Why Men Need to Read “One Hundred Birds Taught Me to Fly”


I gave a version of these remarks last night as part of the panel discussion at Writ & Vision in Provo.

In her foreword to Ashley Mae Hoiland’s new book, One Hundred Birds Taught Me to FlyKristin Matthews aptly identifies its participation in “a markedly female tradition of Christian writing,” noting its affinities with the work of writers like Mary Oliver, Louise Glück, and Annie Dillard, as well as medieval mystics like Hildegard von Bingen and Julian of Norwich (xviii-xx). That’s esteemed company! Add to which that this is the first monograph published by a woman in the history of the Maxwell Institute or FARMS, and it becomes clear that One Hundred Birds Taught Me to Fly is opening up new avenues for Mormon women’s writing. I’d like to talk for a few minutes tonight about what those avenues might be, exactly, by way of arguing that this book is as important for Mormon men to read as it is for Mormon women. [Read more…]

Prejudice Against the Ordinary

unknownAshley Mae Hoiland, One Hundred Birds Taught Me to Fly (Provo, UT: Maxwell Institute, 2016).

There is a kind of prejudice against the ordinary—and myself and the present—that colors my judgments about life and religion. This prejudice tempts me to outsource responsibility for life and religion to something extraordinary that happened to someone else a long time ago.

But when I do, I end up buying into a dubious “great man theory” of religion that hinges religion itself on a handful of great men (and, here, the theory really does – in an obvious and sexist and indefensible way – mean only men) and the extraordinary things they claim.

Surely there are great men and surely there are extraordinary things that happen. And surely some of these men and events are religious.

But I don’t believe in great men and extraordinary things as a theory of religion—not anymore. I don’t believe that they are what religion is about. Though I trust emphatically that my religion stands rather than falls, I don’t believe that my religion stands or falls simply with them.

I believe in something much, much quieter. Much, much humbler. Much more ordinary and plain. [Read more…]

Hostile Sexism and LDS Trump Supporters

An article in Vox showed the statistical correlation between Trump supporters and hostile sexism. One interesting aspect of this analysis was that this is not an issue of Republicans in general being hostile to women, just a correlation between those who are and those who support Trump. The trend was not the same when Romney ran in 2012. Romney appealed to benevolent sexists rather than hostile sexists. The difference, as they say, is yuge. [Read more…]

Some thoughts on Relief Society

Yesterday on Twitter there was a pretty interesting conversation about the Relief Society. We put together a consolidated story so that you could read these in one place (for the most part – there were numerous side conversations).

You should check it out here – I would embed but I don’t think our site allows it.

What would you have added to that conversation?

Response: “The Vision of All”


Joseph M. Spencer, The Vision of All: Twenty-Five Lectures on Isaiah in Nephi’s Record (Salt Lake City: Kofford Books, 2016).

Short version: Buy this book.

Long version: You know how some movies aren’t just made up but are based on real events? And, then, when you watch these movies, you know how right at the beginning you get a little tagline, a little disclaimer, and this disclaimer reminds you that while some of the things in this movie really did happen—more or less as they’re depicted on the screen—you’re really probably better off just thinking of the movie as “inspired” by these real life events because, clearly, some artistic liberty had to be taken in order to fashion that raw material into something shaped like a movie that you would want to pay $15 to watch?

This response to Joe’s book is kind of like that. [Read more…]

A Delicate Feminine Flower

screen-shot-2016-11-01-at-4-09-22-pmI did a bad thing.

I yelled. On Sunday, I yelled in Relief Society. I was so upset by a quote and the direction of the discussion that I forgot to politely raise my hand, and I stood up, shaking with anger, and raised my voice. In my defense, my anger was at the topic and context, and not at the teacher or at my fellow sisters, but in the heat of the moment, I acknowledge it’s often very hard for both the affronted and the recipients to finesse that out. It takes work.

