Month: April 2010

Requesting Priesthood Lines of Authority


In the course of an interesting email exchange today, I learned that a good friend and I had had similar experiences in trying to track down our priesthood lines of authority. After being ordained Elders, we both asked our fathers if they had copies of their lines of authority, both said they thought they did somewhere, but both ultimately could never come up with them. My friend then approached his uncle, figuring that he might have the same line as my friend’s father, but without success. Fast forward ten years. His uncle randomly found his line of authority and remembered my friend asking for it. They were both surprised to learn though that the uncle had been ordained an Elder by his Bishop, not by his father as is the current custom. Unfortunately this Bishop was not Bishop when my friend’s father would have been ordained, so my friend was still no closer to tracking down his own line of authority. Or at least it initially appeared. At the bottom of his uncle’s line of authority, however, was a phone number and extension at the Church office building. After braving a series of automated messages, my friend was given an…

LDS Church unveils green meetinghouse prototype


This week the presiding bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints unveiled the first solar-powered LDS meetinghouse in Farmington, Utah. The building is one of five green prototypes being developed for LDS chapels in Utah, Arizona, and Nevada—and the building program will eventually expand across the US and around the world. The official press release cites other environmentally-friendly building innovations in the Farmington facility, including high efficiency heating and cooling system that can interface with the solar power equipment, xeriscaped grounds,  plumbing fixtures that cut water use by more than 50 percent, and Low-E Solarban 70 windows that block 78 percent of the sun’s heat energy. The parking lot will even feature special parking spots for electric cars. This is not the Church’s first foray into environmental building and design. The Salt Lake Tribune reports: Employing “green” technologies is not new to the LDS Church. Indeed, Tuesday’s news conference highlighted past earth-friendly efforts such as the geothermal plant built in the 1980s to power a California meetinghouse and the fact that rainwater has been collected since the 1950s at Pacific Island church buildings. I suggested last week that the LDS Church hasn’t really developed a unique environmental…

OT Lesson 18 Study Notes: Joshua 1-6, 23-24


Joshua 1 Verse 1: Why is Moses referred to as the Lord’s servant, but Joshua as Moses’ minister, official, or aide? Why not call Joshua Moses’ servant or, even better, the Lord’s servant? Compare Exodus 24:13 and 33:11, as well as Numbers 11:28, but notice that in the latter two, though the King James translation uses the word “servant,” it translates the same word translated “minister” here and in Exodus 24. According to the Word Biblical Commentary, the word translated “minister” refers to someone like a young page who attends a king. Why do these texts always use language that puts Joshua in an inferior position, even after Moses leaves? Verses 3-4: What do you make of the fact that Israel never attained the borders described here? 1 Kings 5:1 describes Solomon as ruling this entire land, but he did so through vassal states that owed him tribute rather than directly. The people of Israel did not occupy that land even when Solomon controlled it. Verses 5-7: What is the connection between the admonition in verse 5—”I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee”—and the command in verse 6: “Be strong and of good courage,”…

OT Lesson 17 Study Notes: Deuteronomy 6; 8; 11; 32:1-4, 15-18, 30-40, 45-47


Background Feel free to skip this background discussion if you aren’t interested in it. You can skip to the study questions without losing anything. Before taking up two points, however, let me say that I am not generally in favor of bringing much scholarly discussion into Sunday School lessons or our study for them, I don’t think those discussions have much relevance to our understanding of the Bible as a religious text or our application of its teachings to our lives. Scholarly information and ideas have an important place in our studies and in my experience they can sometimes add significantly to our spiritual insights, but they are ultimately collateral to what we do in Sunday School. One need not be a biblical scholar to study and learn from the Bible. Point 1: The title of this book, “Deuteronomy,” is the result of a 3rd century BC Greek mistranslation of Deuteronomy 17:18. “A copy of this law” in Hebrew gets translated as “the second law”: to deuteronomion. The Hebrew title of the book is simply “These are the words,” in other words, “the words of Moses,” but it is also referred to as “Mishneh Torah,” meaning “second law,” like the…

Luke’s Spiritual Journey

I’ve asked several of my friends from different religious backgrounds to share the stories of their spiritual paths through life — what they believe, and why. This is the response of my friend Luke. Despite having looked into many religious movements as part of my graduate studies, I find writing about my own spiritual journey remains a challenge.  I don’t profess a faith, though I remain sympathetic and responsive to the efforts people make to introduce me to their beliefs and/or attempt to convert me. This suggests a curiosity on my part about things like spirituality, faith, and religion generally. I have been told by missionaries of multiple religious movements “we don’t know how to help you…we usually work with people in crisis.” Some religious practitioners have expressed their frustrations to me, pointing out that because I seem very interested and genuine it is perplexing as to why I don’t join. Certainly I can list several sociological explanations which would predict that I would not join a religious movement, one might think of the models of Iannaccone ( or the theory of religious-economics put forth by Stark and Finke ( to suggest that my so-called “social capital” is too diverse…

