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.

God for Grown Ups

hqdefaultWhat is the meaning of the suffering of innocents? Does it not prove a world without God, an earth on which man is the only measure of good and evil? The simplest and most common reaction would be to decide for atheism. This would also be the reasonable reaction of all those whose idea of God until that point was of some kindergarten deity who distributed prizes, applied penalties, or forgave faults and in His goodness treated men as eternal children. —Emmanuel Levinas, on “Yosl Rakover Talks to God”

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Prayer: “Peace”

Part 15 in a series; see other parts here.

Peace is the prayer on our lips that our own hands must answer. As human beings we are capable of great evil, but also great beauty and goodness. We live most of the time not altogether resolved between them, and sometimes we purchase a sham peace by dissociating ourselves from the evil around us. “Not I,” we say, instead of “Lord, is it I?” To which the answer, if we’re really being honest, is usually at least partly “yes.” We are of a species with the human horrors we see, and there will not be peace so long as we deny that fact.

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Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

e6b50358faa97c5f2c9a889a5d3ea8f5On the second of June, 1953, around 20.4 million people in the United Kingdom crowded around only 2.7 million television sets to watch the coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in Westminster Abbey. This was a watershed moment in the modern era, a day on which the ancient rituals of an ancient kingdom were open to the public in an unprecedented way. [Read more…]

Adam Miller’s Nothing New Under the Sun

I just finished reading Adam Miller’s latest modernization of ancient scripture: Nothing New Under the Sun.  This is a very quick read, a modern version of Ecclesiastes:

Because the modern language made the parallels to modern wisdom literature so clear, I was curious about the links to Buddhism. According to Wikipedia, Ecclesiastes was written between 450 and 350 BCE.

The presence of Persian loan-words and Aramaisms points to a date no earlier than about 450 BCE, while the latest possible date for its composition is 180 BCE, when another Jewish writer, Ben Sira, quotes from it. The dispute as to whether Ecclesiastes belongs to the Persian or the Hellenistic periods (i.e., the earlier or later part of this period) revolves around the degree of Hellenization (influence of Greek culture and thought) present in the book. Scholars arguing for a Persian date (c. 450–330 BCE) hold that there is a complete lack of Greek influence; those who argue for a Hellenistic date (c. 330–180 BCE) argue that it shows internal evidence of Greek thought and social setting.

Is Ecclesiastes Buddhism in the Bible?  Or is it simply the case that all wisdom is roughly the same and there is nothing new under the sun.  Buddha dates to 600 BC. Adam Miller’s book doesn’t dwell on these parallels, but merely hints at them.  Wisdom is wisdom, no matter the source. It’s an interesting question, though. His modernized take on Ecclesiastes also demonstrates that there really is nothing new under the sun, including Christian wisdom.

[Read more…]

Feeling the weight of the calling

Tomorrow I’m teaching a small group of 12-13 year olds about women and the priesthood. I’m still working out what I want to say, but I think I know what I want them to learn: that men and women are true equals in the sight of God. Getting to that conclusion is weighing on my mind. The narratives of the manual are fairly limiting and frankly these students are still grappling with basic gospel principles; the complexity of Nauvoo cosmology and distinctions between ordinations for health and ordinations to offices are probably beyond them. [Read more…]

Justice and Mercy: A Rape Survivor’s Perspective

Today’s guest post is from Rachael.

I was sexually abused as a child and later raped as a teenager and again as an adult. All of these horrific experiences were at the hands of LDS priesthood holders. Of course, those who did these things were sinning and were not true representatives of Christ or His priesthood. It was relatively easy for me to separate out in my mind these evil men from what I knew God wanted.  But it was much harder for me to figure out how to make sense of the good men, bishops and stake presidents, who counseled me to forgive, to bury the past, to not hold my perpetrators legally responsible.  Because I believed that these men were representatives of God, I believed them when they told me that it was God’s will that I let my rapists (and abusers) off the hook.  And so I did.  I earnestly practiced the forgiveness that I was taught to practice, burying any hint of anger the moment it tried to rise up in me, and consequently, I believe, that buried emotion took on a life of its own, to the detriment of my health. [Read more…]

The Amlicite Revolution and the Problem of Religious Majoritarianism #BOM2016

Note: This is the second part of a discussion of Alma 1-4–and the Nehor/Amlicite War–that began here.

The story of the Great Amlicite War in Alma 2-3 is a good example of how winners write history. Mormon’s account of the event could not make the Amlicites look worse: they tried to overthrow the new system of judges but were defeated at the polls; they rebelled against the state; they joined the Lamanites and marked their own foreheads; they caused the needless death of thousands of people; and they were ultimately defeated because God was on the side of the Nephites.