I left Relief Society and sat in the foyer until I stopped shaking. I am fine now, and care has been extended to me by both RS leadership and members of my bishopric. Those details are not actually relevant to what’s on my mind now…

I want to talk about anger. Specifically, I want to talk about women’s anger. How do we talk about women’s anger? We don’t.* [Read more…]

SMPT – Call for Papers

Call for Papers

Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology
Annual Meeting March 2-4, 2017
Claremont Graduate University Claremont, CA
Theme: “Poured Out Upon Us: The Holy Spirit”

The Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology invites paper proposals on any aspect of Mormon belief, including its philosophical ramifications. We particularly encourage submissions on this year’s theme.

When Joseph Smith was asked by the President of the United States about the differences between Mormonism and “the other religions of the day,” he responded that “all other considerations were contained in the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Mormons look to the Holy Spirit for both prophetic authority and individual faith, as a source of daily guidance and transformative power. Descriptions of the Holy Spirit in personal terms of speaking, feeling emotion, or acting are sparse in the scriptures, compared with other members of the Godhead. Yet reliance on the functions of this “personage of spirit” (D&C 130:22) is pervasive in Mormon practice. [Read more…]

Mormon Lectionary Project: All Saints’ Day

Today we celebrate the heavenly rest of the saints—all of the saints. We celebrate rest because we all pass through life pursued by beasts, although they’re usually more like Sara Teasdale’s ordinary “wolves along the road” than Daniel’s apocalyptic allegories. Rest here comes only in fleeting moments, the occasional “evening of content” that opens our eyes as it were to the innumerable company in the world to come, leading us to sing God’s praise in the congregation of the faithful. [1] But most of life does not give us that rest, and we must accept such moments as down-payments for our future rest. [Read more…]

Losing Zion: Economic Inequality and the Tragedy of 4th Nephi #BOM2016

4 Nephi

Books like 4th Nephi remind us that the Book of Mormon does not really present itself as a continuous thousand-year history. It is more like three snapshots of periods within a thousand year history: one from the beginning, one from the middle, and one from the end. And we should always keep in mind that cultures and languages change a lot in a thousand years. There is as much cultural and historical distance between Mormon and Nephi as there is between 21st Century Americans and William the Conqueror.

For me, this makes the very brief transitions between snapshots the most fascinating parts of the entire Book of Mormon. Fourth Nephi, for example, gives us 400 years of history in about four pages. Imagine trying to write a four-page history of the United States from Plymouth Rock to Donald Trump. What would you include? What would you exclude? How would you frame the entire American narrative in 49 verses? That is roughly the task that Mormon had when putting together 4th Nephi. [Read more…]

Pro Bono Publico


Attorneys from time to time are supposed to do pro bono work (short for pro bono publico, “for the public good,” meaning (legal) work for the disadvantaged without compensation). I just now returned from such a pro bono effort, and I’d like to tell you a bit about it.

[Read more…]

Pastoral Approaches to Sexual Violence

Among the recommendations in the recent BYU Title IX Advisory Council Report appears the following:

Share with officials of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the findings of the advisory council regarding ecclesiastical leaders’ varied responses to sexual-assault reports.

Mormon lay clergy, in other words, come to their pastoral obligations with wildly varying preparation to give the kinds of care that members of the Church might seek from them. Cases of sexual assault and other forms of sexual violence can prove especially difficult to handle well, and the Advisory Council has documented some of the resulting “varied responses.” The pastoral care that survivors receive from their ecclesiastical leaders thus appears to be a noted area of needed improvement.

My research has recently led me to a book that I believe might be a helpful resource for people in caregiving relationships with survivors of sexual assault. I recognize that recommending this book (or indeed any book on the subject) might run into concerns about professionalizing our clergy too much in ways that decrease reliance on the Spirit. In my view this dichotomy is false: professionalization can provide a toolkit, and the Spirit can provide guidance about which tools to use and when (and when not to use any of them). We should approach this subject, like any other, with a combination of study and faith. [Read more…]

Poll: Authoritarianism at Home

Way back in February, a piece by David Brooks referenced the work of Matthew MacWilliams, who[se editor] claimed that he had discovered “The One Weird Trait That Predicts Whether You’re a Trump Supporter”:

If I asked you what most defines Donald Trump supporters, what would you say? They’re white? They’re poor? They’re uneducated?

