be shared with you. Do not make us regret sharing these pearls.

Steve: Scott, are you there, I need to have an important conversation with you.

Scott: lo, i am with you always [Read more…]

Death, Taxidermy, and Home Teaching: an Oblique Profile of Artist Jeff Decker

English Brooks lives in central Utah with his wife, Kelly, and their three children. When he’s not teaching, writing, or scavenging, he enjoys staring into maps, squinting at birds, and inventing poorly attended high-altitude marathons. Lately, he’s become involved with a community-building initiative and participatory performance project called “A Billion Hairs for the Billionaires.” (https://www.billionhairs.org If you’re looking for a reason to shave your head this summer, consider this an invitation!)

People love to churn out that hackneyed phrase, ‘Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.’ I always thought dancing about architecture sounded like a good idea. This is what all objects are doing with each other. After all, no object truly contacts another one. Architecture ‘columns’ (or whatever it does) about human relationships. And dogs sniff about trees. And pencils pencil about pencil sharpeners. The photon photons about the electron. The birds bird about the BP oil slick, telling us about it in bird metaphors. And weather weathers about global warming. And writing writes about music. To this extent writing about music really is like dancing about architecture—and a good thing too. Everything is like that.

Timothy Morton, from Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World (2013)

Any time spent googling Jeff Decker, artist, will immediately and overwhelmingly acquaint you with his fantastic work restoring and sculpting exquisite, badass vintage motorcycles. He’s often—and very fittingly, I’d say—referred to as a Frederick Remington of bronze motorcycle sculpture. (You may also recall the handsome goatee and rockabilly soundtrack from his “I’m a Mormon” video a few years ago.) Last month, as I got out of my truck and came up the walk of his studio, I’m certain he could already tell I knew nothing about motorcycles before I even reached the porch for a handshake. [Read more…]

What License to Shun Those who Choose a Different Path?

A collaborative online effort of like-minded female members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently took a public stand on what it characterized as a “protected class” of sin: gay marriage [Edit: please search the site yourself to find the post in question if so inclined]. See, “some members of the Church have […] been ‘drawn away after the persuasions’ of the world and support same-sex marriage” without realizing “that their support for it inadvertently supports serious sexual sin.” In case you didn’t pick up on it, the author goes on to hammer home the message that gay marriage = “sexual sin” several more times: [Read more…]

Missionary Safety: That No Harm or Accident May Befall Us

Image result for missionaries helmetsPeggy Fletcher Stack reports in the Salt Lake Tribune that the church is going to survey missionaries about safety. This survey is likely related to rising global terrorism as well as several outbreaks of disease that have been problems in recent years and required adaptation in terms of missionary dress codes and where missionaries serve. It’s important to note that existing mission rules help prevent a lot of injuries, rules like being with a companion 24×7, no swimming, and wearing helmets and seat belts. Compared to same age cohorts, missionaries suffer fewer injuries–this, despite being in areas of the globe that may be more perilous than their native communities. We’re obviously doing some things right to protect our missionaries. [Read more…]

(A Version of) The Eagle Charge for LDS Eagle Scout Courts of Honor

Our ward’s scout troop recently held a court of honor for a boy in the ward to receive his Eagle Scout award. Though I have been released from my calling with the young men, I continue to serve on the Scout Committee, and I had worked with this young man while I was with the youth, and I was asked to give “the Eagle Charge” at the Court of Honor. [Read more…]

Lesson help for June: Come, Follow Me Youth Sunday School (“Priesthood and Priesthood Keys”)

Post-It Notes on ChalkboardThe first two weeks of June’s Sunday School topics are “How can I participate effectively in councils in the Church?” and “How do women and priesthood holders work together to build the kingdom of God?” I’ve been teaching 14 year olds for several years now, and these lessons often lead to questions about their (YM and YW) real budding concerns around gender in the church. I wanted to address this rather than avoid it, but in a way that would be me surfacing their priorities and feelings and not me projecting my concerns on them and speaking to that. I decided to use a trendy “Design Thinking” teaching technique and have them do an activity with post-it notes.
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Reflections on the MSSJ Pilgrimage to Rome

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The Pope delivers his Urbi et Orbi address and blessing in April 2017

