Year: 2011

Theotokos: Land’s End

(Part 2 of 4. Read the first part here). Between the Washington Beltway and the Delaware coast lay 150 miles of waiting. Waiting, and watching, and sweating with boredom as my grandmother’s Oldsmobile slowly cruised Route 50. We took this road every summer, me and my brother and our Yia Yia Christine, leaving behind the Maryland suburbs for the Lynard vacation spot on Rehoboth Beach.

My testimony

I’m no stranger to doubt and scepticism – I’m as much a child of conflicted modernity as anyone and it has been years since the majority of those close to me have professed an unwavering belief – and context is as relevant to testimony as anything else. But tonight I want to state candidly and unreservedly: I believe. There’s something genuinely magical (and I feel that quickening magic now) in the bearing of a testimony – I count my experience with testimony as one of the grand mysteries I’ve encountered in life.  I can’t help but continually try to cast my conceptual net about it; to design new ways of trying to observe this thing that like an electron is better characterized by movement in a region than by determinate position; to articulate with analysis and plumb with nuance what goes on inside my collective soul. My perpetual failure doesn’t dissuade me; I continue to believe in it’s in-principle possibility; in part because testimony seems inherently a phenomenon of expression, and because even if I can’t set up explanatory criteria for why, I do feel as though I can indicate in my own life more and less successful examples – examples of explanation and examples of the phenomenon itself. And here already, I’ve strayed into what it is I meant only to confess: testimony eludes my ability to characterize it (which is certainly not to say my intellect has no…

Literary BMGD #1: Address to the Book of Mormon

I’m pleased that Julie has begun a series of posts that cover this year’s lessons on the Book of Mormon. With this post I will begin a kind of companion series: Mormon poetry and literary texts that can accompany each week’s lessons. Since Mormon literature often gets short shrift (usually from those who haven’t actually read what they dismiss), I think that connecting this literature to a regular part of our worship may help members become more aware of and familiar with our culture.

BMGD #1: Introduction

These are the notes from which I will create my Sunday School lesson. It is not a Sunday School lesson, unless your ward has Sunday School for five hours and a high tolerance for rabbit trails that happened to catch my interest.

O Come, All Ye Faithful

“O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant.” My eyes started welling up as we sang in church this morning. I want to answer the call to come, but I don’t know that I can call myself faithful. So often, I feel my lack of faith, my doubt, my cynicism. And I work all the harder for it. I cling to my covenants, for that is keeping the faith, even when I cannot rationally affirm articles or propositions expressing the faith of my fellow saints. I serve in good faith, with all my might, mind, and strength, even when I am without the faith, the belief, that gives assurance that these efforts are an acceptable offering to God. So come, all ye faithful, and come all ye faithless. Come all ye who struggle to hope, you who hope through great struggles. Come and adore Him. Bring your gifts of devotion, work, service, belief. What you have is what you can offer. There is no need to begrudge others their gifts that they may bring. Give Him instead your life’s work and your tear-wrought questions and receive the silence that is not an answer, but is peace. And as we worship, even some of us who are not faith full, will feel joyful and triumphant, as we raise our voices and come to adore the Christ child together.

Christmas Flavors

Finals are graded, so yesterday I made red onion marmalade.[fn1] Stirring the apples and red onions and lemons, I though about what food evokes Christmas for me.[fn2] Why food? Because a lot of my life today revolves around food. One year, I was up until two in the morning the day before Thanksgiving making mincemeat ice cream. (I didn’t believe my wife that we were getting up the next morning at 4 to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Turns out, she was right.) Every summer, we can tomatoes and jams and chutneys so that we can have those flavors during the winter. And sometimes we invite people over for dinner just to have an excuse to cook something new. What I remember: Christmas mornings, opening presents with my sisters and brother and parents, listening to Bing Crosby (or, sometimes, John Denver), eating nuts and chocolate candy and Vons eggnog (if there was any left) and, eventually, having a big brunchy breakfast. I want to say it was cinnamon rolls, or sometimes popovers. Maybe omelets. But it was definitely breakfast. I’m sure the lunches and dinners on Christmas[fn3] were equally good, but they aren’t what stand out in my memories. Rather, it’s the music, wrapping paper, family, junk food, and big breakfasts that I remember. And I wonder, what will my kids’ memories of Christmas be? — [fn1] Delicious, btw. [fn2] Not red onion marmalade, fwiw. This is the first (though…