You’d be wrong.

In fact, I’ve found a single statistically significant variable predicts whether a voter supports Trump—and it’s not race, income or education levels: It’s authoritarianism.

[Read more…]

How (not) to plan a missionary activity

I know that a lot of people have strong feelings about Trunk or Treat activities. (For those of you who don’t know what Trunk or Treat is, it’s when a bunch of adults park their cars in one place on Halloween and lure children to their trunks with candy. It’s actually pretty messed up, when you think about it.) I do not have strong feelings about Trunk or Treat, or rather, I don’t really understand my own feelings about Trunk or Treat because I can’t separate them from my feelings about Halloween in general. As a child, I loved Halloween, as all children do. As a teenager I completely lost interest in it, and as an adult I can hardly stand it. I recognize that this is a personal failing. I have never attempted to deprive my children of the joy that Halloween can bring, because I know how important Halloween is to kids. Just because I hate it and think it’s a pain in the neck doesn’t mean I want to spoil it for everyone else. But mention Trunk or Treat to me, and the only reaction I can dredge up is “gah, more Halloween.” So I don’t know if Trunk or Treats are inherently good or bad, or if they’re potentially good or bad depending on certain variables. I just know that they’re part of Halloween and so I don’t care.

I say all this by way of disclaimer because my post today is not about Trunk or Treat per se, but it involves Trunk or Treat, and I just don’t want people to lose focus. Put your feelings about Trunk or Treat on the back burner and listen to (read) my tale. [Read more…]

The Halloween Parent Tax

I was asked on Twitter about the Halloween Parent Tax. And with Halloween coming up, it seemed like it needed a post. So here you are:

Design Considerations

You’ve got a couple options here. Are you going to create an income tax? A consumption tax? A head tax? Each is slightly different, in certain relevant ways:

Income Tax: This is probably what you think of when you think of the Halloween Parent Tax. Essentially, children are required to give their parents some percentage of the candy they get. (My wife’s parents imposed a 15-percent Halloween Parent Tax when she was growing up.) There are some design complications here—for example, are you taking a percentage of the number of pieces of candy the kids get? Or do different kinds of candy have different values? And do you take size into account in calculating candy?[fn1] [Read more…]

Mothers Who Know: Julie B. Beck and Political Prayer

You may have heard that Julie B. Beck, former Relief Society General President, offered the opening prayer at the Trump/Pence rally held in Utah last night.

This is problematic, but not for the reason you might first think: [Read more…]

A Mormon Mafia? Heck Yeah. And It’s Yuge!

Lou Dobbs is on to us. Yesterday, one of the few human beings left in the world awful enough to qualify as a surrogate for Donald Trump tweeted the following about Mormon candidate Evan McMullin: “Look Deeper, He’s nothing but a Globalist, Romney and Mormon Mafia Tool.” As soon as I saw this, I knew that the jig was up. You see, for the last few months, I have been researching precisely this thing: the deadly, highly secretive bands of Mormon enforcers who sparked terror into the hearts of the Old West. They usually went by the names “Danites” or “Destroying Angels.” And they were a bad lot. [Read more…]

Neither brutish, nor a fool

I don’t talk to people on planes. I think it is terribly rude. In the past couple of years and hundreds of hours in flight, I have spoken to only a couple of people who don’t work for the airlines. I rarely even make eye-contact. However, recently I ended out sitting next to someone and somehow a conversation emerged that I found not only interesting, but illuminating. I later learned that the person sitting next to me was something of a rising star, but I didn’t know that at the time.
[Read more…]

