Invisible Church, Immanent Community

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

In the liturgical calendar of the Christian tradition, today is Whitsunday, the Day of Pentecost, a day to commemorate a marvelous, mostly invisible miracle. As the story goes, the resurrected Lord had left His disciples 10 days earlier; as Ronan Head put it in a fine post just a week and a half ago, “Jesus was, in some profound way, with God and not, in bodily form at least, any longer on the earth.” But the disciples continued to meet has they had been commanded, and on Shavuot, as thousands of Jews from parts both far and near gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks, the miracle occurred. As the King James Version puts it (Acts 2:2-4):

And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.

And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.

And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. [Read more…]

#HerDay

Like many of you I’ve been really impressed with the Church’s renewed emphasis during this last year on Sabbath observance. It feels sometimes like we go in cycles in this Church of being really focused on Sundays and then not really mentioning it at all. I bet someome smart (maybe Ziff) could do an analysis of Sabbath/Sunday emphasis in General Conference talks and Church News articles, to see whether these cycles are real or imagined. Maybe we find ourselves in the middle of such a cycle now, though I somehow doubt that the Brethren have ever really been the sort for Sunday Brunch. The Church’s current campaign uses a hashtag, #HisDay, and invites members to share their experiences and thoughts on the Sabbath from around the world. The site is very well-done and has some excellent ideas on how to keep Sundays special and holy. I’d like to share some ideas of my own. [Read more…]

Those Wild, Ferocious, and Bloodthirsty Lamanites #BOM2016

Let’s return momentarily to one of the most narratively complex passages in the Book of Mormon: the Record of Zeniff contained in Mosiah 9-22. I call this passage complex, not because it’s subject matter is challenging, but because it is processed through so many levels of narration. The record originates with Zeniff (who dies in the middle of it, implying a second narrator), and is then filtered through the story of Ammon (who travelled to the Land of Nephi to find the people of Zeniff), the redactions of Mormon, and the translation of Joseph Smith. [Read more…]

Book Review: Adam Miller’s Future Mormon

Adam Miller’s new book Future Mormon:  Essays in Mormon Theology is laid out in a series of digestible-length short essays.  Reading his essays is like talking to a smarter, more esoteric friend or maybe sitting next to a chatty and interesting professor on a flight.  His essays generally follow a pattern for me:

  • Adam says something moderately profound but provocative that makes sense and that I totally agree with.  I think to myself, “This is going to be good.  Go, Adam!”
  • Adam follows that up by saying something that sounds really smart but is completely incomprehensible to me.  I re-read it several times, and then give up, shaking my head at how stupid I must be not to comprehend what he’s saying.
  • Adam patiently walks back from Adam-land to where he left me in confusion and patiently, even respectfully, takes me through the steps to get me to the newfound understanding that is the true thesis of his essay.
  • Along the way, like a dad walking on a beach with a small child, he points out interesting things, thoughts I can mull over at a later time, ideas I haven’t ever fully formed before, observations, and insights that have been hiding in plain sight and feel immediately familiar but newly articulated.
  • When each essay concludes, my inner world of ideas has become a bigger place.  My curiosity is awake.  I’d like nothing more than to sit and think my new thoughts, but there are more essays to discover, so I keep reading.

[Read more…]

Prayer: “Church’s banquet”

Part 2 in a series; see all posts here.

Why does Herbert call prayer—and not the Eucharist—the “Church’s banquet”? Christian worship seems to have involved communal meals (“love feasts”) from very early on; Paul talks about them in 1 Corinthians 11, among other places. I love the notion of the sacrament as a hearty feast rather than a nibble and a sip, although these suffice.

Herbert lived not so long after the fierce 16th-century debates about the sacrament, in which theologians lobbed words like transubstantiation and consubstantiation at each other with something like violence. Scholars have argued quite a bit over Herbert’s own allegiances in these arguments. Herbert was a pastor, though, before he was a theologian: does fighting over how exactly the sheep are fed actually feed the sheep? [Read more…]

Ronald W. Walker: Farewell, My Friend

Matthew Grow is director of publications for the Church History Department. In 2015, he and Ronald Walker co-edited The Prophet and the Reformer: The Letters of Brigham Young and Thomas L. Kane. We’re grateful for his thoughts.

