Month: March 2013

Literary Lorenzo Snow #7: Since Mother Went Away

In Mormonism we talk a lot about concepts like “enduring to the end” and “faithfulness in times of trial” (the subject of the current lesson in the Lorenzo Snow manual). We teach that trials are a necessary part of life, burdens that we need to pass through in order to learn the lessons of life and build our abilities for the next life. Children face these same lessons as they become independent of their mothers (and fathers), as Mormon poet Coral J. Black explores in the following poem.

Literary DCGD #14: The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo

What does it mean to consecrate? What are the kinds of things we must do, the attitudes and priorities we must have when we consecrate all that we have and that we are to the Lord? Doctrine and Covenants Gospel Doctrine lesson 14 explores the Law of Consecration, focusing on these attitudes and priorities and little on the practical effects of those attitudes. I believe that when we actually do live the law of consecration, our actions will be more like the ideal described by Eliza R. Snow in her poetic description of the Relief Society:

And when they had sung an hymn…

Mark 14:26 records “And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.” Sometimes people have asked, did they have a hymn book? What did they sing? Israelites did indeed have a hymn book; it was called the Book of Psalms, and certain Psalms were sung on different occasions. Some were sung as one ascended to Jerusalem for certain feasts and holy days, others at the crowning of a new king, others in the temple/tabernacle to accompany certain sacrifices. Notably, the Psalms for Passover were referred to as The Hallel, Psalms 113-118. Hallel should look familiar, as it’s the first half of hallelujah, or hallelu-yah, meaning “praise (a plural command) Yahweh” i.e. the Lord. Psalm 113 embodies this faithful praise, repeated elsewhere thought the Hallel. hallelu yah, hallelu ‘avdey Yahweh, hallelu ‘et shem yahweh. Praise The Lord, praise, o servants of The Lord, praise the name of Yahweh. As he surely knew what was shortly to come, the words of Psalm 116 in Jesus’ mouth may have tasted just as bitter as the Passover herbs they were eating. I love the LORD, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications. Because he hath inclined…

Why I wear a tie to church

Not long ago, on the way to church one Sunday, my son, recently turned twelve, asked me, “Why do I have to wear a tie to church?” Instead of directly answering that question, which would reveal his parents’ rather curtailed ability to compel behavior in their almost-teenage children much earlier than I’d like and short-circuit the altogether salutary process of his exploring those limits in person, I told him why I wear a tie to church.

How do you celebrate Easter?

What do you do to commemorate Christ’s resurrection? Modern culture, at least publicly, outside of Christian churches, doesn’t celebrate Easter as much as many other holidays or commemorations. Christmas, Halloween, Independence Day, Memorial Day and Valentines Day all seem to get more attention. I suspect that this is, at least in part, because they have become more commercial, and in doing so have captured the imagination of the public. And to a degree this happens for Easter also, but for some reason the commercialization is not nearly as strong as Christmas, for example. The Easter Bunny just isn’t as popular as Santa Claus.

Reproaching Jesus

It was the women who loved him who were willing to reproach him. First it was his mother: “Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing” (Luke 2:48-54). She did not understand his actions, this little twelve-year old son of hers. And he didn’t seem to understand her distress. Was he preoccupied in his work, his private calling? Was he unaware of how his actions would make her feel, as emotionally obtuse as only a confident child can be? There was no apology, but his words certainly gave his mother something to think about. The text says he “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” I have to assume that along the way, he also increased in compassion. Later (John 11) he sounded so casual, talking about his friend Lazarus sleeping, that the disciples thought Lazarus was just snoozing. “No, no,” he corrected, “Lazarus is dead, and I’m so glad, because now I can show you something that will really make you believe.” Time for a field trip. So they went, and when he arrived, Martha, the responsible sister came out. “If thou hadst been here,” she…

Maxwell Institute Announcements

Ladies and gentlemen, the new Maxwell Institute Blog is now live.  Check out the announcement about the newly reconstituted Mormon Studies Review.