An Index to My GD-Related Posts

So I was released as my ward Gospel Doctrine teacher last week. I had been doing it for six years, so it was definitely time for a change. A couple of my blogmates opined that it was too bad we didn’t have some sort of an index to my GD-related posts, since preparing GD lessons was a significant engine for my blogging. And that thought inspired me to assemble just such an index. Below, in inverse chronological order, I give a list of posts that were either inspired by GD preparation or classes or would arguably be relevant to a GD class. I give the title of each post and its date and, if not clear from the title, a scripture citation or other indication of the topic. The titles are not linked to the posts; to find a post just copy and paste the title into the Search function on the BCC home page (or use my name and the title in a Google search):

[Read more…]

BYU’s Title IX Report

President Worthen announced today that the Advisory Council on campus sexual assault has provided its report, and that BYU is going to adopt all of the council’s recommendations.

BYU’s Title IX Site is here

The report is here

This is such good news, and such a good step forward. [Read more…]

Welcome to #MutualNight: Delfeayo Marsalis

young-women-mutual-improvement-association-jewelry-1931_2I can’t, for the life of me, remember when I first heard it, but I do remember hearing (or reading) that, once upon a time, a significant part of Mutual was introducing Mormon youth to the best of literature, music, art, and other learning. After doing some quick Googling that suggested, but didn’t prove, that my memory was right, I did what any right-thinking person would do: I messaged Ardis. And she was kind enough to respond that yes, the M.I.A. had once been a repository of learning about art and culture.

Satisfied, I decided to follow through on my main reason for searching and asking: the introduction of a virtual M.I.A. Periodically (and undoubtedly irregularly), I plan on introducing and writing about some type of art, music, or literature that I’m enjoying, and what makes it worth sampling. While I doubt that most of my picks will have any significant Mormon connection, I consider this as Mormon a blogging topic as any that I’ve blogged. After all, we have not only roots in the M.I.A. program, but we have scriptural injunctions to seek after anything praiseworthy or of good report, and to learn out of the best books[Read more…]

Mormon & Gay — the New LDS.org Resource



Again, with feeling

If there’s one thing that Mormons get, it’s that perfection is iterative. Line upon line, and all that. [Read more…]

When Forgiveness Changes the World


“No, Rensei is not my enemy. Pray for me again, oh pray for me again.”–“Atsumori”

sadanobu_3_hasegawa-no_series-kumagai_and_atsumori-00042484-100830-f06Japanese Nō drama is a hard taste to acquire. A play with a ten-page script can go on for hours, as actors invest their barely perceptible gestures with monumental significance. It is an art form whose pleasures lie more in the journey than the destination.

Except for one. This is the story of Atsumori.

The roots of the Nō play Atsumori go back to a particularly poignant passage in the Japanese Epic, Tale of the Heike. In this episode, the warrior Kumagai, whose side has been victorious in a great battle, stumbles across a youthful, retreating soldier from the other side and debates whether or not to kill him. I will quote here at some length because it is important:
[Read more…]

The Sacrament: a (somewhat speculative) liturgical genealogy (Part V).

This is my fifth and final post in my series on where the sacrament derives from. In the first and second posts, we looked at how and why Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith took the sacrament prayers of the restored church from Moroni. The third and fourth posts argued that the account of Jesus’ visit in 3 Nephi 18 was the ultimate source of Moroni’s liturgy, but speculated that Moroni’s liturgy was the result of a tradition that began as extemporaneous prayers based on Jesus’ teachings in 3 Nephi 18, but that then settled at some point into a liturgy of set prayers based on those teachings (and on some things that were not explicitly part of those teachings).

In this post, I’m going to look at how the last supper relates to all this, and what it means for me personally, to (tentatively) think of the sacrament in this speculative way.

The Sacrament and the Eucharist: Children of Two Long Lost Brothers.