This Mormon Life

This American Life

Several weeks ago the NPR program This American Life aired a stunning segment on Gordon Gee, the Latter-day Saint President of Ohio State University, and his daughter Rebecca. The segment revolved around a series of letters Gordon’s late wife Elizabeth wrote to their daughter as she was dying of cancer.  Rebecca was 16 at the time of her mother’s death, and the letters were to be given to her each year on her birthday for thirteen years. Rebecca, however, gradually drifted from the Church, while the letters from her devout mother focused heavily on the deep yearnings she had for her daughter to remain close to the Mormon faith and marry in the temple. Gordon, meanwhile, began to find himself caught in between these letters from his late wife and his daughter, with whom he remained close. The segment, as is typical of This American Life, is handled deftly with balance, in a way that leads you to understand and identify with each side in the story. It also got me thinking of the many other Mormon-related segments This American Life has aired. Among the most poignant for me are Where’s King Solomon When You Need Him? from Episode 380,…

At home on Earth, in any corner of the garden

Delicate Arch. Photo courtesy of wikimedia commons.

I posted this on Civil Religion as an introduction to Earth and environmentalism in Mormon teaching and experience. Thought it might be of interest here, as well. Earth played a prominent role in Joseph Smith’s vision of the cosmos, beginning with the importance of Creation in what we call “the plan of salvation”.  The Genesis creation account is central to LDS temple liturgy, and our latter-day scriptures reiterate and elaborate that account in several key theological passages.  In Joseph’s understanding, the creation of the earth was collaborative and artisanal: Earth was not created ex nihilo, but organized from existing elements with an inherent spiritual dimension and destiny of their own. God the Father, the Supreme Creator, was magnanimous in his creative process and gave his spirit children a role in the spiritual labor.  For Joseph, this was no compromise of God’s sovereignty or denial of human creaturliness; on the contrary, it gave humans an eternal stake in God’s ongoing work of creation, which is to say salvation, just as it gave us an eternal stake in the welfare and destiny of the earth. Earth was created as a paradise, but with the Fall of Adam and Eve the earth too…

Beliefs and Causes

Beliefs are complicated and sometimes strangely resistant to facts. I don’t mean religious beliefs in particular, but everyday beliefs about how the world works and how it is that we come to hold them. That’s what I took away from a recent reading of Lewis Wolpert’s Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast: The Evolutionary Origins of Belief (W. W. Norton, 2006). Here’s an example from the chapter on paranormal beliefs. A stage magician performed fake psychic phenomena in front of two groups of university students. One group was told that he was a magician, while the other group was told he was a genuine psychic. When asked afterwards whether or not they believed he had genuine psychic powers, about two thirds of the students in both groups thought that he did. Even when the groups who were initially told that he was psychic were told that he was a fake, half still believed he had special psychic powers. (p. 157.) What’s surprising is not just that two-thirds of these university students held or formed a belief in the supposed-psychic’s powers, but how few changed their position when “told that he was a fake.” Updating is hard. Another example, from the chapter…

Introducing, Me

We T&S bloggers are pretty impersonal. Our posts tell about the kinds of things we think about, but we don’t share much about who we are or what we do. So here’s a bit about me.

The eighth circle of Paradise: Saint Damien of Molokai and Jonathan Napela in Kalaupapa

Father Damien of Molokai with residents of the Kalaupapa colony. Photo courtesy of

Sunday evening I attended a screening of a preliminary cut of the documentary “The Soul of Kalaupapa.”  The film examines the ecumenical legacy of the leper’s colony  on the Hawaiian island of Molokai.  Kalaupapa was brought to recent prominence by last year’s canonization of Saint Damien of Molokai, the key figure in the community’s history.  Fred Woods, a producer of the film and an historian whose research focuses on Kalaupapa, presented the film and followed it with a lecture on the topic. The history of the place is compelling, and heartbreaking.  Founded in 1865 on an isolated peninsula of Molokai, the colony was a response to the era’s intense fears surrounding the spread of Hansen’s disease, the preferred medical term for leprosy. Between 1866 and 1969, over 8,000 people were forcibly quarantined on the Kalaupapa site.  Some patients, including children, were sent alone to make their way as strangers in this fearful new place, which they expected never to leave. Sometimes family members accompanied the afflicted as kokua, or helpers, knowing that they put their own lives at risk in doing so. A treatment for the disease was discovered in 1969, and residents after that were permitted to leave the…

