For the church in Russia, sustaining doesn’t mean agreeing


His wife, Kristen


Her husband, Blair

My wife served in the Russia, St. Petersburg mission. Her body left Russia but her heart stayed there. We had the chance to visit a few years ago and it was an amazing trip. Without her connection to Russia through the church I’m sure I never would have visited, and I never would have experienced the heft of that incredible country.

Now our missionaries in Russia are facing new restrictions due to a new anti-terrorism law Vladimir Putin recently signed. From the Deseret News:

The law creates a broad definition for missionary work, and will restrict any such activity if it is not undertaken by individuals who are affiliated with registered organizations. Additionally, the locations where such work can unfold would be restricted to houses of worship and other related religious sites, critics claim.

[Read more…]

We Must Love One Another or Die

 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” John 13:34

There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.
W.H. Auden, “September 1, 1939

[Read more…]

Abinadi on the Godhead and the Atonement: A Response to Book of Mormon Central (Part I)

About two months ago, back when we were reading Abinadi for Sunday School, I read Book of Mormon Central’s piece on Mosiah 15. It seemed problematic to me for a couple of reasons. This series is my attempt to articulate those reasons and explain what I think Abinadi’s message is. [Read more…]

Prayer: “Church-bells beyond the stars heard”

Part 25 in a series; see other parts here.

Sometimes life closes in, and we feel very small, like isolated atoms bouncing through an indifferent universe. We sense time passing on toward the moment when it will cease to matter for us. We begin to doubt that anyone or anything will truly hear us, however far our cries may carry.

[Read more…]

The Destruction of the Family: American-Style

Carina Hoskisson Wytiaz is a history degree-holder, world-class baker, writer on the internets, hater of Olive Garden, content marketer, and your cool friend.

I have some things to say about Mormons, our heritage as a persecuted people, our “the destruction of the family” language, and people of color. Hold tight. [Read more…]

Impaled on history like a butterfly

James Baldwin, Distinguished Visiting Professor

James Baldwin

Another black man in America was shot and killed by police yesterday. I involuntarily witnessed the slaying just before turning off the bedside lamp last night because it showed up in my Twitter feed, a video already playing, and I knew how it would end but couldn’t stop watching and couldn’t sleep and felt sick and felt angry. I personally know too few people of color intimately enough to reach out to them directly for solace. And really, it would be pretty unfair of me to do that anyway. So I go to James Baldwin, an African American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic who was an incredible and thoughtful writer, and who died in the eighties.

So I chose his 1965 piece, “The White Man’s Guilt.” [Read more…]

Prayer: “the bird of Paradise”

Part 24 in a series; see other parts here.

Prayer can feel like a kind of death. So many of our waking hours, and especially the restless hours of night, we spend shouldering our burdens and trying to take one more step forward, when that is the price of life against the stasis of death. In prayer, though, we let the weight press us down to our knees, and even onto our faces, as we try to lay the burden down before God.

[Read more…]

Nov 5

screen-shot-2015-11-06-at-11-00-03-amLast November, the Church abruptly changed the Handbook of Instructions. It added being in a same-sex marriage to the definition of apostasy. It also stated that children of married (or cohabitating) same-sex parents cannot receive a name and a blessing, be baptized, ordained, or serve a mission without First Presidency approval, and even then on conditions that the child (1) is committed to living the doctrines of the church, disavowing the practice of same-sex cohabitation and marriage; and (2) is of legal age and not living “with a parent who has lived or currently lives” in a same-sex marriage or cohabitation. [Read more…]

Sister Wives Series #3: Abigail Sprague (the 2nd wife)

Part 3 in a series; see the rest of the series here.


Abigail Sprague Bradford Gardner (1813–1879)

Abigail was a tough, stout, and gregarious pioneer woman. She had a sense of humor even in the wake of great tragedies. She wasn’t known as the most beautiful of Archie’s wives, but she also doesn’t seem to have been the type of woman who would have cared about looks. At one point she was heavy enough that she would handily keep her thimble and spool of thread in her fat rolls, where they would stay put until she needed them (I find this detail amazing and delightful). She found great pleasure in smoking her corncob pipe as well as in telling delicious and terrible stories to children about witches and fairies. She had tremendous respect for Native Americans and learned their languages. She made friends with Indians and served them, eventually adopting a young Indian girl who had been stolen from her home by a warring tribe and sold to Abigail’s brother for a pony. Abigail treated Fanny like her own daughter, and Archibald seems to have welcomed her into his fold without complaint.[1] Abigail could frequently be found smoking peace pipes in Native American circles, doing her part to build bridges between the two cultures and counteract much of the fear and suspicion harbored on both sides. [Read more…]

New perma: Christian Harrison

We’re very excited to welcome aboard our friend Christian Harrison as a permanent addition to our group. Christian has posted with us in the past here, here and here, and his presence at BCC will class up the joint. His is a powerful voice of spirituality and awareness. Read Christian’s bio here. Welcome, Christian!