An Argument for Huntsman

With the impending vote, most Mormons may assume that Mitt Romney is the clear favorite. He has been the most consistent front runner for the Republican nomination for President this year, and his views may be most consistent with those of most Mormons. So why vote for Jon Huntsman, Jr.…

Under the tree: LDS Beliefs

The latest book to digest Mormon doctrine for the popular LDS audience is LDS Beliefs: A Doctrinal Reference (Deseret, 2011), by four BYU religion professors: Robert L. Millet, Camille Fronk Olson, Andrew C. Skinner, and Brent L. Top. Entries are alphabetical, with authorship and cited sources listed following each and every entry. It’s out just in time for Christmas and will no doubt find its way under the tree in many LDS homes, as well it should. The best way to summarize the strengths of this one-volume reference work is to compare and contrast it with other modern attempts to summarize LDS doctrine: Bruce R. McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine, True to the Faith, and The Encyclopedia of Mormonism.

Theotokos: Flight

(part 1 of 4) A strange autumn. The gold harvest sky, usually so calm and calming, is full of unrest. Nervous pigeons cluster near the freeway overpass. Above them circle the gulls, those inland outlanders who should be pulling fish from the sea. Nameless small dark birds coalesce into rolling, chattering clouds before dropping to roost on rooftops and treetops and utility wires.

The Literary, Linguistic and New York City Life of Pratt

The first Institute class held in our upper Manhattan apartment in 1988 explored Mormon philosophy and intellectual life. The readings included a 1969 Dialogue article by Leonard Arrington, “The Intellectual Tradition of the Latter-day Saints,” (pdf) which mentioned a questionnaire Arrington had sent to 50 Mormon intellectuals asking them to list the five most eminent intellectuals in Mormon History. I was then surprised to find Parley P. Pratt on that list.

Mormon of the Year Nomination Update

We opened nominations for Mormon of the Year 2011 on December 9th. To keep everyone up to date, here are the nominations so far. Nominations remain open through December 31st, and a public vote on the candidates will begin January 1st. Feel free to make additional nominations or second any of those that have not yet been seconded, if you think they are worthy.

Teaching from the Pew: When the Manual Authorizes Subverting the Teacher

A thought inspired by Aquinas’ review, which focuses on the teacher, instead of the manual. If I had any Photoshop skills, I’d have put the manual in the middle of that ring. Reference comes from Aquinas’ post. I taught the Teacher Training course for a few months earlier this year, which meant I spent a lot of time with Teaching:No Greater Call. I discovered an important and surprisingly subversive story p. 214-15, presented below with minor editorializing in brackets and bolding. “In our new ward my husband and I discovered that the Gospel Doctrine class [read: the teacher] wasn’t very effective. As the teacher talked, some class members read their scriptures; others just kept their heads down. I could tell that this bothered the teacher. Once he even asked, ‘Is anybody listening?’ Soon we learned that a number of people in the ward attended the Gospel Principles class instead of Gospel Doctrine [or just hung out in the hallway.] We heard that the teacher of that class was excellent. We attended the class and found it to be lively, insightful, and rewarding. But walking home from Church one day, we confided to each other that we both felt that what we were doing wasn’t quite right. We needed to support our bishop by supporting the teacher he had called to teach us. So we began talking about what we could do to enrich the Gospel Doctrine class. We realized that…