Underneath Mormon’s narrative—which has few elements of legitimate history and pretty much all of the marks of historical propaganda—there is a different and more disturbing story that explains the actions of the Amlicites and casts some light on the failure of the United States in one of its most recent military ventures. It is the story of religious majoritarianism. [Read more…]

Prayer: “Softness”

Part 14 in a series; see other parts here.

Prayer is quiet, but never quite silent. So much of prayer involves learning how to calm the noise in order to hear properly—or learning how to hear through the noise. We often call the Spirit’s voice still and small, but it is also soft, in volume, tone, and affect. It manages to be gentle and unobtrusive while also pervading everything, and in prayer God teaches us how to listen.

[Read more…]

MHA Snowbird 2016

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OK, I’m opening up a thread for discussion of all things MHA during its 2016 conference at the Cliff Lodge, Snowbird Ski resort, in the mountains just east of Salt Lake City. [Read more…]

Religious Liberty and Persecution in the Era of Nephite Privilege #BOM2016

Alma 1

And it came to pass that Alma was appointed to be the first chief judge, he being also the high priest, his father having conferred the office upon him, and having given him the charge concerning all the affairs of the church.” Mosiah 29:42

There is a big difference between “religious freedom” and “religious tolerance.” Religious freedom derives from a society’s belief that human beings have a natural right to their own belief systems and that, as James Madison puts it, “in matters of Religion, no man’s right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance.”

Religious tolerance, on the other hand, derives from the will and pleasure of the state. A society with religious tolerance endorses one set of religious beliefs over all others, but it allows other beliefs to exist on terms that it sets itself (and can revoke at any time). Religious dissent in such a society is seen, not as a natural right of all human beings, but as a civil right protected by the indulgence of the state–which officially disagrees but has a big enough heart to let you be wrong and go to hell in your own way. [Read more…]

Greg Prince – evening with the author TONIGHT

From our friends at Benchmark Books:

Capture[1]We are very excited to announce that Gregory A. Prince, author of Leonard Arrington and the Writing of Mormon History (published by the University of Utah Press), will be here on Wednesday, June 8 to speak about and sign copies of his book. He will be here from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. and will speak at 6:00 and will answer questions and sign books before and after that time. We hope you will be able to make it that night but, if not, we can mail a signed copy or hold one here at the store for pick-up. To RSVP on Facebook, click here. [Read more…]

“A Preparatory Redemption,” June 15, Berkeley CA

MTS Logo

“A Preparatory Redemption: Reading Alma 13”

The Third Annual Summer Seminar on Mormon Theology

Conference is free and open to the public Wednesday, June 15, 9am-5pm

The Chapel of the Great Commission
The Graduate Theological Union
1798 Scenic Avenue

Berkeley, CA 94709

Sponsored by the Mormon Theology Seminar 

in partnership with 
The Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies
The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship
and the Wheatley Institution

Hosted by the Graduate Theological Union

Speakers include:
Kristeen Black
Matthew Bowman
Rosemary Demos
David Gore
Bridget Jeffries
Adam Miller
Bob Rees
Joseph Spencer
Sheila Taylor

Prayer: “A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear.”

Part 13 in a series; see other parts here.

The notion of prayer as a kind of melody sung in unison with God can give great comfort—until we realize that we’re trying to match pitch with a thunderbolt. It’s not that God is out to get us, but that the music running through all of creation is so immense and powerful that it inspires awe, and, if we’re paying attention, not a little terror. Prayer connects us to the music of vast overhanging cliffs, of entire oceans being lifted by the moon’s gravity, of nebulae swirling with newborn stars. Our lives and deaths seem like insignificant pinpricks on such a scale.

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Prayer: “The six-days’ world transposing in an hour”

Part 12 in a series; see other parts here.

The music of our lives often seems to demand the skills of a Franz Liszt to play, as though only the capacity to fly through a torrent of impossible notes with an obscenely graceful sprezzatura will do. Amidst our busyness a voice (the ghost of piano teachers past) whispers, “Keep time! Keep time!” and we promise we will, once we can exchange this molto allegro for andante. Too often, though, such promises end up obliterated by thirty-second-note runs tangled in a barbed wire of accidentals, and when we emerge on the other side, dripping sweat, the voice continues: “Keep time!”