On Easter Monday 2017, the Mormon Society of St. James commenced its fifth major pilgrimage, this time to Rome. It was actually our third stage on the Via Francigena which we started in 2015 by walking from Canterbury to Dover and then through Switzerland to Great Saint Bernard Pass.  [Read more…]

Ponder on the Beauty of an Earth Made Clean Again

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Michigan Republican Representative Tim Walberg said in a town hall meeting last Friday, “I believe there’s climate change . . . I believe there’s been climate change since the beginning of time. I believe there are cycles. Do I think man has some impact? Yeah, of course. Can man change the entire universe? No. . . . Why do I believe that? Well, as a Christian, I believe that there is a creator in God who is much bigger than us. And I’m confident that, if there’s a real problem, he can take care of it.” This is a sentiment I have heard countless times from members of my wards throughout my life. As a newly returned missionary, even I told my non-religious sister who expressed anxiety about climate change that, “I have faith that God is in charge and that during Christ’s Second Coming, He will heal the earth and make things right.” She frankly and rightly responded: “That is the most despicable thing I have ever heard you say.” [Read more…]

Imposter: Mormonism as “Third Culture”

Image result for third culture kidsFor those unfamiliar with the term, TCK refers to “Third Culture Kids” or those of us who were raised between two cultures. Because of living overseas during their childhoods, my kids are–at least partly–Third Culture Kids. [I previously blogged about two famous Mormon TCKs, Mitt Romney and John Huntsman here.] Although I didn’t live outside the US during my formative years, we did move a lot, and because those moves were known to be temporary (we kept our house in PA), my own childhood experience also qualifies as a Third Culture upbringing. But I would posit that many Mormons growing up outside of the Mormon Corridor will find the “Third Culture” label relevant to what it feels like to be in such a minority, forever existing outside of the surrounding milieu, deeply aware of a personal cultural rift that isn’t always apparent to others.

“When we think of the word culture, obvious representations such as how to dress, eat, speak, and act like those around us come to mind. But learning culture is more than learning conformity to external patterns of behavior. Culture is also a system of shared concepts, beliefs, and values. It is the framework from which we interpret and make sense of life and the world around us.”
David C. Pollock, Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds

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MHA 2017 St. Louis

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I’m putting up this open thread for discussion of all things MHA over the next few days as we participate in the 2017 conference in the St. Joseph Convention Center next to the Embassy Suites hotel in St. Joseph, Missouri. Please share your experiences and thoughts here so that others who cannot be here physically can get some of the gist of the proceedings. Have a great conference, everybody!

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Memorial Day Thoughts on Cynicism and the Republic

Jessica Preece has a PhD in political science from UCLA.  Her research is on political party candidate selection procedures, with an emphasis on why there are so few women in politics.  She is a professor of political science at BYU, though these thoughts are her own and don’t necessarily represent the institution.

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

—Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address (1863)

Lately a lot of people have asked me if America is going to be okay.  Honestly, I don’t know whether the Republic will fully weather the storms we have faced in recent months and years. I am a political scientist—I study patterns in politics.  The patterns I see are, as they say, deeply concerning.

But I choose to have faith that it will.  I choose faith, not because I am ignorant of the problems, but because I see them clearly. [Read more…]

Memorial Day 2017

I thought of the three Portland men as we sang America the Beautiful today:

O Beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!

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Judge not, but still judge sometimes (just not too much)

You may have heard or read about the story of the student at a Christian high school who has been barred from walking at her graduation because she is pregnant (out of wedlock, as most pregnant high schoolers are). The school’s argument is that she violated the pledge she signed not to engage in “immoral behavior” (something not unlike BYU’s Honor Code). The student and her parents argue that she has already been punished (by being removed from a leadership position on the student council), and forbidding her to walk at graduation is just too much punishment. Her cause has been picked up by some pro-life advocates because, after all, if she’d had an abortion, no one would have discovered her “immoral behavior” and there would have been no issue. They’re afraid that shutting a pregnant student out of her own graduation sends the message that it’s more important not to get caught than to “choose life” for their unborn babies. [Read more…]

Clinging

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So a friend today mentioned that last weekend at church someone gave a talk, in the course of which the speaker said that those who were “clinging” to the iron rod lost their way because they were only “clinging” instead of “holding fast.” My friend said “To me, this makes no sense. Cling, as I’ve always understood it, means to hold on tight, not to hold on loosely. The speaker was using cling to mean the opposite of what I’ve always understood it to mean.”