Encountering Mormonism on Route 66

IMG_3884(This post isn’t really a Fourth of July thing, except that there’s something distinctly American about Route 66. So we’ll go with it.)

We talked about taking a Route 66 vacation this summer. After all, we live in Chicago (and Route 66 starts across the street from the Art Institute!), and it ends in L.A., just north of my parents’ home. But with this year’s Every Kid in a Park (which, btw, if you have a kid who just finished fourth grade and you haven’t enrolled yet, I don’t think it’s too late), we switched to a visit-National-Parks trip.

Still, our National Parks roadtrip ended up overlapping briefly with Route 66—we were going to Petrified Forest National Park, which is on historic Route 66, and we decided to stay in nearby Holbrook, in Wigwam Village #6.[fn1] [Read more…]

Standing where the Savior stood: Eight Questions

I’ve been thinking lately about the admonition to “stand in holy places,” partly because of Elder Rasband’s tweet a couple weeks ago:

[Read more…]

Sister Wives of the Traveling Pants #2: Margaret Livingston (the 1st wife)

Part 2 in a series; see the rest of the series here.


Margaret Livingston Gardner (1818–1893)

My great-great-great grandmother Margaret was born October 12, 1818, in Lochgilphead, Argyllshire, a small maritime village on the western coast of the Scottish highlands near the Forest of Achnabreck, nestled between the Firth of Clyde and Loch Craignish, with the Atlantic Ocean just beyond that. Margaret’s family immigrated to Canada when she was only two, so I’m not sure she ever remembered much of the dark waters and wild heathered moors that had been her birthplace. [Read more…]

Yo, Dre, I got something to say!


Two related points about the Book of Mormon: [Read more…]

Is Disagreement Always Rebellion? The Book of Mormon Anti-Christs and the Possibility of Sincere Religious Dissent #BOM2016

The three major Book of Mormon anti-Christs—Sherem, Nehor, and Korihor—are all instances of a single type-scene, which means that they follow a similar narrative arc, which is more important to the text than any one of their individual stories.

The type scene goes like this: A charismatic teacher appears on the scene preaching that Christ will not come. He develops a large following and comes to attention of the head of the Church, who refutes his arguments with clear and compelling logic. The anti-Christ ignores the overwhelming evidence and persists in his false beliefs, which lead to an untimely and ignominious death. But before he dies, he confesses that always knew that his teachings were false; it was just something that the devil made him do.

Taken together, these three stories construct a version of religious dissent that leaves very little room for sincere disbelief. Their disagreements with the established Church have nothing to do with their actually believing stuff—which could certainly not have withstood the rhetorical assaults of Jacob and Alma. Rather, the sin of all three anti-Christs is rebellion against what they know perfectly well to be true. [Read more…]

Sister Wives of the Traveling Pants: Confronting My Polygamous Ancestry

Part 1 in a series; see the rest of the series here.

“Genealogy, I am doing it, my genealogy! And I don’t know why I am doing it—it’s terrifying me!” So sang my young adult self, as a joke, to some college roommates during a Sunday School Family History course after realizing that my great-great-grandparents were also first cousins (double-first-cousins, actually, since their fathers were brothers and their mothers were sisters). It turns out that genealogy work doesn’t always give one warm fuzzies. And, literal kissing cousins aside, the real deep-seated anxiety I have always had with my family history concerns my great-great-great grandfather and his eleven plural wives. [Read more…]


George & Marge

Grandpa George as a young man

My mother’s father recently died. [Read more…]

Prayer: “The milky way”

Part 23 in a series; see other parts here.

The relationship between mothers and babies affords an intimacy perhaps unparalleled in human experience. The baby begins life as something simultaneously part and not part of the mother, and only slowly dissociates itself, as it must. Early in this process of separation, the baby nurses, [1] living now outside of the mother but still drawing nutriment from her in an experience of bodily nearness. And, as recent studies of lactation have shown, nursing is not a one-way experience, in that the baby’s saliva communicates chemically with the mother’s breast. Nursing is thus our first instruction in negotiating intimate relationships. It is our first instruction in prayer.

[Read more…]

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


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:
[Read more…]

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…]