Category: Cornucopia

We Are Made to Suffer

2014-08-18 Guernica

In centuries gone by the best you could hope for in the case of an aching tooth would be that someone would yank it out, but thanks to modern medicine we can detect cavities and fill them before they start to cause any pain at all. Of course, the drilling of the tooth itself is painful, so you can have your tooth numbed with an injection. Someone jabbing a sharp needle into your gums isn’t a walk in the park either, so you can have some topical gel applied before the shot. Just to recap: you get a numbing gel to take away the pain of the injection which in turn numbs the tooth to avoid the pain of the drill which in turn fixes the tooth before it can start to seriously ache. That’s a triple-layer pain-mitigation strategy. Of course I took the topical gel and the shot. All else being equal, I’m definitely a fan of less pain…

12 Questions for Miranda Wilcox and John Young, Editors of Standing Apart—Part II

Here are the six remaining questions in our series with Miranda Wilcox and John Young, continued from Part I. 7. How much of what you do in this book should we understand as theology, as opposed to, say, history? Miranda: Religious communities perform theological work when they tell historical narratives. Remembering and memorializing their divine origins is crucial for communities to maintain distinctive self-identities and to realize their divine mandate. We see examples of this process when Israel retells the story of their ancestors’ deliverance from captivity in Egypt or when Lehi’s descendants retell the story of their family’s deliverance from the destruction of Jerusalem. Telling origin narratives also offers communities ways of distinguishing themselves from other communities, and typically these stories develop a legacy of antagonistic relations between communities. Sometimes communities have opportunities to redirect these relationships. For example, the book of the Acts of the Apostles tells how the Jewish Christians struggled to revise their attitudes towards Gentiles,…

The Hypothetical “Missionary Library”


As a companion piece to Dave’s post on missionaries, let’s talk about the approved missionary library. I have concerns about what missionaries study, know, and teach. The typical missionary develops far more motivation to read and study “the literature of the Church” than before the mission, but is far more restricted, although mission presidents have leeway to relax this. Certainly the primary content of missionary study should be scripture and the doctrine, but I think by narrowing the library too much, we miss real opportunities both for the missionaries themselves and the people they teach.

12 Questions for Miranda Wilcox and John Young, editors of Standing Apart—Part I

Miranda Wilcox (BYU) and John Young (Flagler College) have recently published Standing Apart: Mormon Historical Consciousness and the Concept of Apostasy, a collection of essays examining the Mormon narrative of apostasy and restoration in light of the history of Christianity. It is published by Oxford University Press, in both hardcover and paperback. They have kindly shared responses to 12 Questions about their project. I am including six in this post; the remaining six will follow soon in Part II. 1. What led you into this project, and how did it take shape? Miranda: Although John and I grew up listening to Sunday School lessons about the “Dark Ages,” we found the Middle Ages deeply compelling. We met as graduate students of the Medieval Institute at the University of Notre Dame, where I studied Anglo-Saxon England and he studied Jewish-Christian relations in the high Middle Ages. As I learned about the Christianization of early medieval Europe, I discovered much sincere devotion…

FairConference, Thursday Afternoon Sessions

Bob Rees A review of Earl Wunderli’s Imperfect Book   Started with this Card Colour changing trick video ( to illustrate that too much focus on one thing can cause you miss the many other things that are going on. What aren’t you noticing? Emerson said,  “Tell me your sect, and I’ll tell you your argument.” How we approach the Book of Mormon will determine what we find within it.  Rees was impressed with Earl’s thoroughness. He has read extensively and carefully. He approached as though cross-examining it in a court of law, and like any good lawyer making a case, he has been selective in choice of witnesses. Wunderli’s book does not give a balanced presentation, although it gives an impression of having done so. And he does raise important questions about the Book of Mormon, from the use of KJV language, internal stylistic consistency, anachronistic scientific understanding, mythology, and so one. Wunderli sees himself of side of reason,…