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Interlude: Welfare

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As politicians in the United States debate the future of the social safety net, By Common Consent Press is proud to present the following excerpt from Tracy McKay’s forthcoming memoir, The Burning Point: A Memoir of Addiction, Destruction, Love, Parenting, Survival, and Hope. This remarkable memoir will be available on July 1 in both paperback and ebook formats. The Kindle version can now be pre-ordered here. [Read more…]

Fourth Circuit Strikes Down President Trump’s Muslim Ban 2.0

This afternoon, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which sits in Richmond, VA, just held that President Trump’s second travel ban Executive Order (which superseded his first one) is unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause.

Key quote:

The Government has repeatedly asked this Court to ignore evidence, circumscribe our own review, and blindly defer to executive action, all in the name of the Constitution’s separation of powers. We decline to do so, not only because it is the particular province of the judicial branch to say what the law is, but also because we would do a disservice to our constitutional structure were we to let its mere invocation silence the call for meaningful judicial review.

The deference we give the coordinate branches is surely powerful, but even it must yield in certain circumstances, lest we abdicate our own duties to uphold the Constitution. EO-2 cannot be divorced from the cohesive narrative linking it to the animus that inspired it. In light of this, we find that the reasonable observer would likely conclude that EO-2’s primary purpose is to exclude persons from the United States on the basis of their religious beliefs.

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Scripture as Genre: What It Means When We Call Something “True”

Let’s start with an observation that I hope will be uncontroversial: there is a big difference between how people solve crimes in the actual world and how readers try to solve crimes in mystery novels. Here is a crystal-clear example of the difference: in the real world, the person that all of the evidence points to is almost always the person who committed the crime. In a mystery novel, the person that all of the evidence points is the one person you can be sure did not commit the crime. [Read more…]

Do We Love Good Because it is Good?

Mette Ivie Harrison is a critically-acclaimed writer of numerous books,including ‘The Bishop’s Wife’. We’re grateful for her thoughts.

In “The Education of the Human Race,” the great German writer and philosopher Lessing suggested that humans as a species have gone through three stages of development. The first stage was the Old Testament phase where we had to be punished or threatened with punishment in order to do what was not wrong. The second stage was the New Testament phase where we were rewarded or promised a reward (blessings or going to heaven—or a higher heaven, or resurrection) if we did what was right. [Read more…]

Boston, May 26-27, Mormon Scholars in the Humanities

The 10th annual meeting of Mormon Scholars in the Humanities will take place at Boston University, May 26–27. The conference is open to the public. If you are interested in attending the Friday night banquet, tickets may be purchased here. For more information, see www.mormonscholars.net or contact Jenny Webb at president@mormonscholars.net.

Plans of Salvation

It seems like everyone is familiar with those diagrams with various circles that explain Mormon cosmology, and which outline the progression of the human soul through eternity (do an image search for “plan of salvation” for some beauties). I thought it would be fun to sketch out the Plans of Salvation for various sources.
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Threats to Religious Freedom, at Home and Abroad (A BCC Discussion)

It is our duty to raise our voice for the voiceless.”  ~Kristina Arriaga, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (May 17, 2017).

Last week, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (“USCIRF”) hosted a discussion on their most recent annual report, which details the “countries of particular concern” regarding religious freedom.  The State Department periodically issues a similar International Religious Freedom Report.  As does the Pew Research Center on Religion & Public Life.

The international threats to religious freedom are serious.  Although colloquial use of “religious freedom” varies, encompassing a wide variety of public and private actions that in some way implicate religion, I propose limiting our discussion to a more precise definition.  Religious freedom is violated by official government action targeting the peaceful expression of religious belief.

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Simulation and Theology

Steven PeckSo, me, a biologist, wrote this book on speculative theology. The promise is rather, shall we say, curious (‘weird’ would also work)? The usual thinking goes, especially for Mormons, that first we do religion, then science. If either is to bow, it is science. The book is an experiment on the premise that the reverse it true: the real world must impose its will on our theology (as explained in the work, I mean something specific by this term). It’s a long argument hence the book-length treatment. I tried to squeeze it into 140 words, but my arguments lost some of their heft and nuance. So look at my book and you’ll get the big picture, but I wanted to explain why I think it is at least worth thinking about.

