Author: Russell Arben Fox

Purse and Scrip

The early apostles were commanded to go preach the gospel, carrying neither purse nor scrip. Early missionaries in the restored church were similarly commanded: And thou shalt take no purse nor scrip, neither staves, neither two coats, for the church shall give unto thee in the very hour what thou needest for food and for raiment, and for shoes and for money, and for scrip. Somewhere along the line, missionaries began taking purse and scrip. We now pay almost $400 a month to serve a mission. The missionaries in the field receive their stipend each month, and pay their rent, food costs, clothing costs, and such. I recognize that this change is probably a bureaucratic necessity. (It also dovetails better with today’s emphasis on financial responsibility — how responsible is it to eschew purse and scrip?). And yet I wonder sometimes if something has been lost. Today’s missionaries may have greater certainty about where their next meal is coming from,…

Happy Easter!

Christ, the Lord, is risen today, Alleluia! Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia! Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia! Sing, ye heavens, and earth, reply, Alleluia! Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia! Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia! Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia! Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!

Ground Rules for Comments

Over the past few weeks, the comments in certain posts have started to follow a trend that I really dislike: One commenter or poster makes an argument, and then someone who disagrees with that position attacks the writer personally, rather than critiquing their argument. This has led to some argumentative threads full of name-calling and insults. That’s not what I’m trying to cultivate here — and frankly, it’s my blog (shared), so I can cultivate what I want to. I have put a lot of time and energy into this blog, and my co-bloggers have as well. None of us want to see threads turn into name-calling contests. It’s time to end this trend. So, here’s MY ultimatum — as one of the owners and operators of this blog. Read it well, since you will all be held to it.

Good Friday–Bitter Journey

Many of you have seen this before; Beliefnet first made it available on their website back in 1999. But if you haven’t, take the time (even if you only have a dial-up connection) to load and watch this powerful multimedia feature, “Bitter Journey: The Way of the Cross”. Not only is it haunting, but it carefully distills Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant liturgies and referents to the Passion into a powerful, unified message: one of pain, and gratitude, and humility, and awe, at Christ’s death for our sake.

General Conference Predictions*

Six months ago, just before the October 2003 General Conference, I e-mailed the following statement to several friends of mine: “I predict at least one complete sermon addressing nothing but the necessity of defending ‘traditional marriage,’ with possibly multiple others touching on such topics as ‘legalizing morality,’ treating people with same-sex attraction with sympathyand so forth. Furthermore, I’ll go out on a limb and make a further, more dubious, prediction: someone, or several someones, will either implicitly or explicitly link the final passage in the Proclamation on the Family (‘We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society’) to the current effort to pass a federal marriage amendment, thereby making it essentially official church policy to actively oppose any efforts to block the passage of that amendment. And that means that supporting or endorsing efforts to legalize same-sex unions will, again, be…

Mormon Literature Won’t Be Left Behind Again!

Once I brought up the issue of Mormon literature, asking for recommendations and opinions about fiction written by and for the LDS audience. (The thread rapidly turned into another throw-down about R-rated movies, but that’s neither here nor there.) I haven’t been able to do much fiction reading since then, but I still like to keep up on what’s available via the Deseret Book catalogue, as much as I gripe about it, if only to know what I’m missing. (Hey, Sam and Charly’s son is all grown up and serving a mission!) The latest catalogue made one thing pretty clear to me: Mormon authors have caught the Left Behind wave.

Obligatory Semi-Weekly Times & Seasons Homosexuality and Same-Sex Marriage Post, #13 (Yes, I’ve Counted)

Two BYU political science professors denounce the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment. One BYU law professor defends it. Both are solid expressions of their respective points of view. Responding to them will, of course, turn this thread into a debate over the nature of marriage–but before that happens, I’d like to point out that marriage itself plays almost no role in their actual claims.

About the McKay Quote…

As part of a different project, I found myself trying to track down the specifics of the famous quote: “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.” It’s possibly the most oft-repeated General Authority statement is the contemporary church; certainly it would give even certain famous statements by Joseph Smith a run for their money. President David O. McKay made this statement, as far as I can tell, at least twice from the pulpit during general conference; once as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve in April 1935, and once as president of the church in April 1964. (Neither of which are available on the church website–if someone has copies of conference reports from those dates, perhaps on cd-rom, I’d be very interested in getting reading McKay’s talks and getting the full context for the quote.) It is not original with President Mckay; he’s quoting a man named J. E. (James Edwards) McCulloch, who made this…

What Do (and Should) We Call Our Brothers and Sisters?

Last night, at our weekly elder’s quorum presidency meeting, I was struck once again at a verbal habit of our secretary: he refers to just about everyone in the ward as “Sister (or “Brother”) [insert first name].” I’m “Brother Russell.” The elder’s quorum president is “Brother Craig.” The Relief Society president is “Sister Mel.” In 35 years of life in the church, I’ve never before met someone who regularly speaks this way to fellow ward members in casual conversation. I’m familiar with this locution primarily through its historical association with Brigham Young, particularly via the writings of Hugh Nibley and especially Eugene England’s wonderful (and unfortunately out of print) biography, Brother Brigham. I had kind of assumed that it was a 19th-century style that had died out, but this fellow is hardly the sort to adopt a historical affectation. Perhaps it’s a regional and/or class thing? (Our quorum secretary is from Springville, UT, was born and raised there, never had…

Committees and Technology

We’re all aware of church committee meetings, the bane of our existence. (The oft-recycled joke is that the “Fourteenth Article of Faith” goes something like “We believe in meetings, correlation, committees, sub-committees, . . .”). In a recent thread, Steve Evans comments: My suggestion: embrace technology — the e-committee is the future of the Church. Is the e-committee — having meetings through chat, e-mail or IM — a good idea? I can think of reasons that it might not work well –the digital divides between rich and poor and between young and old; lack of knowledge of computers; potential difficulty in feeling the spirit in discussion via instant message; church hesitancy to endorse the Internet given potential problems the Internet brings into households. Yet I would be thrilled if I could have more church meetings via e-mail, IM, or chat. And it seems quite possible that the church will move in that direction. (Or perhaps the “committee blog” is the…

Lawyers on the Front Line

Apparently, there was a globally broadcast pow-wow of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society yesterday, during which Elder Boyd K. Packer spoke, condemning the wickedness of the world, quoting Robert Bork on the usual subjects, and calling upon LDS lawyers to work to stem or slow the tide of evil all around us–not just for the sake of the church, but also on behalf of “ordinary people who need your professional protection.” Surely at least one or two of the dozens (hundreds?) of LDS lawyers who visit, comment or blog here heard Elder Packer’s remarks. Any comments? The Deseret News article mentions a list of 21 specific vices which Elder Packer checked off one by one; I’d be interested to know what they are.

Around the blogs

I had to post an around-the-blogs when I read this post by Autumn about her mission papers. Key quote: “Autumn,” he said “You’re pretty attractive, you’re smart, you have a fun personality. Why don’t you just get married instead?” Yikes! In other blogs: Dave discusses Mormon Shakespeares again; Bob Caswell discusses priorities of church members; some Metaphysical Elders discuss the Mormon (reverse?) diaspora; and (not totally LDS related) Eric James Stone is now a professional author. Congratulations Eric!

Millet on “The Passion,” R-rated Movies, and Evangelicals

Another one of those typical “what-do-the-Mormons-think?” articles this morning in the Deseret News, this one on “The Passion of the Christ” and the supposed challenge which its R-rating poses for members of the church. (I always love these articles by the way, because they differ not a whit in their form from the sort of articles we often had to write back at The Daily Universe: call up some random religion professor–it was usually a religion professor–and get them to talk on the record about what everybody had already beaten to death in elder’s quorum the week before. The more straightforward Deseret News article on showings of “The Passion” in Utah is here.) This one has some notable nuggets in it though, because Professor Robert Millet (the BYU religion professor they managed to get on the phone) was willing to elaborate at some length on why he’s going to see the movie.

Thoughts (Mine and Others’) on Raising Kids

I had thought I’d write something about Mormonism and lawyers today (look around: they’re everywhere!), but as it turned out, all my blogging time and energy was taken up by a discussion, started by Harry Brighouse over at the group blog Crooked Timber, dealing with child-rearing, commercialism, and the degree of control one can (or should) exercise over the environment in which you raise your kids. Harry’s post, to a certain extent, is a follow-up on another intra-blog discussion (in which I also participated) dealing with a much simpler question: why don’t kids walk to school anymore? But the current dialogue is going way beyond that, dealing with a whole range of matters including tv watching, popular culture, neighborhood planning, PBS, computer games, and much more. There’s even some pretentious (yes, me again) thinking about the connection between religious belief and the intellectual capacity to resist the demanding, materialist, careerist tempo of modern life. It’s been one of the most…

The Poor Oppress Me

A week and a half ago, Jennifer (I don’t recall her last name) came to our door. It was raining out and Jennifer, who was wearing jeans and an old knit sweater, was soaked and shivering from the cold. I’d never met her before. She was short and fat, had tattoos on her forearms; her hands were calloused and her face had heavy lines–she looked to be in her late 40s, but poverty (and abuse) can age you prematurely. She was desperate for $13 so she could afford a bus ticket to Oklahoma to visit her ailing mother, and had–in a wet garment bag–a wedding dress she was willing to sell. She told me that she’d already walked downtown (they had no car), and tried to sell it at a couple of second-hand stores, but no one would buy it. She stood dripping on our doorstep pleading with me, fumbling with the zipper of the bag, explaining to me the…

Thoughts About Baby Blessings

Last Sunday, I blessed Alison Edra Fox in sacrament meeting. It was a mob scene; for reasons far too complicated to go into here, all of my six brothers were present in the circle, as was my younger sister’s fiance, my father and father-in-law, a couple of friends and the bishop. We barely had room on the stand. I’ve blessed three children now, and I’m still not sure what I’m doing, or why I say what I do. Am I saying a prayer, expressing my fondest fatherly hopes and wishes for my child with as much faith as I can muster? Am I, on the other hand, exercising a kind of patriarchal power, making certain promises (contingent upon my daughter’s obedience, perhaps?) on her behalf? A little bit of both?