Power Imbalances and Dane’s Hierarchy of Christmas Presents

Christmas is awesome as a kid because you get cool stuff that you can’t get any other time. (Yeah, yeah, you can tell me that Christmas is awesome because we celebrate the Savior’s birth or because we get to serve people, but if you were a kid like I was a kid, it really just came down to presents and time off school.) Now here’s my “kinds of presents” list: Stuff the recipient doesn’t want (like Christmas ornaments — who ever thinks, “I’d love a Christmas ornament”?) Stuff the recipient likes and would probably get for themselves anyway (like clothes) Stuff the recipient likes and could afford but probably wouldn’t get for themselves (like a spa gift certificate) Stuff the recipient doesn’t know she or he wants yet, but will think is awesome when they get it (???) Stuff the recipient wants but can’t afford (???) Christmas is awesome for kids because parents are usually able to fulfill the #5 option, which is the most impactful kind of present. My favorite present each year was the video game or big Lego set, which were far out of my allowance-funded price range. But as we get older, the power imbalances decrease. When you’re 8 years old, your parents might make 1,000 times as much money as you do. When you’re 12 years old, they make maybe 100 times as much. When you’re 16 years old it’s perhaps down to 10 times…

The Irreconcilable Triangle of Mormon Political Values

FOX News was on while I stood in line at McDonald’s last night. I noticed that the guy being interviewed looked distinctly Mormon (apparently we have a distinctive look), so I walked over to see what was up. The guest was Connor Boyack, and he was talking about how, of all the political ideologies, Mormonism is most compatible with Libertarianism. The Mormon-Libertarian connection is nothing new, but it fits in with something that’s been on my mind lately — competing “goods”. Or, in Elder Oaks’ words, “good, better, and best”. As I see it, there are three cardinal points of political virtue that we wrangle over in the church: (I think the role of authoritative church statements in this triangle is fascinating. Boyack reaches out to Pres. Benson for support, and others have done the same in support of Libertarianism with words from church leaders extending back to Brigham Young. But not Joseph Smith, I don’t think. Joseph’s statements are, perhaps, generally too pro-government to be used as ammunition there.) Now there might be better names for these than the ones I’ve chosen, but I think “freedom”, “purity”, and “charity” convey the point effectively. By purity, I mean those values that come down to an intrinsic sense of “rightness” — things that are not arguable, but that are right (or wrong) because God declares them to be that way. Gay marriage is as good a political issue as any to exemplify what…

Sex as Truth

Joseph Spencer, in his encouraging response to Taylor Petrey’s Dialogue article, “Toward a Post-Heterosexual Mormon theology,” makes the following claim:

Is Fredette only Mormon in the NBA?

The long-delayed NBA pre-season starts Friday, much to the delight of the nation, and, of course, the Jimmer Fandom (Jimmermaniacs?). And as I reviewed the information I’ve clipped about Mormons in basketball, I faced a surprising conclusion: Jimmer is the only Mormon currently playing in the NBA. Could that be right? If it isn’t, I’d love to know. And if it is, perhaps that is a reason for Jimmer to be named Mormon of the Year?

Gospel Doctrine New Testament Midterm and Final

We’re nearing the end of our New Testament study for the year; what have we learned? Shall we assess? Back in 2006, when I was still engaged in my Sisyphian PhD pursuit, I taught an Honors Acts-Revelation class at BYU, which was a lot of fun. We learned a little Greek, read some introductory scholarship, and the New Testament in two translations. Students had an outside assignment each week, and a reading assignment for each class period on top of the New Testament passages. Generally speaking, students responded very positively. On the very first day, we learned the Greek alphabet, and they got a Greek assignment, in order to filter out the purely devotional, Seminary-type students who wouldn’t fit the class profile or rank me highly. Student reviews are king at The BYU, especially in the Religious Education department. Below are the midterm and final I gave. The midterm was take-home and open scripture, though I warned them it wouldn’t help. The final was given in class. Now, five years on, I would reword, reframe, or rethink some of these questions, they’re certainly not immune to criticism. But looking at them again, I think we struck a good balance between, faith, devotion, critical thinking, and introduction to scholarship. Enjoy.   Don’t Panic!  Instructions: As you go through, please write neatly and clearly! I can’t grade what I can’t read. Flip the test over, and write your name neatly on the…

History of a book

So I wrote a book. Not a Mormon book, but one in my academic field. I’ve been working on the book since just before my youngest daughter was born. She started first grade in September, and the book was published last week. The idea for the book came to me in 2005,