Giving Up On The Feminine Divine

An Asherah figurine.

Not long ago I wrote a piece about mommy blogs, feminism, and the publishing industry. My basic thesis was that if you believe in the reality of historical oppression of women, you ought to be deeply skeptical of the current trend to define gender equality as equal representation of men and women in institutions which are inextricably connected to the historical oppression. To the extent that women have to conform to the expectations of those institutions, our haste to create a better world for women may in some cases be doing the exact opposite. I realize that part of the argument is often that the institutions need to change, but in practice the benchmark one hears is simply “how many women CEOs are there?” and not “how successfully have we reformed corporate culture to be accepting of women?” The benchmarks don’t matter if they aren’t measuring the right thing. It turns out that there’s some solid research to back the theory that looking for equal representation in all institutions may actually be anti-feminist. In a paper for the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers conducting a cross-cultural study of 55 nations found that: Overall, higher levels of human development–including…

The Case Against Scouting


I think that the Church should end its relationship with the Scouting program, but not for the reasons you might think. No, this isn’t a post about homosexuality or even about gender equity, or at least about gender equity as it usually gets discussed on this issue. Indeed, in many ways, I think that girls are served better by the Church than are boys. This is because I think that in many ways that YW program is superior to the YM program. It is true that in some units more gets spent per young men than per young women. This issue is actually extremely complicated and varies from unit to unit. The complexity comes from the fact that youth spending comes from a variety of budgets at both the ward and the stake level and you need to include all sources of funding to get a clear sense of per capita budgeting. (Yes, I have got many headaches tying to figure out exactly how much got budgeted per young man or young woman in my ward and then trying to insure that the budgets are pretty much equal.) Still, in many – perhaps most – units Scouting causes more money…

Literary DCGD #13: Inspired Writings

Lesson 13 of this year’s Gospel Doctrine manual reviews some of the most important contributions of Joseph Smith—the scriptures he brought forth. Through Joseph Smith we have not only the Book of Mormon, but also the Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price and the inspired version of the Bible. In addition, Joseph Smith provided important clarifications of doctrine upon which much of Mormon doctrine is founded. The following poem addresses Smith’s inspired writings.

Study Genesis and the Gospels through Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, this weekend only (updated)


One issue that appears repeatedly when studying scripture is dealing with conflicting accounts and multiple perspectives. We have four Gospels that vary in detail, several creation stories, both inside the Bible (Gen 1-2:4, 2:4ff, and the scattered watery Chaoskampf account), and outside (Genesis accounts, Book of Moses, Book of Abraham, Temple), as well as two conflicting accounts of Israelite history (Samuel-Kings vs. Chronicles), and two interpretations of the destruction of Ammonihah (Alma 16-17 vs 25, see Grant Hardy’s article). Our modern tendency is to treat all of these, and indeed nearly all scripture, strictly as history, although bad or inaccurate history, and since we really don’t like multiple accounts, we then wrest ahem… harmonize them. To some extent, that misses the point; none of these were written as history as the modern person would understand it, as a dispassionate, journalistic wie-es-eigentlich-gewesen how-it-really-happened neutral account written down by an eyewitness clerk. Perhaps that’s a bit exaggerated.

A Very Short History of Gender and Participation at Times and Seasons

Times and Seasons began life, in November 2003, as an institution where men held all leadership and speaking positions. Really! There were four of us: Adam, Matt, Nate, and me; the first post was by Adam. And we men all felt very important in our roles as T&S bloggers. In fact, we felt so important that we added four more men to the group in quick succession: Greg, Gordon, Jim and Russell. You will note the distinct lack of women’s voices. It was a male-only Permabloggerhood, so to speak. Men and women are different, you know: Men blog, and women pinterest! It’s like two complementary shrubs with slightly different roles. Alas, our well-tended shrubbery came crashing to a halt when Kristine joined the group in February of 2004. And while Kristine eventually embarked for parts unknown, Julie and other women continued to brazenly seek — and receive! — ordination to the previously-all-male Permabloggerhood. Against all historical precedent, too. And as you can see, this shift has had nothing short of a devastating effect on male participation at T&S. Indeed, since that fateful day in 2004, the men of T&S have been forever silent.