The outlines of Ron Walker’s career are quickly sketched. A seminary teacher who joined Leonard Arrington’s group of historians at the History Division of the LDS Church in the 1970s, Ron joined the faculty at Brigham Young University in 1980 with many others from the History Division. He spent the rest of his career at BYU as a pillar in the “New Mormon History,” becoming known as a meticulous researcher, engaging writer, and deep thinker. Besides academic excellence, Ron was renowned for his kindness, openness, candor, and generosity. [Read more…]

The Joseph Smith Papers Project Releases Volume 4 in the Documents Series

Two of the General Editors[1] of The Joseph Smith Papers Project team were kind enough to invite us to the official release of the fourth entry in the Documents series of the Joseph Smith Papers. Matthew J. Grow and Matthew C. Godfrey were there to talk about the production of the volume (Godfrey was also lead editor for Documents 4) future plans for the papers series and of course, volume 4.

Matt Grow talks about the papers project future releases and plans.

Matt Grow talks about the papers project future releases and plans (Council of 50 minutes? September 15 or so). Yeah, my questions always puzzle him.

Documents 4 covers the period from April 1834 to September 1835. Major events in Joseph Smith’s life and for the Church included Zion’s Camp, the successful printing of Joseph Smith’s revelations as the Doctrine and Covenants, and the establishment of new church administration bodies, the Twelve Apostles, and the Seventy, the financial preparation for, and construction of, the Kirtland House of the Lord, and the Book of Abraham. Documents 4 contains critical foundational documents relating to all these events.

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Nothing New Under the Sun

NNUTSAn excerpt from the introduction to my recently released book Nothing New Under the Sun: A Blunt Paraphrase of Ecclesiastes:

You won’t like this book. Ecclesiastes is gloomy, skeptical, and irreverent. It is caustic and drolly splenetic. It is unapologetically human. It refuses to abet our hunger for clean narratives and happy endings. It is a hopeless book. Insisting on life’s futility, the world’s capriciousness, and God’s inscrutability, it deliberately cultivates despair. It sees such bone-deep hopelessness as the only cure for what ails us. Ecclesiastes is a hard book full of hard sayings. It is an anvil against which our hearts must be hammered.

No wonder we avoid it.

But the cost of avoidance is high. As Paul insists, in order to become Christian, we must first learn to be hopeless. Hopelessness is the door to Zion. Hopelessness is crucial to a consecrated life. Before we can find hope in Christ, we must give up hope in everything else. Nothing can save us from the cross. Abraham, Paul claims, learned how to trust God by learning how to hope against hope. Abraham, “against hope, believed in hope” (Romans 4:18). Or, as Joseph Spencer more clearly renders it, Abraham was “hopeless but hoping.”[1]

Life in Christ doesn’t overcome this hopelessness. It doesn’t replace it with hope, trading one for the other. Rather, life in Christ baptizes hopelessness and then draws strength from it. It practices a rare kind of messianic hope that is rooted in futility and grows only in that bleak soil. [Read more…]

The Mormon Church in the @PanamaPapers?!? [Updated]

[Update below]

Yesterday, the ICIJ released its searchable Panama Papers database. (For some background on the Panama Papers, you can look my BCC post or my Surly Subgroup post. Or the ICIJ’s site.) Some enterprising individual appears to have plugged Mormon-related words into the search bar, and came up with at least two hits: Bonneville International and Deseret Investment.

Now, this is exactly what we’re supposed to be doing with this database: searching for those who think they can use tax havens to avoid meeting their obligations. So should you be outraged that the church is doing this?

Short answer: no. But I’m a law professor, so the short answer is never enough.   [Read more…]

On the Sweetness of Mormon (Studies) Life

We just heard the news that historian Ronald Walker has passed away after a long illness. Later this week, we’ll post a proper tribute to his life’s work and his wonderful contributions to our understanding of our shared faith. But today, I’m crying because his daughter is my friend and lives down the street from me, and his grandson was in my Primary class. And through my tears, I’m glad for all the ways Mormonism makes the world small enough for us to know each other, to have a right sense of the scale of things–we are all small, and we all matter infinitely.

