Month: April 2013


On his deathbed, Queequeg asks the ship’s carpenter to fashion him a burial canoe. So fashioned, Queequeg demands to lay himself the length of it, testing its virtue. Then, having abruptly remembered something he’d forgotten to do, he decides not to die after all and rises from the grave.

Another Post about Mormons and Science Fiction

2013-04-29 The Host

The topic of Mormons and science fiction seems to crop up with decent regularity every couple of years, and with the recent release of the film adaptation of The Host and the impending release (finally!) of the film adaptation of Ender’s Game, we’re probably about due for another round. This is a topic that I particularly love because it involves two of my greatest passions. I’ve read lots of really good ideas about what it is that makes so many Mormons write science fiction, why Mormons ought to write “fairy-tales”, and of course the caveat that Mormons might not actually write that much science fiction: they might just be really visible when they do. The empirical question of whether or not Mormons are actually over represented in sci-fi will have to wait for someone feeling more ambitious than I am at the moment, but even if they are not it might still be interesting. As Scott Parkins said: If you look at the sciences, Mormons are disproportionately represented as scientists, but what’s more intriguing is that more successful scientists are LDS proportionate to the total than other representatives of religion that are active in their faith. I think that carries through here. In…

Literary DCGD #17: A Satire on Avarice

John Lyon

Its hard to find poetry about tithing! I suppose since tithing wasn’t emphasized as much by the Church before the beginning of the 20th century, Mormon poets didn’t focus on the concept. Or, it might simply be that the subject matter doesn’t work well in poetry; certainly the word “tithing” isn’t very poetic, leaving me with visions of bad poetry in which every line ends with a present participle. Its enough to set my ears ringing! But, I suspect that tithing is such a basic concept that my chronological review of poetry, still mired in the late 1840s, just hasn’t come across the poetic reactions to the principle. But I did finally come across the following poem, which gets close, mentioning “the outlay of your money for the Church.”

Dell, Obedience, and Parachute Mishaps

or Sell!

Last week, as the PC market faced DOOM!, Dell had a potential buyer, Blackstone, back out.  While that was not particularly interesting to me, what happened next was.  Another investor, Oakmark Funds, sold their 24.5 million Dell shares.  To quote: A “potential acquirer with access to non-public information decided to end its quest to acquire Dell at a higher price. Since they had information we didn’t, we believed it was prudent to assume they might be right. So we sold our stock and will put the proceeds into other stocks that we are more confident are undervalued,” said Bill Nygren, co-portfolio manager of the Oakmark Fund… Blackstone, in their private dealings with Dell, likely saw things that Oakmark could not.  And what Blackstone saw freaked Blackstone out.  Oakmark took that as a signal that now was a good time to not own 1.4% of Dell. This is a great example of a person recognizing his own ignorance and then leveraging the fact that, even though he doesn’t know all he’d like, he knows a person who does know more.  So he follows that person.  Given that we want to do what God wants us to, but we don’t actually know…

So, how many missionaries will be serving next year?

Missionaries Serving

I made a mistake. The week before conference the LDS Church Growth blog, analyzing a Church news release, projected that the number of missionaries serving could pass 100,000 by the end of 2013 or early 2014. When the news appeared in a facbook group I follow, I thought it seemed overly optimistic. I realized soon after the announcement last October that we would have a surge in missionaries, as 18-year-olds joined the 19 and 20-year-old Elders serving, and as 19 and 20-year-old Sisters joined the 21 and 22-year-old Sisters serving. So, I though, the number of missionaries will jump to 80,000 or 90,000 and then fall back down to something a bit above current levels, as we get to a missionary force that mainly started at 18 (for Elders) and 19 (for Sisters). To confirm this, I put together a spreadsheet model. And I was quite surprised.

Mustard sandwiches and melted ice cream

This is a talk I delivered in Sacrament Meeting this past Sunday, on the topic “Using General Conference addresses in our personal study.”   At the center of Mormon self-understanding is the idea that God reveals himself in the present day, to prophets and to individuals.What, then, is the character of that continued revelation?  We’ve been studying the D&C in Sunday school this year, so we have examples close at hand. I want to look at two passages, chosen for their differences. Listen for the contrast in tone; how would you describe the flavor? Here’s the first, from section 1: Hearken, O ye people of my church, saith the voice of him who dwells on high, and whose eyes are upon all men … For verily the voice of the Lord is unto all men, and there is none to escape…. And the rebellious shall be pierced with much sorrow; for their iniquities shall be spoken upon the housetops, and their secret acts shall be revealed… They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god. And here’s the second, from section 19: Behold, ye…

18 is the new 19

Six months ago, at the October 2012 General Conference, President Monson announced the missionary age change. Here is his report on how things are going, delivered earlier this month: The response of our young people has been remarkable and inspiring. As of April 4 — two days ago — we have 65,634 full-time missionaries serving, with over 20,000 more who have received their calls but who have not yet entered a missionary training center and over 6,000 more in the interview process with their bishops and stake presidents. It has been necessary for us to create 58 new missions to accommodate the increased numbers of missionaries.

