Year: 2007

The 6th Day of Christmas

On the sweetness of Mormon life. Some child behind me started yelling during a really good talk about charity. Because of the talk, perhaps, I remembered not to turn around and gawk. Later I peeked behind me and saw a young mother with three small children who had slipped in late. Her husband is a good man but he doesn’t believe and won’t come and he works on Sundays anyway, so she and her children are usually late. Sometimes they’re so late they don’t come until the very end of sacrament meeting. But they almost always come.

Latino/a and Mormon

America, as they say, is browning. Latino/as recently surpassed African Americans as the largest minority group in the United States, and the Church is experiencing that browning along with the rest of the nation. “According to Church statisticians, the future of the Church does not lie in Europe, Canada, or the United States but rather in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and among the ethnic groups in this country.”[1]

José Smith

The Spanish-language scriptures use the name José Smith. This raises interesting questions: Which names do we choose to translate and which do we choose not to translate, and why?

I was born in Sharon, Vermont

Yesterday was Joseph Smith’s birthday. I wonder sometimes how important it is to us in the 21st century that he was born in Vermont, given that the narratives we use to discuss Joseph usually skip his birthplace altogether and fast forward to New York.

Seeing Him

Because Adam asked, here’s my Santa Claus/Meaning-of-Christmas manifesto, originally written on my own blog three years ago. A brief update: our oldest daughter, mentioned below in this post, is now eleven, and while she is a joyful and spirited participant in the Christmas season, particularly for the sake of her three younger sisters, she isn’t herself much of believer any longer, and all my philosophical/theological reflections mostly flat with her. But that doesn’t worry me. Give her time; she’ll come around. I probably thought pretty much the same at her age, but as the wise man once said, I’m younger than that now.

Religious Pragmatism

Oliver Wendell Holmes famously wrote, “The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.” [1] In various writings, he expanded that claim, contrasting a natural law approach to justifying legal and ethical rules of conduct with his own more modest approach rooted in history and experience and falling under the broad perspective labeled pragmatism. Since religion in general and Mormonism in particular have many rules of conduct for which a variety of justifications grounded in natural law, experience, and history are held out, Holmes’ approach may shed some light on how we do this.

The Christmas Dress, by Elaine Harris

My wife’s grandmother, Elaine Harris, has lived in Evanston, Wyoming, all her life, except for a brief period during the Depression, when lack of work at home forced her parents–my wife’s great-grandparents, John and Dorothy Martin–to relocate their family to Bountiful (technically Woods Cross) in search of employment. It was there, seventy years ago this Christmas, that Grandma Elaine….but wait: she should tell the story. It is, after all, her own.

Zion v. Babylon: Life in the Enclave

In his recent (and excellent) book, Making Space on the Western Frontier: Mormons, Miners, and Southern Paiutes, Paul Reeve examines the contact and interactions between the three groups mentioned in his title in southern Utah/eastern Nevada during the last four decades of the 19th century. Although Reeve uses the word “frontier” in his title, he is not using it in the same way as Frederick Jackson Turner, who saw the frontier as succeeding waves of Anglo-American civilization moving relentlessly across the continent.

Prayer and parascripture

‘Parascripture’ was the term Hugh Nibley used to refer to popular statements of religious sentiment that weren’t actually found in scripture, and that can sometimes be the vehicle for foreign ideas to find a home in a Mormon setting. An example in recent circulation is, “If you want to talk to God, pray; if you want God to talk to you, read the scriptures.”

Narrating the Priesthood Ban and Constructing Selves

The way we see and define who we are is usually closely related to how we understand the past. Most of us have overlapping identities that require us to negotiate compromises between them and these compromises shape our narratives of history. African American members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have two dominant identities, black and Mormon, and as such, they have the burden of negotiating a compromise between these identities in relation to their understandings of the priesthood ban.

Mormonism Q&A I: Race issues; Jesus/Satan issues; some sources

There have been some interesting discussions of Mormonism in the media lately. Commenters like Lawrence O’Donnell, Maureen Dowd, Frank Rich, and others have made statements about the church in highly public places. What are we (or others) to make of these? In this post, I’ll try to address some of the questions that I’ve seen in various media contexts lately.

The Haun’s Mill Massacre in Mormon Memory

In April 2005, I spent two weeks on assignment for the Joseph Smith Papers Project in Missouri and Illinois, visiting court houses and archives searching for documents pertaining to early Mormon history. On the second evening of my stay in northwestern Missouri, I drove down a lonely dirt road to a desolate place that had significant meaning for me as a Latter-day Saint. When I arrived, I found only a small creek surrounded by trees, grass, mud, and a small plaque that identified the site of the Haun’s Mill Massacre…


That stands for “Historian In, Historian Out”–Times and Seasons bids farewell to one historian, Paul Reeve, and welcomes another, David Grua.


The mission president called. Would I, as his counselor, conduct a baptismal interview? A case he wouldn’t have the zone leaders handle, a woman with a troubled past. Most likely involving a chastity issue.

“Falls, Gardens, Death”

From the archives. This Christmas season I’ll be reposting a few favorite Christmas posts from the past. This first one is from December 18 of 2005 and may not make sense as a Christmas post until a later one I put up. I would appreciate that any substantive comments be left in the combox of the original post. I’m leaving this combox open for any technical comments or for comments on this introductory paragraph. (more…)

Gadianton Robbers Among the Ancestors

In fall 2001 (vol. 27, pp. 125-149) the Journal of Mormon History published an article I wrote entitled “‘As Ugly as Evil’ and ‘As Wicked as Hell’: Gadianton Robbers and the Legend Process among the Mormons.” Let me share a few excerpts from it and then pose a question.

From the Archives: Christmas Cigarettes

Imagine that universally-respected researchers had determined that most of the people in your community eat too much sugar and fat, and are at serious risk of developing diabetes, hardened arteries, and other ailments associated with poor diet and inadequate exercise.

My People Shall Wear Wooden Shoes

In 1874 a short lived satirical newspaper appeared in Utah, under the title Enoch’s Advocate: A Temporary Journal Devoted to the Interests of the United Order of Wooden Shoes. The paper’s sole intent was to take jabs both in picture and in print at Brigham Young and the United Order effort he had launched territory wide that year.