May is #BikeToChurch Month–even on Mother’s Day!

Bike to Church Month continues here at By Common Consent blog. This week we feature the completely car-free Farley family of Oakland, CA, @maryaagard of Boise, ID rocking her Mother’s Day corsage, and BCC’s own Sam Brunson of Chicago, IL. Keep biking to church all month long in May (and beyond!), and send us your pics on Twitter @bycommonconsent #BikeToChurch, Instagram (I’m sisterblah2), or email sisterblah2@gmail.com.

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MSSJ Swiss Pilgrimage, 2016: Update

Back in January the The Mormon Society of St. James announced its fourth annual pilgrimage in August 2016, this time along the Swiss Road of the Via Francigena (St. Francis’s Way), the ancient trading and pilgrimage route from Canterbury to Rome.

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Via Francigena marker on the way to Dover.

Since plans have solidified somewhat since the initial announcement, I’m posting this update to encourage those who may be on the fence to consider joining us. [Read more…]

The Logic of Job’s Comforters: Why We Keep Blaming Victims, Even When We Say We Don’t

Let’s start with the Job, the archetypal tale of the phenomenon I want to discuss. After Job loses his property, his family, and his heath, his three best friends travel long distances to comfort him. And by “comfort,” I mean, “do everything within their power to convince Job that he is responsible for his own misfortunes.” Job’s comforters are the world’s first and most famous victim-blamers. [Read more…]

The Image of the Mothering God

I gave this talk in my ward today.

As a man tasked with speaking on Mother’s Day, I feel that my job is to “look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen,”[1] in the sense that I have to testify of things that I have grown up not knowing how to see, but which I believe are true. So, I begin in gratitude for the women in my life who have taught me to see, although for my part it is still through a glass, darkly.

In the first creation account in Genesis we read: “So God created humankind in his image, / in the image of God he created them; / male and female he created them.”[2] One question that this passage immediately raises is what it means for women to be created in the image of an apparently male God. On Mother’s Day, this question seems worth pondering. Can we think Lorenzo Snow’s couplet—“As man now is, God once was; / As God now is, man may become”—beyond the ostensibly universally-human “man” and toward something specifically feminine? In Mormon terms, if we cannot imagine exalted womanhood, I do not think that we can imagine women fully human. I have friends—faithful churchgoers 51 weeks out of the year—who stay home on Mother’s Day because they see the version of motherhood presented in our discourse as too cramped and narrow for their experience. Perhaps there are women in our own ward who make a similar choice (if you know one, go knock on her door and give her a hug, or a fist bump, or whatever seems right). Our talk of “angel mothers” seems exalted, but is it really “image of God” material? My friends’ experience suggests not.

Why does this matter? When asked about the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus answered: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’”[3] If we collectively do not know what it means for women to be created in the image of God, can any of us—female or male—truly see the image of God in ourselves, enough to love ourselves as we ought? Are we then loving our neighbors in impoverished ways? Is our love of God, however ample it may be, only half of what it could be?

[Read more…]

Review of JSP Documents Vol. 4

ensignlp.nfo_o_2f96

Let me begin by warning our fair readers that I do not claim the historical chops of, say, my blog mates J. Stapley or WVS, but I do claim a layperson’s interest in Mormon history. So this will be more of a personal reaction than a scholarly dissection.

[Read more…]

God has not vanished

For Ascension Day 2016.

Luke Skywalker has vanished.

These are the opening words of the opening crawl of the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens.

Luke Skywalker—Jedi Knight, conqueror of the evil empire, redeemer of his father Darth Vader—has vanished. If you have seen the film you will know that this vanishing has been wholly bad for the galaxy: in his absence, a new empire, a new Death Star, and a new dark lord have arisen.

Luke Skywalker has vanished and the galaxy is suffering.

The gospels also tell the tale of a vanishing and vanished hero. The original ending of the gospel of Mark has the women come to Jesus’ tomb only to find it empty. Jesus has vanished and this leads to shock: the women “went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (16:8). [Read more…]

The Passing of a Senator

bennettSenator Bob Bennett, a three-term Republican senator from Utah, passed away Wednesday evening. I never met him, and never particularly cared for his political views. But my wish to bow my head, offer condolences to his family, and wish his soul godspeed at this time isn’t simply a consequence of the vague imperative we all so often feel to speak well of the departed. The plain fact of the matter is that Bob Bennett in so many ways very clearly embodied the classic ideal of a “senator” (the original meaning of which being, quite simply, “wise old man”), and that is a thing worth high praise. [Read more…]

No Man is “Trash”

Angry? You bet. Tyler Glenn’s latest song and video boil with rage. Glenn, a gay man and former missionary, was embraced by the church for his advocacy in building the inclusivity bridge. That is, until the LDS church’s November 5th policy change regarding homosexuals—a change that codified those in same-gender marriages as apostates, required their excommunication, and forbade the baptism of their children under certain conditions. The policy change hit him hard, like a gut punch, he says. Feeling himself betrayed, denigrated, and literally dismissed over his sexual orientation, Glenn took a hard look at less-visited areas of Mormonism and decided he could no longer believe. The release of “Trash” depicts a stunning reversal of attitude toward his faith heritage. [Read more…]

Teasings

teasing-vs-taunting-bullying

So this Sunday’s GD lesson is Mosiah 7-11. The very first verse of the reading, 7:1, reads as follows:

 And now, it came to pass that after king Mosiah had had continual peace for the space of three years, he was desirous to know concerning the people who went up to dwell in the land of Lehi-Nephi, or in the city of Lehi-Nephi; for his people had heard nothing from them from the time they left the land of Zarahemla; therefore, they wearied him with their teasings. (Emphasis added.)

[Read more…]

The LDS Church and Higher Education: The Case for Divestment

If you were a  Mormon child any time before the mid-1970s, you probably remember the Pennies-by-the-Inch” campaigns in primary. They worked like this: from time to time, they would bring out the Pennies-by-the-Inch materials, and we were all supposed to collect one penny for inch of every of our height. We would measure ourselves to discover how much we owed, and then we would spend the next week or two gathering pennies to donate to the Church-owned Primary Children’s Hospital. For many of us, it was our first brush with philanthropy. [Read more…]

Send a note of thanks to Richard Bushman

Bushman-RichardI started my first podcast from scratch six years ago after cajoling FAIR—now FairMormon—into sponsoring it (meaning they paid for the webhosting and the show carried their name). I started from scratch and I was thrilled when Richard Bushman agreed to be on that unknown show. He appeared in episodes 3 and 4. You can tell from the sound quality, if not from my nascent interview skills, what sort of popsicle stand I was operating at the time, but Richard’s candor, gentleness, and intelligence is evident throughout. He played a pretty substantial part in my then-growing interest in history. I owe a lot to him, and I’m glad I’ve been in a position to let him know that.

Chances are, many BCC readers have been impacted by Richard’s work, perhaps Rough Stone Rolling most of all, but also in many lesser known ways. Now’s your chance to express your gratitude. [Read more…]

I’d Like to Bear My Testimony…

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 9.37.15 AMI don’t enjoy bearing my testimony. Well, I don’t enjoy bearing my testimony in front of a congregation. I can write bout my feelings until the proverbial cows come home, but standing up and proclaiming what I believe in front of 200 people I only marginally know? Thanks, I’ll keep my seat.

Based on what I’ve heard over the years, many (a lot? most?) Mormons aren’t super-fans of Fast & Testimony meeting. In my head, I think of it as Open Mic Day, and my son with autism asks me every Sunday “Is this THAT Sunday??” hoping against hope it’s not. Sometimes we just stay home. I mean, I get it- I know why we do it, and I think the nexus of the idea is probably a good one- we need to clarify what we believe, and standing before your community and speaking up is a good exercise in personal faith and in finding- or at least asking for- that clarity. It’s hard to stand up and say what you believe- or rather, it is if you are actually speaking from your heart. [Read more…]

They need not depart; give them to eat.