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Dear Mormon Voters of the American West: Maybe You’re the White Horse We’ve Been Waiting For

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

Just forget about the White Horse Prophecy. It’s a fun bit of Mormon folklore, but like most folklore it’s fictitious nonsense. More important is the fact that–again, like most folklore–this fictitious nonsense is revealing of, and gives us American Mormons reason to remember, what was at one time a widely shared assumption among Mormon leaders: specifically that, as Brigham Young (and John Taylor, and Harold B. Lee, and multiple others) reportedly said, “if the Constitution of the United States is to be saved at all it must be done by this people” (see, for example, Journal of Discourses 12:204, April 8, 1868).

That’s not a reference to an LDS President of the United States–not a Romney, not a Huntsman, not a Hatch, despite the weird interpretations inspired by the aforementioned ersatz prophecy. It’s not a reference to any particular person at all. Rather, that’s a reference of the Mormon people. Many of whom will be eligible to vote this November. And maybe that is where this old teaching will unexpectedly come into its own as truth. [Read more…]

Prayer: “Christ-side-piercing spear”

Part 11 in a series; see other parts here.

Codex Vindobonensis 2554, fol. 2v (France, 1225) Österreichische Nationalbibliothek

Codex Vindobonensis 2554, fol. 2v (France, 1225)
Österreichische Nationalbibliothek

There’s a long history of seeing Jesus’ side wound as a special route to his heart: I especially love this 13th-century depiction of the Church being born from his side. Herbert also has a deliciously strange poem called “The Bag” that puts the image to good effect in relation to prayer:

If ye have any thing to send or write,
I have no bag, but here is room:
Unto my Fathers hands and sight,
Beleeve me, it shall safely come.
That I shall minde, what you impart;
Look, you may put it very neare my heart.

And, lest this all begin to seem too odd, too non-Mormon, it’s in our hymnal, too:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me:
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From thy riven side which flowed
Be of sin the double cure,
Save from wrath and make me pure.

[Read more…]

My mom’s last bit of advice for me

Matt Brown is a sportswriter for SB Nation. His mother passed away last week. Matt wrote this for Mothers’ Day.

Around this time last year, I wrote about a lot of the difficult feelings I have around Father’s Day, given the very complicated relationship I had with my old man. Mother’s Day, by comparison, has always been super easy. My mom is an amazing woman, and we’ve almost always had a very strong relationship.

This year has been a bit different. My mom is dying. After battling with breast cancer for two and a half years, and shattering every prognosis along the way, she is now bedridden, unable to do virtually anything by herself, just playing out the proverbial string. She’s been in this condition for months now. [Read more…]

Nephites at War (Mainly with Themselves) #BOM2016

So here’s a thing I did: in order to lighten things up during all of the war chapters in the middle books of the Book of Mormon, I started trying to keep track of the wars. I figured that it would be fun to separate out all of the battle scenes into coherent sustained conflicts, like “New World War I,” “New World War II,” “the Zarahemla Police Action,” and so forth. I hoped, in the end, to have something like a grand map of the Nephite-Lamanite conflicts in the Book of Mormon. [Read more…]

LDS Inc.

mormons incSo the first thing to do is admit that I don’t always get internet-speak. That said, is there any way that “LDS Inc.,” written in implicit (or explicit) disparagement of the church isn’t stupid?[fn]

I mean, I see it occasionally. And I kind of assume that its provenance is the Aug. 4, 1997, Time magazine cover.

The thing is that while contextually, the use of “LDS Inc.” is clearly meant as a criticism, I can’t figure out what is being critiqued. Saying “LDS Inc.” may make a (vaguely) factual assertion, but it makes no substantive moral or ethical assertion.  [Read more…]

Both On the Roof and In the Crowd

I want to go right to the well known story in the beginning of the book of Mark where a paralytic man is lowered into a home by four of his friends who had broken a hole into the roof above the crowd.  They know Jesus is teaching there and the crowd was too pressing to enter in by the door, so in hopes that Jesus will heal this friend, they climb up above and do something that I imagine was most unexpected and unconventional. I have read or heard that story so many times in my life, but it wasn’t until recently when I stopped to really consider the scene that I was a bit taken back.

Think again of the image: think of these people climbing on top of the roof while carrying their friend on his sick bed, about to dig a hole and interrupt a large crowd, and not least, the most important and sought after man in the city.  I wonder if they hesitated, I wonder if they thought they should turn back, that it was just a silly idea.  But then, I marvel at their bravery as they do the thing they must have felt they should.  They broke a hole in that roof and sent their friend right in to land at the feet of Jesus.  The reaction of Christ to this act is stunning to me.  He does not question, he does not tell the men they should have just waited outside the door for later, he does not lecture, He simply accepts their offering of faith without question.  He heals the man, first from his sins, then in his body and the man rises, picks up his bed and stands.  [Read more…]

Prayer: “Reversed Thunder”

Part 10 in a series; see other parts here.

Feeling a divine thunderbolt tear through one’s spine en route to its ground cannot be called a pleasant experience. Typically in its aftermath, as smoke rises from our hair and electrical remnants spark from our fingertips, we can do little but sit still in a state of, well, shock. At times, though, our eyebrows tingle with premonition, and we manage to send the bolt back upwards with a forehand sharp enough to engender hubristic self-comparisons to Rafael Nadal in his prime.

[Read more…]

People in the Book of Mormon, Ranked

You know what is a pretty good book of scripture? The Book of Mormon. It has some great gospel teachings in it. You know what else it has in it? People–lots of them! Some people in the Book of Mormon are really important, and some people are sort of forgettable. You’ve probably wondered who is the most important, and Steve and I sought revelation on this very matter.

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

Prayer: “Sinner’s tow’r”

Part 9 in a series; see other parts here.

We all know the terrible feeling that follows the realization of a mistake: it’s a human experience whose commonality ranks somewhere between waking up and breathing. Sometimes this experience provokes defensive anger, as we try with all the violence we can muster to make the mistake stick to somebody else. Even when we manage the necessary legerdemain, though, the gnawing at our hearts remains. Even if most mistakes aren’t exactly the Furies pursuing Orestes after he killed his mother, they can still be nastily persistent ghosts.

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Thoughts I Had During X-Men: Apocalypse

Before I get into it, this is how my day began:

My husband: Let’s see X-Men tonight.
Me: Noooooo I don’t want to pay to see that in the thea– Is Fassbender in it?
My husband: Yep.
Me: …Fine.


(No spoilers) [Read more…]

Others in the Land?

235A-Image Zedekiah.jpg

Tomorrow’s GD lesson begins with these verses from Mosiah 25:

 And now king Mosiah caused that all the people should be gathered together.

 Now there were not so many of the children of Nephi, or so many of those who were descendants of Nephi, as there were of the people of Zarahemla, who was a descendant of Mulek, and those who came with him into the wilderness.

 And there were not so many of the people of Nephi and of the people of Zarahemla as there were of the Lamanites; yea, they were not half so numerous.

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Alma and the Poetics of Conversion #BOM2016

CoverOne of the twentieth century’s greatest works of Dante criticism is John Freccero’s remarkable Dante and the Poetics of Conversion. Freccero makes two crucial points in this book: 1) that the primary objective of the Divine Comedy is to cause readers to experience conversion; and 2) that everything about the text—its subject matter, narrative style, linguistic manner, rhyme scheme, etc.—serves this greater objective. The purpose of Dante’s work is to help readers both see and feel the experience of conversion. [Read more…]

Prayer: “Engine against th’Almighty”

Part 8 in a series; see other parts here.

In prayer, God values our candor, meaning that God honors even words like these of Job’s:

If I summoned him and he answered me,
I do not believe that he would listen to my voice.
For he crushes me with a tempest,
and multiplies my wounds without cause;
he will not let me get my breath,
but fills me with bitterness. (Job 9:16-18, NRSV)

Sometimes our relationship with God is such that no prayer short of battering rams and catapults loaded with shrapnel and explosives will do. Herbert wrote a poem that figures tears and prayers as artillery, but I’m thinking more of the rage he expresses toward God in “The Collar” (where “choler” is one of the many puns in the title): “Have I no harvest but a thorn / to let me blood?”

So, it’s okay if our prayers beat and kick at God’s door—which really can seem closed to us at times—and it’s okay if we scream and swear in the process. Anger has a way of focusing our sights on the precise target we mean to hit, which paradoxically means that we rarely think of God so intensely as when we rage at the heavens. In quiet meditation we long to approach the throne, but in anger we can feel near enough to close our fingers around the divine throat, and when we attain such proximity God can the more easily reply: “My child.”

#TexturesofMormonism

I am truly pleased to present to you one of the best kept secrets of the Mormon Instagram world.  Jon Bryner and Tallia Feltis are the mastermind couple behind the account @texturesofmormonism.   While very funny, they are equally thoughtful and deliberate.  They speak of both the humor and strange tenderness in this idea of shared nostalgia that Mormons literally all over the world can relate to.  My husband and I have spent more than one evening chuckling before bed as we scroll through the account.  Ah Mormons.  Something so strange and so funny about our collective aesthetic that somehow hasn’t changed in decades.

This is just a sampling of some of my favorites from the account.

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It’s Wednesday night! Hit like if you need a ride home from mutual. #foyerphone #texturesofmormonism

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