An Overview of LDS Involvement in the Proposition 8 Campaign

I’ve just posted my article, ‘The Divine Institution of Marriage’: An Overview of LDS Involvement in the Proposition 8 Campaign, to SSRN. The article is largely descriptive, setting out in some detail the church’s actions and statements relating to Proposition 8. It chronicles a significant amount of factual material that has not been discussed at all in the existing legal literature. It may be especially relevant to people who have an interest in Proposition 8, same-sex marriage issues, gay rights issues generally, or LDS church issues generally. The full abstract is as follows: “The Divine Institution of Marriage”: An Overview of LDS Involvement in the Proposition 8 Campaign The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon church) was heavily involved in the passage of Proposition 8 in California in November 2008, which restricted marriages recognized under state law to those between a man and a woman (as construed by the California Supreme Court, it prospectively denied legal sanction for same-sex marriages while not interfering with such marriages previously recognized under state law). Church members participated in the Proposition 8 campaign a variety of ways, including extensive fundraising and various publicity efforts such as door-to-door get-out-the-word campaigns. Statements…

Joseph Smith and the Aufhebung of the Reformation (and of Catholicism)

How should Mormons feel about the Reformation? On the one hand, we tend to valorize figures like Tyndale and Luther who defied the religious authorities of their time, setting the stage in many ways for our own radical break with tradition. On the other hand, the need for a Restoration presupposes that the Reformation wasn’t good enough. Jonathan Green argues in a recent post that the Restoration represents a thorough rejection of the Reformation. He focuses on three of Luther’s distinctive teachings: salvation by faith alone, the priesthood of all believers (associated also with a rejection of sacred objects and spaces), and sola scriptura. At one level, there is no arguing with Jonathan. Mormons reject these beliefs in rather dramatic fashion. We are so set on the necessity of baptism and other priesthood ordinances for salvation that we hold it as our duty to perform these ordinances for every soul who ever lived, in case s/he should choose to convert in the next life. We believe a specific restoration of priesthood authority was so important that John the Baptist, the apostles Peter, James, and John, and even the prophet Elijah had to return in angelic form and visit Joseph Smith…

Literary DCGD #16: Sabbath School Opening Hymn


When we discuss the Sabbath in lessons, we can either focus on the things that we should not do to keep the day holy or we can focus on the things we can and should do. The 16th Gospel Doctrine lesson for the Doctrine and Covenants focuses more on the latter than on the former, discussing attending Sunday meetings and taking the sacrament first before moving on to the concept of a day of rest and keeping the day holy. And I think for most Mormons today the focus is on what we do on the Sabbath—go to Church.

This Sunday’s Sacrament Meeting


As a child in the 80s, I remember often feeling a low-level dread. Not constant, not to the extent that it interfered with enjoying life, but the dread of a Cold War child that, any minute, the happy world I lived in might be destroyed in a hail of nuclear fire.[fn1] It didn’t have anything to do with my parents, who didn’t spend any significant amount of time talking about the risk of all-out war. And I don’t recall talking about it at school or at church. But it kind of underlay the culture, emerging not infrequently from the 6:00 news. And then, of course, in 1989, that fear began to crumble. Sadly, fear returned in 2001, and we (meaning, myopically, we in the United States) now live lives of heightened awareness of tragedy, awareness that a person with a bomb or a gun can emerge in the most unexpected places and shatter the peace that we enjoy. I don’t want to comment on the tragedy in Boston; like many people, I’ve watched it in impotent sadness on Twitter and other places on the web. I mourn for those who have been hurt or killed, who have lost friends and…

Seeking New Gifts From God

“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” Thus teaches Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:9. The things that God has planned for us are more wonderful than we can imagine. As wonderful as what we have received is, there is much more, and much greater, to come, both in this life and the next. How should we respond, then, when we are looking for something that God has not yet given us? Should we set aside our yearnings, telling ourselves to be content with what he has given us? Response round one: Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that we should make sure that we acknowledge the goodness of what he has already given us. It is “unto him that receiveth” that God “will give more” (2 Nephi 28:30). I take this to mean that we need to receive, appreciate, and hearken to what we have been given, in order to be deserving of more. This appreciation or gratitude implies seeing the good and finding satisfaction in it, not over-emphasizing what we may think is missing. We need to make sure…