Dealing With the Problem of Men’s Participation

One issue that people seem to raise against extending priesthood to women is its effect on men. Men, the argument goes, will be less engaged in the Church if priesthood is not a male-only domain. Because this is a practical, rather than a normative, claim, it doesn’t call for a revelatory solution. Moreover, to the extent male engagement is a real problem, the problem continues even if and after the prophet receives a revelation making priesthood available to men and women. And if it’s a real problem, we need to deal with it. Keeping men engaged at the expense of women is not a justifiable goal, but keeping men engaged is. As Julie points out on another thread, we “need to consider how to keep a generation raised on ‘yours is a sacred duty . . .’ rhetoric active after they aren’t unique any more.” The good new is, I don’t think it would be that hard to continue male engagement even in a world where all members could hold the priesthood. I assume, of course, that it isn’t exclusivity in holding the priesthood that encourages male engagement; rather, it is the ability to exercise that priesthood by, among other things, serving…

Dumb Reasons for Exclusively Male Priesthood

This post is a follow up to Kaimi’s thoughtful post I’m a Mormon, and I believe that women… For the record, I don’t actually “believe that women should be eligible for Priesthood ordination.” Rather, I think it would be helpful and I see no overriding reason why it shouldn’t happen. Neither do I see scriptural/doctrinal evidence to show that the scriptural “man” means “mankind” most of the time — but only males when it pertains to the priesthood. I do not believe the issue has been addressed completely. Authoritative statements seem to indicate a long-term acceptance of cultural patriarchy rather than any attempt to address how it contrasts with our more inclusive culture or to see if changes can, indeed, be made to include women. My hope is for divine clarification on the matter of gender in the church as well as eternally. Below I will address a number of statements I have heard over the years with regard to women and the priesthood. These are actual quotes and most are common. I think they are dumb. That doesn’t mean there aren’t reasons that aren’t dumb. There are. (I think.) But I hope we can move past the dumb objections…

I’m a Mormon Easy Chair and I believe that women

Not an easy job.

… should not get ordained to the priesthood. I know that reasonable chairs can disagree, but as Frank’s easy chair, I know what to expect once women are ordained. Frank is going to spend a lot more time sitting on me. Probably asleep. Sure, it will start with a little story time to the kids, but the end is both obvious and predictable. Naptime. Admittedly, I have a steel reinforced frame and ample cushioning, but Frank is not a light guy. Nor, to put it frankly, is he getting any lighter as the years pass. So if you care about more than just people and consider all the world’s marvels, please don’t forget us — the oppressed easy chairs of the world. The downtrodden. Keep Frank off of me. And that will be a fantastic step forward for the community, and a cause to rejoice. Hi, I’m Frank’s easy chair and I have no idea what the Church should do about priesthood ordination, but I’m pretty sure that ordaining women is going to make my life worse.

I’m a Mormon, and I believe that women

. . . should be eligible for Priesthood ordination. So do these other lovely people. Please check out some of the profiles, if it’s a topic that interests you, or visit our facebook page for more discussion. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and I know that reasonable people can disagree here. But I do think that one can very much believe in female ordination within the Mormon framework. It fits well into the narrative of ever-expanding Priesthood eligibility in LDS theology, I think (ever-expanding circles from Levites to Israelites to Gentiles, and finally to all men in 1978). It also fits well into many LDS ideas on gender — if men and women are fundamentally different as church leaders suggest, then men may not be able to adequately represent women’s interests. It meshes well with statements from LDS history, such as Joseph Smith’s prophecy that the Relief Society would be a “kingdom of priests.” It engages President Hinckley’s public suggestion that members interested in ordination should agitate a little. Heck, it even dovetails nicely with a Harvard study or two. But most importantly of all, it matters a lot to many LDS women about whom I care…