Approaching Diversity

The text for today’s blog post is brought to you by BYU Speeches, specifically, “Weightier Matters“, by Dallin H. Oaks (does anyone here know if speeches are quoted, underlined, or italicized?). In part of his talk, Elder Oaks discusses diversity in terms of means vs. ends. Specifically, he says, “Since diversity is a condition, a method, or a short-term objective — not an ultimate goal — whenever diversity is urged it is appropriate to ask, “What kind of diversity?” or “Diversity in what circumstance or condition?” or “Diversity in furtherance of what goal?” This is especially important in our policy debates, which should be conducted…in terms of the goals we seek and the methods or shorter-term objectives that will achieve them. Diversity for its own sake is meaningless and can clearly be shown to lead to unacceptable results. My question is, does it make sense to talk about diversity in terms of ends and means? The church’s goal is to present the gospel message to every inhabitant of the world. In that light, it seems to me that diversity is neither an ends nor a means, but just a fact that needs to be accepted. If our goal is to…

OT Lesson 16 Study Notes: Numbers 22-24, 31


Who is Balaam? All of a sudden a non-Israelite prophet appears. Who is he? Based on Numbers 23:7, Word Biblical Commentary: Numbers, page 263) suggests that he is a Syrian. Is he really a prophet? If no, why not? If yes, in what sense of the word? (Archaeologists have discovered an inscription mentioning Balaam in a probable temple complex in Transjordan. The inscription comes from the 8th or 7th century BC—Ashley, The Book of Numbers 437.) New Testament writers took Balaam as a negative object lesson. Peter, speaking of those who left the church because of lust, refers to Balaam “preferring the wages of unrighteousness” (2 Peter 2: 15-16); Jude compares Balaam’s transgression to Cain’s (Jude 1:11); and the Lord, speaking to John on the Isle of Patmos, speaks of the doctrine of Balaam, who taught “the children of Israel to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication” (Rev. 2: 14). However, it is not clear from the text we have why they would do so (but as we will see, there is at least one hint). Nehama Leibowitz (New Studies in the Torah: Numbers) suggests a comparison between Balaam and other prophets. In Jeremiah 1:4, Ezekiel 1:3,…

A Monastery for Families


My wife and her friends chat together in the quad while the kids play outside. This last week, one of her friends said, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all just buy some land and move out there together?” This kind of sentiment is what I’m all about. We just need some place, some facility, to do it. How about a monastery? I mean, who doesn’t like monasteries? They’re peaceful, worshipful, and beautiful. In fact, I could become a monk. Except that I’m married. And have kids. And am Mormon…and we Mormons don’t have monasteries. But if we did have monasteries, I bet they would have space for spouses, and for kids. Could a church-supported monastic order fit in our conception of the gospel and the Lord’s plan? A monastery is a place of retreat. It would be a place where harried people could escape from the chaotic pressures of a demanding world. A monastery is a place of reflection. It would provide a turning place, where people trying to figure out theirs lives could explore new fields in a safe environment. A place of self-discovery and becoming. A monastery is a place of residence. It provides rhythm and…

OT Lesson 15 Study Notes: Numbers 11-14, 21:1-9


Besides the chapters of Numbers assigned for this lesson, I also recommend chapters 16, 17, and 20. It is unfortunate that we have no lessons from Leviticus. Though it is not immediately obvious how we should understand those scriptures and apply them to ourselves, the exercise of doing so can be very beneficial. I have depended on study notes prepared by my friend, Art Bassett, several years ago. But I’ve edited and expanded them since then—more than once—so I am no longer sure who wrote what. So I take responsibility for what you see here, though I’m not sure how much credit I can take. God’s Wrath It is “common knowledge” that the God of the Old Testament is a god of wrath, and the God of the New Testament is a loving God—though each is the same God. Part of this confusion may stem our not understanding the subtleties of love and what it means for God. Or we may be guilty of over-simplification, assuming that we already understand what anger is, since we have experienced it so often in our own lives. Therefore when God shows anger, we think of him as being vindictive and cruel at times.…

What is the doctrinal status of the car-wreck story?

It’s a story we’ve all heard, and it’s still in wide circulation. For instance, from the current YW manual: President Spencer W. Kimball told the following true story: “A few years ago a young couple who lived in northern Utah came to Salt Lake City for their marriage. They did not want to bother with a temple marriage, or perhaps they did not feel worthy. At any rate, they had a civil marriage. After the marriage they got into their automobile and drove north to their home for a wedding reception. On their way home they had an accident, and when the wreckage was cleared, there was a dead man and a dead young woman. They had been married only an hour or two. Their marriage was ended. They thought they loved each other. They wanted to live together forever, but they did not live the commandments that would make that possible. So death came in and closed that career. They may have been good young people; I don’t know. But they will be angels in heaven if they are. They will not be gods and goddesses and priests and priestesses because they did not fulfill the commandments and do…