Risking Evil, Doing Good

The title for this post is a little cryptic, I admit. But let me explain. The Cheiko Okasaki thread is a really wonderful one, if you haven’t been following it. It has turned into a wonderful series of thoughts and arguments about the proper (that is, safely within LDS moral guidelines) boundaries for male-female associations, whether at work or in the church. I have some ideas about what, in practice, adhering to those boundaries ought and ought not involve, but (as usual), my thoughts have been sidetracked by a more theological concern. In one of his comments, Matt shared the following, very revealing anecdote–though what it reveals is not, I think, immediately clear:

A (Birth)Day in the Life

It has nothing to do with Mormonism (or does it…?), but I’ve written some rambling reflections on my 35th birthday, and how I feel about what I have (and haven’t) accomplished in my 35 years, here. Enjoy (or not).

Eddi’s Service

This is my favorite Christmas poem. It’s funny, and bittersweet, and captures very well, I think, the transcendent point of the humble event at the heart of this holiday, a point powerfully expressed in the carol “In the Bleak Midwinter” when we sing: What can I give Him / Poor as I am? If I were a shepherd / I would give a lamb. If I were a wise man / I would do my part; Yet what I can I give Him: / Give my heart. That is, we give whatever we can, to whomever we can. He will always receive it (Matt. 25:40). Also, as someone who grew up on a farm and milked cows on many Christmas Eves and Christmas mornings, I appreciate the reverence of the animals in the poem; for of course, as we all know, at midnight on Christmas Eve all animals can talk. Enjoy, and to all my fellow Times and Seasoners, and…

Hugh Nibley on Learning, Working, and Wealth

The STQ: Material Prosperity thread has been a good one to follow; I’ve some strong (if somewhat inchoate) feelings on the whole topic of righteousness and wealth, but haven’t taken the time to put them down. However, both A Humble Scientist and Clark Goble have made reference in their comments to the writings of Hugh Nibley on these matters, and that reminded me of a favorite Nibley passage of mine. This is from “Deny Not the Gifts of God” (in Approaching Zion, pg. 145): “What are we instructed to do, then, in our falled state? One of the shortest and most concise sections of the Doctrine and Covenants tells us, ‘Let your time be devoted to the studying of the scriptures; and to preaching, and to confirming the church…and to performing your labors on the land‘ (D&C 26:1). The Great Triple Combination–farming, church, and study. Even so Adam was told to cultivate his garden, preach the gospel among his children…

Our “High Church” Christmas Eve

The first Christmas my wife and I were together (1993), Melissa wanted to attend a Roman Catholic Christmas midnight mass, a longstanding wish of hers. I’d never attended a midnight mass either, and so we did: late on the evening of December 24th, we and some friends attended a lovely mass at St. Francis of Assisi parish, in Provo, where I found singing the Christmas hymns (during communion and the recessional) to be more fulfilling than I think I ever had previously. By the next morning, Melissa and I decided that we needed to attend a church service every Christmas Eve. That we have done every year since, bringing our children along as they’ve been born and have grown. We’ve attended midnight masses since then, but have mostly opted for Protestant services earlier in the evening: Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Baptist, and Presbyterian. We’ve come to realize that many Protestant denominations have more-or-less formalized certain Christmas Eve services, with the lighting…

What Are You Doing on December 23rd?

One interesting point from the Christmas Devotional a couple of weeks back which I’ve thought about a few times since then was that both Elder Faust and President Hinckley made particular note of the fact that Joseph Smith was born during the Christmas season–on December 23, 1805, to be exact. The way they drew attention to the birthday of Smith–who was, completely aside from the language in Doctrine & Covenants section 135, indisputedly the most important individual in the whole history of the church–reminded me of something an old friend of mine from Texas once asked me: why don’t Mormons celebrate December 23rd? This really got me thinking, since I take holidays quite seriously. Back in November Kaimi asked if there was, or ought to be, something formally “Mormon” about the way we celebrate Thanksgiving; I didn’t think much of that idea. In a few days I’ll probably post something on how Mormons celebrate (or don’t celebrate) Christmas, and how…

What Did We Learn From Polygamy?

Beware: lengthy reflections on the politico-theological problems of Mormonism follow. Way down towards the bottom of the comments attached to Nate’s post “How to Make a Mormon Political Theory” (which I never commented on, but should have), Nate makes reference to an article by Fred Gedicks, a BYU law professor, titled “The Integrity of Survival: A Mormon Response to Stanley Hauerwas” (DePaul Law Review 42 (1992): 167-173). I’ve a copy of that article sitting on my shelf right now, and it has always bothered me. Specifically, I’ve been bothered (though perhaps in a good way) by a single footnote Gedicks included in that essay; a footnote that is, in my view, fairly explosive in its implications (though what the fallout from that explosion exactly is I’ve never been quite certain). The context is as follows: Stanley Hauerwas had just delivered a powerful address on Christianity’s interaction with the modern state, in which he claimed (among other things) that American Christians’…