Year: 2006

The human face calls us to responsibility–sometimes

Years ago, I responded to one of those philanthropic commercials inviting viewers to request some “no obligation” information about their charitable organization. I requested it and soon received the photograph of a little girl in the Philippines, along with the invitation to sponsor her. How could I say no? There she was, looking right at me, calling me to responsibility. I had the means to provide for her, and surely I had to do it–and did. But a change has happened over the years. I now have a daughter with an eating disorder. On her binder, she has put a picture of a young woman who appears to have just been released from a concentration camp. She is more than gaunt; she is cadaverous, and she’s wearing absurdly incongruous make-up. She is poverty’s clown, an emaciated pied piper, a grim reaper of teenage souls.

One Thing Damon’s Article (Probably) Gets Right

Damon Linker’s TNR article “The Big Test” came out last Friday. Despite the holiday, his argument about Mitt Romney’s all-but-certain presidential candidacy and the problems which at least some Mormon beliefs pose for people looking to decide who to vote for has already caught the eye of many, and will no doubt be talked and argued about for some time to come. If you’re looking for a lengthy take on his argument…well, I’ve put one up on my blog here. But here, writing for T&S’s Mormon audience, let me pick out one paragraph of Damon’s article, and see what I can make of it.

(He’s A) Tiny Little Baby Born in Bethlehem!

I have a tendency to envision Christmas as a time of quiet joy, peaceful awe, hushed delight–the snow, the candlelight, the embers on the hearth, the distant stars, the bells and choirs reverberating into silence, the baby in the manger who “no crying makes.” Very New England, very northern European, very medieval, very traditional.

The Cursing of Mormon Lawyers

Cursing, it would seem, forms something of a theme in Mormon legal history. Not only was it a way of dealing with unsolved crimes, but it also seems to have been used as a way of controlling frivolous litigation.

Fridays in Congo

I was still single when I was sent to Central Africa as an international aid worker, to work as a teacher in a slum suburb of Kinshasa, capital of Congo. I got a room in a frail school building, part of a convent of Catholic nuns. The space had a bed, a table, a toilet, and a sink.

Secret Laws, Theocracy, and Cows

In 1847, the Mormon pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley and set up a frankly theocratic government. The highest legal authority was the High Council, which had the right to promulgate laws, as well as to try and punish criminal offenses (usually with fines or public whippings). Just as one would expect from a fanatical theocratic despotism, the High Council spent most of its time legislating about cows. Initially this was done by passing a law whereby all stray livestock was impounded and the owner of the strays was required to pay a fixed fine. The rule was enforced by either the High Council itself or else by a bishop’s court. The initial rule, however, gave bishops very little flexibility in deciding cases, and the High Council ultimately decided that the fixed fine should be dropped in favor of a rule giving the bishops that right to decide each case “as justice requires.” The main effect of this seems to have been to reduce the fines paid for straying cattle. This is the point in the story where it gets interesting.

Revolutions in Mormon Culture

“Revolutions” is probably not the right word: what I’m getting at is turning points, watershed events, or paradigm shifts. What got me thinking about this was the “Mormon Culture Tournament” over at By Common Consent. It’s basically just a fun exercise (go ahead: vote!) but there’s an interesting project lurking within it: the attempt to identify which, out of many historical habits, references, and signifiers, really are the most telling, the most unique, the goofiest markers of the truly, authentically “Mormon.” And if you look at the answers and comments, a pattern is made clear….

The Church’s Tax-Exempt Status, 1860s style

The Church today jealously guards its tax exempt status, and I suspect that there is a group of lawyers whose sole job it is to sit around worrying about the ways in which the IRS might assess taxes against the Church. It turns out that the feds have tried to tax Church properties and income in the past.