Stopping the Flood When the Dams Burst

A friend of mine told a story from when she was a seminary student. As I recall it, one student, let’s call him Eusebius, had had perfect attendance for three years. The attendance policy allowed a fifteen-minute late window. The teacher would shut the door fifteen minutes after class started, and any students who came it after the door was shut weren’t counted in attendance for the day. Eusebius had been prompt to class for the first three years, but during his fourth year he showed up closer and closer to the fifteen-minute mark, until he finally missed it. This destroyed Eusebius’ interest in seminary; with his perfect record of attendance ruined, he didn’t feel any desire to attend and stopped coming. I’m sure we’ve all seen (or been) people like Eusebius. Missionaries are constantly meeting less active members who used to be bishops and branch presidents. Often they were faithful members who had lived up to the standards of the church for years. But once they slipped once, it’s like the dams of their souls were obliterated — their spiritual energy was drained in a single blow, and they didn’t know how to fill the reservoir back up. Perhaps…

Institutionalized Lying

Currently I serve as the Primary chorister in my ward. (Call it the curse of anyone who can sing and direct music.) The assigned song for March was “Follow the Prophet.” In case you’re not familiar with the song, it was written so that children around the world can mumble through the 400 verses, followed by yelling out the chorus at the top of their lungs. One verse is about Jonah, as in the guy with the great fish problem. It has this line in it: When we really try the Lord won’t let us fail. I had long forgotten this verse until last month. To be completely honest, I felt terrible teaching this verse to the kids. It’s patently untrue. It’s bogus. It’s a setup for all sorts of future disillusionment. Why do we do this to our children? [Note: As originally posted the song line read, “If we do what’s right the Lord won’t let us fail.” As  noted in comment #19, that was late corrected.]

OT Lesson 14 Study Notes: Exodus 15-20, 32-34


As ever, there is a great deal of material in this reading. Perhaps the overviews I provide of each chapter (including some material on chapters 21-21) will help put matters in context. As you read the chapters ask yourselves what kinds of parallels, types, and other meanings you see. How do these things help us understand our own lives? How do they help us understand our relation to Christ? To help you think about that more profitably, also ask yourselves “What did these things mean to the Israelites when they happened?” “What might they mean to Jews today?” Thinking about how someone else understands these things might help us see things we would otherwise miss. For this lesson, rather than asking questions about each verse, I will give an overview of selected chunks of verse and then ask questions about them. I’m trying to figure out a manageable way of dealing with the large portions of text assigned. I worry that creating many pages of detailed questions about verse after verse is more likely to intimidate someone and make close scripture study less likely rather than more. So this is an attempt at a different approach. A hint for reading…

A Mormon Image: Never Too Old for Trunk or Treat

never too old

As I dressed my 3 year old in her Halloween costume for the ward trunk or treat, she asked “and mom, what are you going to be?”  Oh, I’m too old for this stuff, I thought.  Then as we walked in that night, I saw this 70 year-old clown and realized, we’re never too old to feel like a kid again. by Dana Willard of 88 Miles Per Hour ___ This picture is part of our ongoing series highlighting Mormon images. Comments to the post are welcome; all comments should be respectful. In addition we invite you to submit your own images to the Mormon Image series. Other images in the series can be found here. Rules and instructions, including submissions guidelines, can be found here.

Claremont Conference: What Is Mormon Studies?


The Claremont Mormon Studies Student Association is holding its Spring 2010 Conference on April 23 and 24 on the theme What Is Mormon Studies? Transdisciplinary Inquiries into an Emerging Field. The Conference line-up is as follows: Keynote Address Jan Shipps – Indiana University-Purdue University Critical Approaches to Mormon Studies Loyd Ericson – “Where is the Mormon in Mormon Studies?  Subject, Method, Object” Cheryl L. Bruno – “Mormon History from the Kitchen Window: White is the Field in Essentialist Feminism” Blair Van Dyke – “How Wide the Divide? The Absence of Conversation between Mormon Studies and Mormon Mainstream” Christopher C. Smith – “What Hath Oxford to do with Salt Lake?” Challenges Facing Mormon Studies Adam S. Miller – “A Manifesto for Mormon theology” Jacob Rennaker – “Through a Glass, Darkly? Biblical Studies, Mormon Studies, Parallels, and Problems” Greg Kofford – “Publishing Mormon Studies: Inside Looking Out” Scholar Panel Brian Birch  – Utah Valley University J. Spencer Fluhman – Brigham Young University Armand L. Mauss – Claremont Graduate University Concluding Remarks Richard Bushman – Claremont Graduate University For more information see the Claremont Mormon Studies website.

12 Walks to Zion


I’m not ready to leave my “building Zion” discussion just yet. Where does the New Jerusalem come from? If you asked my peers, parents, seminary teachers, and Sunday school instructors, you might receive visions like these: