Author: Rosalynde Welch

Mormon filmmaker explores sex and singleness at Duck Beach


The topic of sex and the Mormon single is a perennial favorite in the bloggernacle, and recently it has drawn national attention as well. No treatment of the topic would be complete without a look at the Duck Beach phenomenon, an informal annual gathering of east coast LDS singles in North Carolina that is equal parts Jersey Shore and Temple Square. LDS filmmaker Stephen Frandsen (my cousin) and his production company Big Iron Productions have trained a thoughtful lens on this singular affair, and are currently in the process of financing and producing a documentary exploring its relevance. We’re pleased to share an interview with Stephen Frandsen here, and we invite readers to add their own experiences with or impressions of Duck Beach in the comments. The filmmakers are actively seeking further participants who are willing to share their stories, and they will be pleased to respond to questions in the comments here.  Finally, please do consider donating to the…

Do we still teach homemaking?

A guest post from our friend and colleague emeritus, Russell Arben Fox. The title of this post isn’t a snark; it’s an open question, about which I am genuinely curious. (I’m also giving a presentation on this topic next week at the Midwest Sunstone/Restoration Studies conference, so my ulterior motive is a fishing expedition for anecdotes from the Collected Saints of the Bloggernacle.)

Introducing Adam Miller, guest blogger


It’s my pleasure to announce that Adam Miller will join T&S as a guest blogger. Adam S. Miller is a professor of philosophy at Collin College in McKinney, Texas. He is the author of Badiou, Marion, and St Paul: Immanent Grace (Continuum, 2008), the director of the Mormon Theology Seminar (, and a managing editor at Salt Press ( The Mormon Review recently featured his essay on the film Groundhog Day, which was highlighted here on T&S. Adam has planned a series of posts on George Handley’s recently-released book Home Waters: A Year of Recompenses on the Provo River. Miller on Handley is sure to be a feast of poetry. Welcome Adam!

Faith frames the pie, and other reasons to be grateful

Today I, with millions of other home cooks around the country, will be getting frisky in the kitchen with all manner of saturated fats and simple carbohydrates as I beget a table full of gorgeous harvest pies. I make pie once a year, the day before Thanksgiving; the rest of the year I prefer my saturated fats and simple carbohydrates in other forms. But at about 4:00 on Thanksgiving Day, surrounded by a riot of dirty dishes and family, there’s nothing in this world or out of it that tastes better. Social scientists would call my Thanksgiving palate a “framing effect”.  The framing effect is an important concept in economics and psychology, describing the way in which the presentation of an object or idea in different contexts will change people’s decision-making.  By swapping out one emotional frame for another—Thanksgiving Day for Easter, say—we change our perception of the object or opportunity at hand, even though it remains objectively constant. Pie…

What we talk about when we talk about God

photo courtesy of wikimedia commons

Bruce Feiler’s daughter was just five when she pitched him a question right to the gut of religious experience:  “Daddy, if I speak to God, will he listen?” Feiler writes books on the Bible and God for a living, so he’d presumably given the question some thought. Nevertheless he had no good answer ready for his daughter. So he did what any loving parent would do:  answered the question with an inartful dodge, and then wrote about it in the New York Times style section. How do we answer our children’s questions about God, he asked, when we are ourselves doubtful, confused, or otherwise conflicted? Feiler solicited comments on the matter from a formerly-Catholic agnostic playwright, a formerly-Episcopalian agnostic New Testament scholar, and a popular Conservative rabbi in Los Angeles.  It’s not hard to guess the direction their responses took.  Among the educated elite readership of the NYT, a kind of ritualistic doubt partners with a set of tolerant gestures…

Once upon a time on earth: the Church in a changing world


In debates over controversial religious issues, one often encounters a certain kind of argument from history, a sort of “once upon a time” argument. Once upon a time, it’s argued, the Church considered a given practice or belief, from witchcraft to usury to the heliocentric cosmos, to be immoral, unbiblical or otherwise forbidden.  The particular practice or belief in question varies, but the structure of the argument and its implication are nearly always the same: the Church once considered such-and-such to be evil, but now it doesn’t; thus by means of a progressive trope of enlightenment, the argument proceeds, the Church should also de-stigmatize and embrace the controversial topic at hand. (Often, it should be noted, these arguments are made with a great deal of care and nuance and insight.) In one sense, I’m sympathetic to this argument. I share the view that knowledge of and from God is a profoundly historical and historicized knowledge—and it that sense, it is…

I thought he asked a really good question, actually.

Most of the commentary that I have read on Elder Packer’s talk (and I have not read widely) treats the decamped rhetorical question as an emotional and political flashpoint.  But I think it’s more productively understood as a confounding question of theology, even theodicy.  The removal of those nine words from the published version does nothing to resolve the underlying doctrinal problem. First let me say that I understood Elder Packer’s talk to take up implicitly but very clearly the question of the origins of homosexual desire. Others interpret it differently, but that was how I heard it at delivery, and that is still how I understand the published version. Elder Packer suggests that the provenance of homosexuality matters, very much, and that sexual identity matters, very much, in the Mormon understanding of human nature and destiny. In this sense, Elder Packer’s real challenge is not directed at gay men and women, or even at gay rights activists, but at…

Halloween plays a trick on Sabbath observance

photo credit Rasmus Thomsen

In October a young kid’s fancy swiftly turns to thoughts of treats. With four young kids in our home, you can guess what’s on our minds lately. At our house we celebrate a thoroughly domesticated Halloween, with no concerns about satanism or sugar, just plenty of candy corn and friendly ghosts and homely, homemade costumes. And trick-or-treating. But this year the calendar plays a trick on us: Halloween falls on a Sunday. We observe the Sabbath in a fairly rigorous but, I hope, joyful and worshipful way: we commune at Church, and we rest, read, play, walk, bike, share food and music, and make occasional family expeditions during the rest of the day. We don’t shop, swim, sport, party, or work (beyond the necessities) on Sundays. This is a fairly arbitrary regimen, and other Christians surely draw their lines in different places, but that’s how the Sabbath visits our home. We want Sunday to be a day of joy for…

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…

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…

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.…

Mastering the art of Mormon cooking


The Atlantic’s food channel recently posted an article entitled Jello Love: A Guide to Mormon Cuisine (my co-blogger kindly linked to it in the sidebar).  The author lived in Utah for a time as child, and she knows whereof she speaks.  The piece is charming, nostalgic and mostly reality-based.  But I blog, therefore I quibble. Classic Mormon fare seems to have crystallized as a cuisine in the 70s or 80s, though I couldn’t tell you why that’s so.  In a lot of ways, its provenance is a bit of a mystery:  I doubt that any of the dishes originated among Mormons—they tend to be familiar in the Midwest and South—and none of them have obvious connections to Mormon history, except for their suitability for ward potlucks. One might expect Mormon cooking to reflect our practice of storing three-month or year supplies of staple foods—and in reality, “food storage” meals incorporating beans, wheat, and powdered milk do rotate regularly across many…

James Alison and the reconciled discourse of dissent

James Alison. Photo couresy of

Last week a friend invited me to attend a lecture sponsored by the  SLU Theology Club and featuring James Alison, a Roman Catholic priest and theologian.  Alison grew up in Britain, was raised in a low-church Protestant tradition, converted to Catholicism, and now resides in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, living as an openly gay Catholic and working with AIDS patients. That collision of proper nouns seemed provocative. The talk was to be titled “The Gift of the Spirit and the Shape of Belonging: Meditations on the Church as Ecclesial Sign.”  Even more promising: Catholic ecclesiology shares something in common with its LDS counterpart, inasmuch as both traditions revere an ecclesiastical hierarchy and value orthodoxy, and I hoped that Alison’s remarks might offer a wavy mirror on the shape of my own belonging. I was not disappointed.  Alison opened by observing that ecclesiology, or contemplation of the church as an institution, is always a “broken-hearted” discourse, informed by communal contrition and enlivened by…

Cardinal George on religious freedom at BYU

His Eminence Francis Cardinal George

A loyal reader requested that I blog about His Eminence Francis Cardinal George’s speech at Brigham Young University last month, available to download here.  Ever the faithful servant of my reading public, all three of you, I respond with alacrity! BYU often invites prominent figures to address the university community on topics of mutual interest, and Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago and President of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, graciously contributed to the long-running series with his February 23 remarks entitled “Catholics and Latter-day Saints: Partners in the defense of religious freedom.” Cardinal George framed his remarks within the cooperative efforts undertaken by Catholics and Latter-day Saints: from the friendly relations  at home between LDS church leadership and the Catholic diocese of Salt Lake City, to the communities’ mutual interest in the moral health of American society in matters of life, family, and pornography, to the many and far-flung charitable efforts  jointly carried out by Catholic Charities and LDS Philanthropies. He devoted…

Reading lessons: interfaith, intertext, intersect

Rabbi John Borak. Photo courtesy of Ben Munson.

Last Saturday morning I attended an interfaith Torah study session, warmly hosted at the Shaare Emeth congregation and jointly led by LDS and Jewish presenters. The discussion focused on the week’s Torah portion, parashat bo, which recounts the story in Exodus 10 of the plagues visited on Pharaoh at his refusal to free the Israelites. It’s a challenging tale, both narratively and ethically, and Rabbi John Borak and Mark Paredes each shed some light on the special difficulties and rewards of those verses. As I listened to the speakers’ presentations, I was impressed, beyond any particular interpretive insight into Pharoah or Moses, by the fruitful differences between Jewish and LDS practices of scripture study. Rabbi Borak focused his discussion around the central moral problem in the story: the text states that God hardened Pharoah’s heart against the Israelites, implying that God is ultimately responsible for the suffering of both the Egyptians and the Israelites. From the Rabbi’s discussion handout: If…

A New World Christmas

photo courtesy of flickr

As I’ve mentioned before, Mormons don’t follow the traditional liturgical calendar, but that won’t stop me from using this January 6, the twelfth day of Christmas and the feast of Epiphany or Three Kings Day, as a happy occasion to put up the one last Christmas post that escaped December. (It’s also a great reason to enjoy my Christmas decorations—and avoid the chore of taking them down—for just one… more… night.) Several days before Christmas I attended a concert by the St Louis Chamber Chorus at the Cathedral Basilica. I’ve attended this concert most years that I’ve lived in St Louis, and it’s always a spiritual highlight of my season. This year’s program was a counterpart to last year’s: the 2008 concert was titled “An Old World Christmas”; this year’s was “A New World Christmas.” The choir’s artistic director Philip Barnes designed a thoughtful program spanning the breadth of American—North and South—history, geography, religious variety and musical idiom. The project…

The globe and the gourd: Christianity in a global world

Photo courtesy of Ben Munson

It’s a small object, not a simple one: a Peruvian nativity carving, fashioned inside a gourd from intricate wood figures painted in bright colors. It was on display at the creche festival last weekend; I lingered over it for a moment, pointed out the tiny llama to my children, and moved on long before its meaning had bloomed. The object is a simple commemoration of Jesus’ birth, that much we read on its surface. But it’s also a tale of the complex intersection of Christianity and globalization in the modern world. Any powerful set of ideas will make several curtain calls in the long drama of history. Christianity has taken the stage in the company of an empire or two, conflicts both local and far-flung, and migrations and social movements of all sorts. In our current scene, Christianity is one of the ideological actors competing to explain and direct an accelerating pageant of globalizing geopolitics. In a sense, Christianity has…

A weak defense of the consumer’s Christmas

Picture 24

My co-blogger Sharon put up a most enjoyable post a few weeks ago. I liked it so much that I’m going to pay it the compliment of differing with one or two of its points. (In blog etiquette, after all, quibbling is the highest form of flattery.) Sharon points us toward a Christian anti-consumerist movement called Advent Conspiracy, which takes as is raison d’etre an apparent cultural contradiction. “What was once a time to celebrate the birth of a savior has somehow turned into a season of stress, traffic jams, and shopping lists,” the site’s copy reads. “What if Christmas became a world-changing event again? Welcome to Advent Conspiracy.”

What do we mean by “families are forever”?

Over at my other blog, a reader posted the following question: On a related LDS family matter, many of us have been confronted by Mormon missionaries with a message, or even a free DVD, of “Families are Forever.” A sincere, respectful question: isn’t this motto a solution in search of a problem? That is, what Christian believes there is separation or division among the blessed in heaven? Of course, Jesus himself teaches in extremely plain and simple terms, and Christian history has always held, that there is no marriage in heaven as we know marriage. But, shared Christian belief realizes that the communion among believers in heaven results in a bond significantly greater in love than what we perceive in our knowledge of marriage. That bond is a consequence of the everlasting worship and praising of God. Why wouldn’t God be the focus of any discussion involving the word “forever”? Here’s what I answered:

The very thought is sweet

Leftover Halloween candy languishes in its plastic pumpkin on top of the refrigerator; for the moment, the kids are satiated and I’m being good. All the sugar brings to mind a favorite hymn, “Jesus, the very thought of thee,” a few stanzas of which are here: Jesus, the very thought of Thee With sweetness fills the breast; But sweeter far Thy face to see, And in Thy presence rest.

Day of the Dead, Lord of Life

cross posted at Civil Religion “Death be not proud,” taunted John Donne. “One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally, / And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.” Death interrupts our view of eternity, a fearsome jalousie obscuring a future we must approach. Like Donne, we console and distract ourselves by turns with bravado, with pleasure, with laughter and—finally, always—with God.

St Louis Mormon Historical Society meets Friday

Trivia fact for the day: the Mormon church operated a newspaper, the St. Louis Luminary, from November 1854 to December 1855. The periodical served the large community of transient Latter-day Saints, many of whom stopped in St Louis to replenish their strength (and funds) after the first leg of their journey to the Salt Lake Valley. In 1855, the paper commented, “There is probably no city in the world where Latter-day Saints are more respected, and where they may sooner obtain an outfit for Utah. … The hand of the Lord is in these things.” If you’re intrigued, and you live in the St Louis area, you can learn more about the early history of Mormons in St Louis at the first meeting of the St Louis Mormon Historical Society. The event will take place tomorrow night, Friday, October 30, at 7:00 pm at The Lodge Des Peres. It promises to be an interesting evening, and I’m hoping to attend…

Human life, religious voices and the public square

Cross-posted at Civil Religion. Last week the New York Times published a two–part series on artificial reproductive technologies. The series makes a riveting read, as writer Stephanie Saul narrates the joys and terrors of premature birth, high order multiples, NICU stays, and—finally, sometimes—the precious goal, a baby at home with a family.

Holland and the gap, again

Leaving aside disagreements about Elder Holland’s tone and speculations about the talk’s effect on believers and skeptics—not that those are unimportant, but that they’re being vigorously played out elsewhere—I want to make a narrow point about the philosophical underpinnings* of his talk.

Conscience in the Obama Era

I linked yesterday on the sidebar to Stanley Fish’s latest editorial in the New York Times, which takes as its occasion the possibility that President Obama will revoke the “conscience clause” allowing health care providers the right to refuse to provide certain services. I thought I’d add a few thoughts here.*