I am a computer modeler. I build ecologies in a computer; then populate these ecologies with digital creatures. The weird thing is, and it has been shown to be true again and again, that these digital creations tell us useful things about real flesh and hemolymph creatures. This is shocking to me. I’m always completely astonished that digital entities made of 1s and 0s can teach me about actual animals living in the wild. Why should that work? [Read more…]

The Chosen People Are Always Wrong

Can we talk about CPS? I mean, of course, Chosen-People Syndrome, or the belief that one belongs to a race, people, or organization that has a unique and special relationship to God. Latter-day Saints generally believe that we fall into this category, but there is nothing special about that. Most people believe, and have always believed, that their kind of person is special. [Read more…]

Joseph Smith Papers Lecture: Brent Rogers on Kirtland Temple

Notice of Lecture by Brent Rogers, one of the editors of volume 5 of the Documents Series in the Joseph Smith Papers. If you’re in Salt Lake City on Thursday, it should be fun.

In conjunction with the publication of Documents, Volume 5: October 1835–January 1838, Brent M. Rogers, Associate Managing Historian of the Joseph Smith Papers and coeditor of Documents, Volume 5, will be giving a lecture titled “‘We ask thee, O Lord, to accept of this house’: The Temple in Joseph Smith’s Kirtland” on May 18 in Salt Lake City.
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The Boy Who Cried Religious Freedom

The June issue of The New Era includes an article entitled “Why Religious Freedom Matters: What’s at Risk.”

As I read through it, I had two primary thoughts. On the one hand, I applaud the church for attempting to educate teenagers about their civil rights and responsibilities. This is an important topic, and one that our teenagers should be exposed to.

On the other hand, though, I’m perplexed and bothered by the actual delivery. The content ranges from accurate to irrelevant to speculative to flat-out wrong. So while conceptually, I think this article is both necessary and important, it ultimately fails spectacularly.  [Read more…]

Ted Chiang, “Arrival,” Mormons, Science Fiction, Angels, Time Travel, Sex, Free Will, The Tower of Babel, and the Secular: A Roundtable

You probably heard of, and might have seen, last year’s Best Picture nominee Arrival. I did, and liked it, and so eventually picked up Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others, the collection that features “Story of Your Life,” the short tale of alien contact and the ways in which it upends how humans think about language and time that the movie is based on. The collection’s other stories roam far beyond the hard sci-fi of Arrival: one, set in what appears to be roughly the same world as Disney’s Aladdin, explores the traditional problems of time travel (What if, like Marty McFly, you stop your parents from falling in love? That sort of thing, more or less) by insisting upon a sort of humanist determinism. We cannot change anything but ourselves, but over our own lives we have the powers of atonement and forgiveness. Another, “Tower of Babylon,” posits that the cosmology of the compositors of the Book of Genesis – a flat world encompassed by a firmament holding back great waters – is in fact correct, and examines how, given that world, the Tower of Babel might have worked. A third imagines a Victorian England in which Jewish gemetria, the mystical power embedded in the numerical value of letters, is a real force that might be industrialized. In short, Chiang’s work is simultaneously powerfully imaginative, in that he thinks through the logical ramifications of worldviews that we moderns have dismissed – and in some ways powerfully secular. There is little room for the mystical or the transcendent in his vision: in the story “Hell is the Absence of God,” which many of the below readers think through, God is simultaneously an empirical, demonstrable reality – angels regularly appear to humanity; souls ascending to Heaven are visible as they fly through the air; Hell can be perceived within the great cracks of the earth – and completely inscrutable, because his intentions, purposes, and the reasons he sends angels to proclaim his glory while simultaneously calling massive traffic accidents and the like are quite opaque.

In an odd way, Chiang’s world bears some resemblance and some divergence to that of Mormonism: his cosmos is rational, which many defenders of Mormonism assert is a great virtue of their own theology, but also a-modern, defiant against the colonizing power of the ways we think we know the world works. Mormons believe that God is discoverable; Mormons would recoil, though, at this God’s resistance to interpretation.

Given these provocations, I asked some smart people to read the book and think through some of these ideas out loud. Below are their reactions.

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Mother’s Day Service Roll Call

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Earlier this year I asked you how your local Easter service went. Today I’d like to ask you how your Mother’s Day service went. [Read more…]