Genesis vs. Science: Background, Readings, and Discussion

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One of the problems that crops up with Genesis is its proper context, its genre, what background it should be read against (modern science or ancient Near East?) That is, modern western English readers have a particular (modern) worldview with various questions and issues. When they read Genesis, they naturally place it into that setting, and read it against that (modern) background, which creates conflict. It’s as if we’ve summoned an expert witness to trial, only to surprise her with questions far outside her area of expertise. Although she gives strong indications to that effect, the judge forcefully says, “Just answer the questions please!” The lawyers seize upon any statement, and force it into relevance. Only recently have defense attorneys appeared in the courtroom to object to this treatment, with several lengthy briefs detailed below. The history of interpretation of Genesis’ early chapters is fascinating, particularly the science/religion debate. The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design, Expanded Edition is a great history of the interpreters and the conflict generated by their interpretations. Alas, Mormons get several mentions. 1  Another good volume on the science side is Saving Darwin, which I found enlightening. The commonly-held and mistaken view of the history of interpretation…

Theology, Worship, and Children’s Games

2013 03 18 Carl Bloch Christ and Child

I believe in theology as a kind of worship. To spend time and effort in the attempt to reason out the philosophical context for and implications of Mormon doctrine is an affirmation of the authenticity with which we embrace that doctrine. Intellectually wrestling with the angels is thus properly seen as an individual responsibility rather than an institutional prerogative. Theology can never take the place of other forms of worship–from music to service–but it can and should exist alongside them. One of the important things to note about this conception of theology is that, in this as in all endeavors, we are ultimately unprofitable servants. One small disagreement I have with Adam Miller’s Rube Goldberg Machines is that I don’t believe theology to be uniquely pointless. In all that we attempt in this mortal life, we are little children in the truest sense of the phrase. Our attempt to reason out the true nature of God is no more prone to ultimate success than a four year old trying to get to the moon on a rocket ship made out of pillows, blankets, and cardboard. However, our attempts at theology are no less vital and imperative to our spiritual development than…

Literary DCGD #12: The Gathering of Zion


One of the most modified Mormon doctrines is the doctrine of the gathering—the idea that Church members should move to a central gathering spot to build up Zion in this dispensation. D&C lesson 12 teaches about this doctrine, the subject of many of the sections in the Doctrine and Covenants. Under this doctrine, Mormons have “gathered” to Kirtland, Ohio, Independence, Missouri and other areas in that state, Nauvoo, Illinois and Salt Lake City, Utah and perhaps other places. Other Mormon sects have likewise sought to gather members to central locations. Hundreds of thousands of converts have left their homes to travel thousands of miles as a result of the teaching that saints should be gathered in one place. And often after reaching the gathering place, they have suffered persecution there, and then moved to a new gathering place. In the following poem, Evan M. Greene expressed the feelings of the saints about this commandment.

Literary DCGD #11: Bold Pilgrim

One of the early focuses of the Doctrine and Covenants is missionary work. Repeatedly the Lord advises the Church in revelation that “the field is white, already to harvest,” and encourages missionaries to labor with “all your heart, might, mind and strength.” Church members are urged to prepare and to “open your mouths” to warn and convert neighbors. And these themes did appear in early Mormon poetry, including this work, which was written by the first Mormon missionary to die in the field outside of the United States, Lorenzo D. Barnes.

Literary Lorenzo Snow #6: Saturday Evening Thoughts

Chapter 6 of the Lorenzo Snow manual discusses President Snow’s teachings about perfection—his encouragement of gradual improvement, diligence and patience and the role of repentance in obtaining perfection. One of the concepts that stands out to me is the requirement for patience and endurance in reaching perfection. These themes can also be found in his sister’s poem that follows.