Nominate the 2011 Mormon of the Year

Its that time of year again. The media will soon start reviewing the important news stories of the year, Time will soon select its Person of the Year; so we should get busy selecting the Mormon of the Year. For those who don’t remember, T&S selected Mitt Romney as the Mormon of the Year for 2008, Harry Reid for 2009, and Elizabeth Smart for 2010. As in the past, the choice does not mean that the person is a good Mormon or even a good person. This designation is solely about the impact the person has had. Note: We have made one major change to the nomination procedure: Nominations must be seconded! We hope this will make sure that nominations are serious, and not in jest as some have been in the past. I think the other ground rules are basically the same as in the past (suggestions about changes to the rules are welcome – we try to improve the rules each year): Nominees must be Mormon somehow — nominees must have been baptized and must claim to be Mormon. Nominees must have been living at some point during the year. The LDS Church First Presidency (including the Prophet) and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are not eligible (because they would win every year, making the selection pointless). Nominees must have had enough of an impact to have made the news during the year. Collective nominees (i.e., all those who…

Interest Never Sleeps

Hypothetical:[fn1] Alex and Pat both want a Kindle Fire.[fn2] Alex goes to the local brick-and-mortar[fn3] Amazon store, pays $200 cash, and takes a Kindle Fire home. Pat goes to the bank, gets a loan for $200, goes to the local brick-and-mortar Amazon store, pays the $200, and takes a Kindle Fire home. Who made the better decision?[fn4] *** In the Church, we’re suspicious of debt. Sure, we get a pass on student loans, a modest house, a first car, but, as a general rule, our leaders discourage incurring consumer debt, and celebrate those who have escaped debt’s clutches. Having grown up a member of the Church, and having heard the various talks and lessons, I suspect most members would say that Alex made the better decision;Alex has the Fire and no debt. Pat, on the other hand, has both the Fire and the debt. *** Assuming you agree with my intuition that, in general, Mormons would think that Alex made the better decision, I want to push that intuition a little: (1) Let’s suppose, first, that Alex bought with cash because he has $200 just lying around. Pat, on the other hand, doesn’t, and the only way she can afford a Kindle is by borrowing. But assume Pat has a steady, if low-paying, job with amazing job security, while Alex, though making more money,has a 70% chance of losing his job in the next three months, with an uncertain outlook…

Quotes of Note- Elder Holland on Boats and Struggling Swimmers

Unfortunately inspired by a personal experience related to me recently, I present a rebuke of sorts  and a call for more Christ-like compassion by Elder Holland. “When a battered, weary swimmer tries valiantly to get back to shore, after having fought strong winds and rough waves which he should never have challenged in the first place, those of us who might have had better judgment, or perhaps just better luck, ought not to row out to his side, beat him with our oars, and shove his head back underwater. That’s not what boats were made for. But some of us do that to each other.” –A Robe, a Ring, and a Fatted Calf, BYU Devotional, 1984. (Also available in mp3 and other formats) Holland’s negative inspiration for the boat-model was someone he grew up with, who suffered at the hands of those who might have helped and encouraged him instead. “one of the added tragedies in transgression is that even if we make the effort to change, to try again, to come back, others often insist upon leaving the old labels with us. I grew up in the same town with a boy who had no father and precious few of the other blessings of life. The young men in our community found it easy to tease and taunt and bully him. And in the process of it all he made some mistakes, though I cannot believe his mistakes were more serious…

Global Harmony in Microcosms

A Japanese former ambassador to China recently offered some provocative thoughts on the global promise of America, suggesting that the American melting pot is a kind of pilot project for world peace. Could the same be true of the LDS Church?

Boston’s Mormon women’s organization, 1844

Nauvoo had its Relief Society, but the “society of sisters” in Boston was instead the “Sewing and Penny Society,” or so the Church’s New York City newspaper reported. Despite all that the Relief Society has become in the nearly 170 years since it was founded, it apparently only existed in Nauvoo. In other areas, women were left to their own devices.