Why Today is Important


After I returned home from my mission I attended a single’s ward in suburban Washington D.C. in which we had an unusual sacrament meeting one Sunday. One after another ward members came to the podium and delivered the words of the children’s song “I am a Child of God,” each in a different language, a language they knew personally. The effect was surprising; all of us were unified—no one was left out from being a child of God, regardless of race, creed, sex or language. My family experienced a similar surprise several years ago when we arrived at Yankee stadium for a ball game in mid April. We arrived in the middle of the first inning and, after a while, we became a little confused—all of the players were wearing the same number. It took us a little while to figure it out, and when we did the impact was big. Symbolically every player was Jackie Robinson; everyone was number 42.

An Ensign Is Not A Roadmap

Goal-setting is a perennial, and for some perennially frustrating, part of Mormonism. I count myself among the frustrated. I have been setting weekly goals for myself since I was a teenager, and I don’t think I’ve ever achieved them all for a single week. I’m getting closer, however. Although I believe that goals are positive and necessary, the costs–especially if expectations are misaligned–can be high. Something to keep in mind is that Church leaders of our generation are selected from a group of very high-achieving professionals. Add to this the willing Mormon tendency towards hagiography, and it’s easy to see how, despite their protestation that goals ought to be realistic, there’s a tendency for members to overreach. Goal-setting is not just a common theme in counsel from the leaders, however, it is also embedded in our institutions. The entire church program seems designed around shuttling children (especially boys) from baptism to a temple marriage through a series of regular milestones: Deacon; Teacher; Priest; Elder; Missionary; Husband. And then… what? After a lifetime spent working to achieve one concrete objective after another, the sudden absence of predetermined goals is disorienting to say the least. I think this is why so many…

Literary Lorenzo Snow #8: The Epitaph

Character not only matters, Lorenzo Snow seems to indicate in the material included in lesson 8 of the Lorenzo Snow manual, it is how we are judged, how the Lord “knows our heart.” This prioritizes, of course, character development, which is, in the end, the focus of this lesson. While I don’t have a Mormon poem that discusses character development itself, I have found several that do discuss what character traits are important, including this one.

Literary DCGD #15: A Prayer


I had a hard time finding a poem that fits with this week’s Gospel Doctrine lesson on spiritual gifts. There just aren’t many that even mention spiritual gifts, and most that do seem to be predominantly about another subject. But I was finally able to find one that focuses on the gift of healing, one of the gifts most emphasized in the LDS Church today. There are many others, of course, and the current tendency seems to be to classify things as spiritual gifts that are part of the normal process of learning and living the gospel—things like teaching, testifying and showing compassion as opposed to the more miraculous gifts of healing, speaking in tongues and prophecy. The following poem is almost a healing blessing itself.

God and Galaxies

A piece of creation: the Andromeda Galaxy

Elder Ballard started out his recent Conference talk “This Is My Work and My Glory” with this description and commentary on the wonder of the night sky: A few weeks ago, on a cold, dark winter’s night, my wife, Barbara, and I looked in awe up at the sky. The millions of stars seemed exceptionally bright and beautiful. I then turned to the Pearl of Great Price and read again with wonder what the Lord God said to Moses: “And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten” (Moses 1:33). In our day the Hubble deep-space telescope has confirmed the magnitude of what Moses saw. Hubble scientists say the Milky Way galaxy, of which our earth and sun are just a tiny part, is estimated to be only one of over 200 billion similar galaxies. For me it is difficult to comprehend, impossible to fathom, so large and so vast are God’s creations.

Joseph Smith and the failure of the Reformation


One of the paradoxes of Mormonism is the heroic status it grants Martin Luther while simultaneously rejecting all of his central teachings. Mormon teachings and the basic narrative of the Restoration in some cases even suggest that the Reformation, however necessary it may have been, was not only incorrect, but also that it was a failure.