With apologies to President Kimball, Shorten Your Stride! Or, thoughts on running, scriptures, and pushing metaphors too far.

6.5 miles in full outfit- Smartwool, gps/hr, camelbak, ipod, goofy grin, etc.

As I lie in bed before falling asleep, the mental inventory of the day can take a toll, inevitably a combo of Jesus’ “these you ought to have done without leaving the others undone” and Paul’s  “I do not act as I mean to… the good things I intend to do, I never do.” 1 Among all the other omissions and commissions of modern life, it’s very healthy to have at least one personal victory each day. If that personal victory turns out to have mental, physical, and emotional benefits such as running does, so much the better.  I’ve become much more of a runner in recent years than I ever was in high school or college. Consequently, I’ve thought more about President Kimball’s saying and taken more note of the various running metaphors in the scriptures. Show 1 footnote These are paraphrased, and read more as pertaining to to-do lists than moral obligations. ↩

My Problem With the Couplet


In 1840, almost nine years before being called as an LDS apostle, while he was listening to a friend read from the scriptures, Lorenzo Snow experienced a sudden enlightenment that he apparently regarded as a revelation from God. He summarized his enlightenment in this well known verse (which I’ll call the Couplet): As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be. Neither the Couplet, nor any alternative account of Lorenzo Snow’s pre-apostolic claimed revelation, has been canonized. It is not scripture. The first part of the Couplet in particular encourages the belief by rank and file Mormons that, once upon a time, God the Father was just some mortal guy on a planet near Kolob, but that he grew up to be God. This view is contrary to LDS scripture, yet many Mormons have been taught something like this while growing up and seem to assume it is part of the LDS gospel. Now Chapter 5 of the current priesthood manual comes along and, by highlighting the Couplet with no additional commentary on the meaning or limits of the first clause, effectively confirms this questionable and problematic understanding for some readers. Isn’t this the sort…

Can the IRS Forbid Tithe-Paying?

Recently, the U.S. Tax Court issued an opinion of at least glancing interest to the Mormon community (and, for that matter, any tithe-paying religious community). The plaintiff in the case is the president of Compliance Innovations, Inc. He’s also a life-long Mormon who currently serves as a shift coordinator at the Manhattan temple and a stake scouting coordinator in his New Jersey stake. Also, George has incredible outstanding tax liabilities.

What the Church Is Not For

2013 03 11 The Prodigal son

The hardest time of my mission, and one of the hardest time of my life, was serving as an office elder. The job was incredibly stressful. I had days that started at 4 AM and did not end until after 10 PM. The worst part of the job, however, was that there was no teaching. Neither the office elders nor the AP’s had had a teaching pool in the memory of anyone in the mission. In the 6 months that I served in the office, I had time to go tracting exactly once. I vividly remember getting on my knees one Saturday evening, and telling God that if he did not find someone for me to teach, that I would not make it. I went to sleep confident that there would be an investigator for me to start teaching at church the next day. There was. Teaching that family became the most important part of my life. I did not have a regular companion and so sometimes I took an AP and other times I took an office elder. Even though it was only one discussion per week, it kept me sane. It was the most sacred experience of my mission. During this time a general authority came to visit…

Forced Testimony

And so we have a tension: the imperative to share our testimony, and by so testifying to reinforce and strengthen it, opposed to the need to keep our most sacred knowledge untarnished and protected from the cheapness of overexposure.

Literary Lorenzo Snow #5: Pre-Existence


Lorenzo Snow’s teachings on man’s destiny and on the nature of God have often been met with both criticism from non-Mormons and wonder from members. His couplet about the past of God and the future of man (mentioned in the lesson), encapsulates an important part of Mormon theology, something that has been even encapsulated in our poetry, such as in his sister Eliza’s well-known poem, today sung as the hymn O My Father. But that hymn is not the only poetical expression of these teachings.