From the time I was a kid, I knew the story of the five loaves and two fishes. However, it wasn’t until recently as I re-read Matthew 14 that I really took note of the context in which Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes.  The first half of Matthew 14 tells the horrifying story of John the Baptist’s murder, and how the disciples took his body and buried it and then brought the news to Jesus.

In response to the news, Jesus leaves by a ship into a desert place. But as he goes, the people follow him on foot out of their cities.

And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick./And when it was evening,  his disciples came to him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals./ But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat.

For all my life, when I have eaten so eagerly of the parable, I had never stopped to consider that the miracle was born of what must have been one of Jesus’ most lonely and sad mortal hours.  The loss of his cousin could not have been slight, could not have been anything less than devastating.  Jesus’ initial reaction to jump on a ship and get to a place where he might mourn and pray alone seems appropriate, but there is always a yet.  

[Read more…]

May is #BikeToChurch Month at BCC

Happy May Day, and welcome to ByCommonConsent’s 2nd annual Bike To Church Month!

image [Read more…]

Codes, Ranked

After the snot-nosedness from some of the commenters last week–suggesting that The Process is somehow non-revelatory in nature–Steve and I decided that you’ll no longer be treated with clear insights into how stuff gets Ranked. Anyway, all of the talk recently about Honor Codes led us to seek inspiration on the true ranking of Codes.

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

A Feminist Foreign Policy

Last Tuesday the Swedish ambassador to Austria and the permanent representative to the international organizations in Vienna gave a presentation on Sweden’s foreign policy. Yeah, I know you’re thinking–another empty suit regurgitating prefab boilerplate. Yawn. But this was a rather unusual presentation for the standards of Viennese diplomacy (which is a lot like the standards of diplomacy everywhere else–a bunch of greying men debating the future of the world). First of all, it was an all-female panel and secondly, the topic was Sweden’s feminist foreign policy. [Read more…]

Review: The Mormon Jesus: A Biography

Mormon JesusJohn G. Turner, The Mormon Jesus: A Biography (Cambridge: Harvard UP 2016).

Just this month, Turner followed up his excellent biography of Brigham Young with something almost entirely different: an intellectual history of Mormonism’s approach to Jesus. And, just so that I don’t bury the lede here: you need to read this book.

Turner approaches the Mormon Jesus thematically and relatively comprehensively (or, at least, as comprehensively as he can in a 350-page book). He spends the bulk of his words on 19th-century Mormonism, but he touches on events as recent as Denver Snuffer’s claim to have seen and spoken with Jesus (83-84) and as ancient as Clement of Alexandria’s view in the late second century that “the gospel had abrogated polygamy, not monogamous marriage) (220).  [Read more…]

No, George Washington Didn’t Believe in the Mormon God

WashingtonWe live in an age and a country where intellectual authority is validated through an appeal to the “founders.” Even if one doesn’t believe in the extreme, and wrong-headed, philosophy of “originalism”–where we pretended all the men who crafted America’s foundational documents believed the same ideas, that those ideas could be objectively reconstructed today, and that those reconstructed ideas could serve as arbiters for modern society’s issues–it is still typical to couch our arguments in a way that adds historical heft. (On this modern dilemma, see these two recent and excellent volumes.) It just makes you feel good to know, in the words of #Hamiltunes, that “Washington is on your side.”
[Read more…]

Rape and The Miracle of Forgiveness

Today’s Guest Post is by Chris Kimball.

Although nobody accuses me, every time the (now out-of-print) The Miracle of Forgiveness comes up, I cringe and feel guilty. It’s really not my work and I know that. But the author is my grandfather Spencer Kimball and somehow I feel responsible in a vague but troubling way.

Rape is a difficult and touchy subject, yet I want to contribute to the discussion. I offer this as my personal opinion (I certainly cannot and would never claim to channel Spencer Kimball.) [Read more…]

More Love

It has been a hard week. It can’t be wrong to repost this.

 

More love, more love!

The heavens are blessing,
the angels are calling.
O Zion, more love, more love.

If ye love not each other in daily communion,
how can you love God whom you have not seen?

More love, more love,
O Zion, more love.

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