FairMormon Conference Thursday Morning Sessions

I’m not quite up to live blogging, so my coverage of FAIR will lag slightly behind the fact. I will be posting summaries of talks posted after completion rather than subjecting you to my sloppy notes in real time. Kerry Muehlstein, Ph. D. Brigham Young University Unnoticed assumptions about The Book of Abraham While the assumptions discussed in this talk are applied to Abraham, they also have more general application. What is apologetics? Apologetics to some means to try to defend a certain assumption. For Muehlstein, it means to try to understand what is true, what is accurate. In our search for truth, we need not be afraid, we have nothing to hide, and everything can be put forward as in the exemplary Joseph Smith papers project. No need for a strident tone in apologetics if we are seeking truth and working to disseminate it.   The beginning premise is crucial. We (Muehlstein and LDS apologists generally) take as a…

Summertime Notes of a Liturgical Junkie

2014-07-18 11.13.28Kumla

Four Services Worth Writing Home About. Mormon Service: An “International Ward” in Western Europe. (No, this picture to the left is not of a Mormon chapel, alas. It’s just an action shot to suggest what being a LJ might involve.) Up on the podium, the bishop is a Wasatch-Front-origined temporary-resident white Anglonavian Mormon, as is one of the councilors, while the other is a recently-immigrated black African Mormon. The main congregational constituents not represented in the bishopric are the old-time local converts, who now occupy a mere quarter of the pews they used to dominate, and whose once unchallenged language is now only sometimes heard and then always translated into English.

A gospel born in grief

The interior of the Dome of the Rock, place of birth of our three Abrahamic religions

It is time now to ponder, after the silence of bereavement. For me the gospel is sometimes hard to believe, often an intellectual challenge, but always a comforting presence. Things go wrong in this world (well, many things go right as well) but in our day and age the things that do go wrong seem to do that in a grand way. The downing of MZ17 was one of these. What comfort can I find in the scriptures, how does the Old Testament – as that is what we are reading at this time – relate to the afflictions that flesh is heir to? The most inspiring messages and profound notions in the Old Testament are borne out of suffering, out of deep loss and utter despair. When history goes wrong, we, together with the heavens, construct the deepest meaning in our lives. Let us see how. Reading the Old Testament this way, means that we are using the insights…

Rankings, Money, and BYU


Money magazine has just released a new ranking of U.S. universities that has received a bit of attention. BYU does quite well, landing in ninth place overall, just behind Stanford, Harvard, Harvey Mudd, and Cooper Union.

Mourning and the Gospel

At this moment The Netherlands, like many other countries, are in deep mourning, shocked by the terrible news of the downing of MZ17 in the East of Ukraine. Each of us has somewhere in his or her network people who were in that flight; my faculty lost a whole family, the dean of Liberal Arts with his wife who worked in Communication Studies, and one daughter, a brilliant student who was in my Liberal Arts class last year. At this moment the news is completely dominated by images of a charred field with wreckage, masked soldiers trying to shut off the area, and especially of a long train of cooling-wagons carrying off some of the 298 remains to a safer area, in West Ukraine. At this very moment the whole of Holland is waiting for two airplanes to land at Eindhoven airport, with whatever is left of those dear corpses. A day of nation-wide mourning, this day, a day when…

Literary Worship – Sacred Stones


As our one really unique Mormon holiday, Pioneer Day gives us a chance to look back and reflect on our ancestors and others who went before and made our way easier through their good lives and sacrifices. I think of it as a sort of celebration of our collective quest to turn the hearts of the children to the fathers. And because I love traveling and getting to know new places, thinking about my ancestors always involves a lot of thought about where they originally came from, and if I’m lucky, not just thought, but plane tickets and itineraries. Almost four years ago, I was living with my family in Italy. We’d gone there chasing a sort of genealogical dream, and now we were sitting in a chapel in Turin, Italy, watching live coverage of the Prophet speaking from Rome. President Monson was in Italy breaking ground for the long-awaited and prayed-for Rome Temple. With him were Church leaders from all over…

Faithful priesthood narratives?


some of those who speak in opposition to women’s ecclesiastical enfranchisement do so because they can’t imagine what a faithful, coherent narrative of our dispensation could possibly look like if women’s priesthood role were restored and developed or if they did receive the Melchizedek Priesthood

James Faulconer – Making Things Harder


It seems to me that the scriptures offer two types of revelations: (1) they reveal things you didn’t already know, and (2) they reveal that you didn’t know many of the things you thought you knew. Both kinds of revelation are pivotal. And each tends to depend on the other. James Faulconer’s new series of books — The Book of Mormon Made Harder, The Doctrine and Covenants Made Harder, The Old Testament Made Harder, and The New Testament Made Harder (forthcoming) — can help on both of these fronts. Though, to be fair, they’re especially good at the latter.