In tracing the “genealogy” of the sacrament, I haven’t mentioned the last supper. And that’s weird, isn’t it? [Read more…]

The Sacrament: a (somewhat speculative) liturgical genealogy. (Part IV)

This is the fourth post in my series on the sacrament’s origins. In the first and second posts we looked at how and why Oliver Cowdery used the sacrament prayers recorded in Moroni for the sacrament liturgy in the restored church. In the last post, I suggested that Jesus did not give set prayers to the Nephite disciples for the sacrament, but that the disciples developed what would ultimately become Moroni’s liturgy out of  Jesus’ teachings on the sacrament when he gave them bread and wine. I argued, though, that the account of the bread and wine recorded in what is now 3 Nephi chapter 18 is the ultimate source for Moroni’s liturgy, and that we can trace almost every line in Moroni’s liturgy to those teachings.

In this part, we are going to take a look at the places where Moroni’s liturgy differs from Jesus’ teachings in 3 Nephi 18. [Read more…]

The Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon at the Temple: A Study in Rhetorical Contrasts #BOM2016


My scriptures still have green markings in Matthew and 3 Nephi that highlight all of the differences between the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) and the Sermon at the Temple (3 Ne. 12-14). I did this on my mission because I thought it was important. “Blessed are the poor IN SPIRIT WHO COME UNTO ME,” says the Book of Mormon, lest we think that actual poverty is either necessary or sufficient. And don’t forget that the BOM doesn’t say “Thy Kingdom come” in the Lord’s Prayer. That’s because it already has. These comparisons got me through my mission, a BYU term paper, and the first two times I taught Gospel Doctrine.

It is only recently that I have begun to see what a gnat-straining, camel-swallowing approach to the texts this is. Read from one perspective, of course, the two texts are extremely similar and we can learn a lot by comparing the small differences. From another perspective, however, the texts don’t even have much in common. This other perspective is sometimes called “rhetorical criticism.” [Read more…]

What Mormon Books Do You Love?

Recently I read When Mormons Doubt, a new book by Jon Ogden. The book is a mix of philosophy on reverence and practical ideas for scenarios that Mormons increasingly find themselves in: What do you do when belief is no longer concrete, either for you, or for bookssomeone close to you? How do you move forward meaningfully in familial relationships that seem to be taking different paths? Jon writes optimistically about the possibility for both peace and reconciliation both for the people who step out of the church and for those who stay in. The book is a worthy read. Jon pulls the reader gently through a series of thought experiments that nudge in a direction of deeper thought, reverence and respect for the countless spiritual paths that personal Mormonism can offer if we allow it, even once a person has “left” the church.

I’ve written at least three separate pieces working through my ideas after reading When Mormons Doubt and while the book itself got me thinking, it is also the idea of the book that is interesting to me. I don’t have a comprehensive knowledge of the history of Mormon literature, but I am an avid reader of non-fiction. The literary landscape available to me as a young BYU student was not encouraging of the type of brazen exploration and questioning my evolving faith asked of me. I realize now that in part this was because I did not know where to look and that devotional literature is not a new genre by any means. To quote a BCC writer and historian, J. Stapley,

Scholars of all sorts have been dealing with historiographical and epistemological concerns over Mormonism for much longer then 10 years. Richard Bushman’s  Rough Stone Rolling is over ten years old, but his JS and the Beginnings of Mormonism was  published in 1988.  Even BH Roberts was writing for Americana magazine at the beginning of the century.

I suppose then, in part, my being exposed to what feels like new Mormon non-fiction is because I am young— accumulation takes time—in part because I haven’t invested the time I hope to in knowing the larger timeline. I don’t think my experience of not knowing which Mormon writing to turn to is uncommon. I think many people feel lost and hopeless within their Mormonism precisely because they do not know or haven’t been exposed to writing that might help them. [Read more…]

The Sacrament: a (somewhat speculative) liturgical genealogy. (Part III)

This is the third post in my short series about the “genealogy” of the LDS sacrament. In the first we looked at Oliver Cowdery’s 1829 Articles of the Church of Christ as the “birth” of the sacrament in the restored church. In the second, we looked at the sacrament prayers that Moroni records as the source for the prayers that Olive Cowdery put in the Articles. In this one, were going to look at the account in 3 Nephi of Jesus’ post-resurrection sacrament meal as the source of Moroni’s prayers.