Sifting the Sacred from the Mundane

2013-04-08 Panning for Gold

Of all the deaths in Harry Potter, Dobby’s strikes many people the hardest. It did me. There was absolutely no way I could have kept my eyes dry. If John Locke is right, if actions are the best interpreters of mens thoughts, does this mean that my grief was, in the moment, real? Did I believe, at some level, that Dobby had really lived, and then really died? Did I believe the events of the book were true? Obviously I’m not confused about whether house elves do in fact exist, let alone whether or not Harry Potter is fact or fiction, but there’s good reason to believe that our beliefs are not always as tightly under our rational control as we think they are. Consider a mind-bending experiment reported at in which participants were easily duped into employing their rational faculties into the defense of a positions that were diametrically opposed to their real views. The experimental setup was tricky, so I’ll quote at length: The researchers, led by Lars Hall, a cognitive scientist at Lund University in Sweden, recruited 160 volunteers to fill out a 2-page survey on the extent to which they agreed with 12 statements —…

Sunday Afternoon Session

President Uchtdorf is conducting this final session of Conference, with music by the Tabernacle Choir. Invocation by another female, Sister Stephens — they seem to be everywhere this Conference! Benediction by a male Seventy. Direct quotes of a speaker are in quotation marks, otherwise the text is my summary of their remarks.

Sunday Morning Session

President Henry B. Eyring is conducting this session of General Conference. Choir — Go Forth in Faith Conducting — President Henry B. Eyring Choir — Let Zion in Her Beauty Rise Invocation — Elder Steven E. Snow President Dieter F. Uchtdorf — “The Hope of God’s Light” It is part of our condition as mortal beings to sometimes feel as though we are surrounded by darkness. …But even though we may feel lost in the midst of our current circumstances,  God promises the hope of His light–He promises to illuminate the way before us and show us the way out of darkness. We don’t have to wait to cross the finish lines to receive God’s blessings. In fact, the heavens begin to part and the blessings of heaven begin to distill upon us with the very first steps we take toward the light. …The darkness may not dissipate all at once, but as surely as night always gives way to dawn, the light will come. I testify that with Christ, darkness cannot succeed. Darkness will not gain victory over the light of Christ. I bear witness thatt darkness cannot stand before the brilliant light of the Son of the Living…

Priesthood Session

President Uchtdorf conducted the priesthood session, which included a number of strong and inspiring talks. Choir — Arise, Oh God, and Shine Invocation — Elder Ronald W. Rasband Choir — Nearer My God to Me Elder Robert D. Hales — “Stand Strong in Holy Places” Brethren, if we are faithful in the priesthood, this armor will be given to us as a gift from God. We need this armor! If you judge your actions and the standards of the Church on the basis of where the world is and where it’s going, you will find that you are not where you should be. As we press forward along the path, we build progressive spiritual strength —strength in using our agency to act for ourselves. In the strength of the Lord we are able to stand against any philosophy or creed that denies the Savior and contradicts the great, eternal plan of happiness for all of God’s children. We are not authorized to negotiate the conditions of that eternal plan. Elder Ted R. Callister — “The Power of the Priesthood in the Boy” The Priesthood in the boy is just as powerful as the Priesthood in the man when exercised in…

Saturday Afternoon Session

President Eyring conducted the afternoon session. President Uchtdorf read a long list of sustainings and releases, notably releasing President Dalton of the Young Women and calling a new President (Bonnie Lee Green Oscarson) and counselors. The annual audit report and statistical report were read: there are now 3005 stakes and 347 missions. In what follows, direct quotations of a speaker are given in quotation marks; quoted scriptures cited where possible; and other text represents my own summary of the speakers remarks. I will try posting updates after each speaker this session.

Saturday Morning Session

President Uchtdorf conducted this opening session. Opening prayer by a (male) Seventy and music by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Direct quotations of a speaker (based on my real-time listening) are given in quotation marks; other text represents my own summary of their remarks.

Books! A small timely plug (updated!)


As you know, we are to study out of the best books, which entails reading. President Hinckley once lamented, “I confess that I am constantly appalled by the scarcity of my knowledge, and the one resentment I think I carry concerns the many pressing demands which limit the opportunity for reading.”

Why Gay Marriages are a Good Idea but Marriage Equality Worries Me

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the constitutional challenge to Proposition 8. I sat down to write a blog post about my thoughts on gay marriage and kept writing and writing and writing. You can read the results here. Like a lot of Latter-day Saints, I have spent a fair amount of time during the last two decades thinking about gay marriage. For better or for worse, it has been one of the main conundrums of Mormon intellectual discussions for my entire adult life. This essay is an attempt to distill my thinking and conclusions. (At least thus far.) Ultimately, I think that gay marriage is a good idea. I think that recognizing gay marriage has the potential to create stronger gay families and a better environment to grow up in for the children of homosexuals. It also carries within itself the possibility for an ethic of gay chastity, which ultimately strikes me as superior to either gay celibacy or gay promiscuity. I understand that in its fullest religious sense, gay chastity for Latter-day Saints (as opposed to gay celibacy) requires revelation to those with greater religious authority than I, and I am comfortable…