Laughing with the Bible

Among the Dogon masks are serious business, important in their religion. Yet, also in mask rituals, people are satirized; on this photo a mask of a ''seeer', important and yet very funny in his particular dance.

Humor in the Scriptures? Come on! The Gospel is serious matter, isn’t it? Yet, humor is there, sometimes clear, sometimes disguised, but the ‘third voice’—the reading of the text from the viewpoint of the author—can be very funny. We saw Balaam being topped by a she-ass, very amusing, but there is a larger example, more elaborate and veiled, but definitely funny. It is the entire Book of Jonah, the prophet-in-the-fish and the most productive way to read it might well be as a satire. Why? Let us run through the story: Jonah was called by the Lord to go to preach repentance to the evil city of Nineveh. Immediately he fled to Tarshish, but the Lord called up a storm, and though Jonah kept sleeping, the sailors decided to threw the lots to know the culprit. That was shown to be Jonah, who confessed being a fleeing prophet. So, at his own suggestion they threw him overboard as a sacrifice,…

Death and How to Live It

HG 3

I recently spent time in London with the Mormon Theology Seminar. Most of our days were occupied with work, but we had a little time to play tourist. I did all of the things that a first-time visitor to London is supposed to do:

Upcoming Book Events – July 2


If you’re around and interested, Zion’s Books (274 W. Center Street, Provo) will be hosting a roundtable discussion with myself, David Bokovoy, and Joseph Spencer at 6pm on Wednesday, July 2. Janiece Johnson will moderate the discussion.  Our topic: “Is Scripture Relevant?”

Comfort Those That Stand in Need

2014-06-30 Waters of Mormon

Behold, here are the waters of Mormon and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort… Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord? (Mosiah 18:8-10) This passage has been on my mind a lot over the past couple of weeks, and I wanted to share some thoughts on what it means to mourn with those who mourn in the context of recent events. I do so acutely aware that due to my skepticism of OW I am something of an outsider. And that’s my first thought: the call bear one another’s burdens is a call to cross the lines…

Literary Worship – Miracle


I find the story of the woman with the issue of blood, found in all three Synoptic Gospels, both odd and beautiful. Like most of the recipients of Christ’s miracles, she excites sympathy within me. Twelve years is a long time to be sick, especially with an illness that renders you and anyone who touches you perpetually unclean. She must have been lonely. It makes me wonder how many times she did get touched during those years–how many people braved the social and religious taboo to offer her a bit of human care or comfort. Did she have a family? Was she abandoned because of her affliction? Did her ritual uncleanness make her feel personally and spiritually unworthy? The Scriptures tell us that she had spent “all her living” on whatever passed for medical treatment in her day. Not only did the treatment fail to heal her, but she actually grew worse. The resultant poverty must have added to her…

Discussion, Advocacy, and Some Thoughts on Practical Reasoning

I am saddened by Kate Kelly’s excommunication. I wish that events had played out differently. Excommunication in this case strikes me as the worst outcome for all concerned, although obviously my opinion on this matter does not – and should not – matter. I believe her when she says that the decision is extremely painful for her and her family. They have my sympathy and my prayers. I do worry that part of the public meaning that she and her supporters are assigning to her excommunication is both inaccurate and potentially destructive. In her letter to her bishop, she wrote: Please keep in mind that if you choose to punish me today, you are not only punishing me. You are punishing hundreds of women and men who have questions about female ordination, and have publicly stated them. You are punishing thousands of Mormons who have questions and concerns with gender inequality in the church and want a place to voice…