The Progenitor of the Line: Jesus’ Words in 3 Nephi 18

Oliver Cowdery got the sacrament prayers from Moroni, but where did Moroni get them? I think it is apparent, from a close reading of Jesus’ words in what is now 3 Nephi chapter 18 that the prayers that Moroni recorded almost four centuries later were a liturgy that developed out of those words, similar to the way that the Eucharistic liturgy celebrated by Christian churches in the middle east and in Europe around that same time developed out of the accounts of the last supper in the gospels.[1]


Third Nephi, Chapter 18 by A.B. Wright.

[Read more…]

Days for Girls International: Will you join me to keep girls in school?

By Ruth Anne Shepherd

One of Ruth Anne Shepherd’s passions is making a difference: helping individuals recognize their worth, supporting their educational pursuits, and encouraging them to live their dreams to reach their potential.   Before graduating from San Jose State University with a BS degree, she served a full-time LDS mission in Colombia. Her career includes being a programmer analyst at Silicon Graphics, and a small business owner for over 25 years.  Many organizations have benefited from her expertise and knowledge as she volunteers her time. She has been on the board of Silicon Valley Women since 2014.  She loves her family and when possible includes them in her leisure activities: relaxing on the beach, horseback riding, and watching movies with strong female characters.

One year ago, I was once again in the presence of a remarkable LDS woman who radiates our Savior’s love and who has the determination, faith, and vision to change the world. She was discussing fundraising strategies with me, other Silicon Valley Women board members, and two advisors. This blog post was written at the personal request of Celeste Mergens, CEO/ Founder of Days for Girls International (DFGI).

Meeting Celeste in June 2015 at a Relief Society Humanitarian event was an experience that would change my global perspective on women’s basic health needs. I was deeply touched by the harsh realities that she so lovingly communicated and it was a message I could not forget. The content of Celeste’s presentation was heart-breaking and appalling. And yet her innovation offers unprecedented hope for the future.post [Read more…]

Career Night Advice

Angie P is a longtime reader of the blog. We’re really glad she sent us this guest post.

I was recently asked to speak at my ward’s Young Women’s mutual activity for a Career Night. I thought this was a great idea and wanted to share so that it might inspire some other YW programs.

The career night was for the entire YW, and there were about 15 girls in attendance. They invited three women from the ward: an elementary teacher who teaches in Oakland, a hairdresser, and myself, a paralegal. They asked each of us to talk to the YW about how we chose our careers, the education/training it took to get where we are, and the best and worst parts of our jobs. Below are the thoughts I shared. I also asked two of my closest friends for their thoughts and what they would say, and appreciated their comments so much that I handed out these thoughts to the YW as well. Those thoughts are found at the very end.

I am excited to be here tonight and to speak with you.  I love the idea of a career night for the Young Woman, and I wish that I had had one growing up, because whenever someone would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would rattle off some important sounding career like psychologist or lawyer, but I would always follow up with “But what I really want to be is a mom.”  Almost all of the women I knew were stay-at-home moms, and I thought that choosing to be anything more than that would be selfish and against God’s plan.  Now, I love being a mother and feel very grateful to have two wonderful children.  But for multiple reasons, both of choice and circumstances, I have a career outside the home.  And I love my career! [Read more…]

The Sacrament: a (somewhat speculative) liturgical genealogy. (Part II)

In the last post, we took a look at the “birth” of the LDS sacrament in Oliver Cowdery’s 1829 Articles of the Church of Christ. That document was the predecessor of the 1830 Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ, which eventually became what is today section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

In this post, we’re going to take a look at why Oliver Cowdery chose to use Moroni’s liturgy as the liturgy for the sacrament for the new church. [Read more…]