Category: Cornucopia

It always starts with a book

A man in Yemen reading his Thora

When the Lord wants to ‘refresh’ the gospel, He brings forth a book, it seems. The Restoration was triggered with the Book of Mormon, for the Reformation the first printing of the bible in German was indispensable and Christianity became something else than a Jewish sect the moment Paul’s letters and the early gospels came together as the core of what later would become the New Testament. We as LDS are a Religion of the Books, and that plural irks our fellow Christians to no end: it should be one Book. However, if they would read their own Book well, i.c. the Old Testament, listening to its ‘third voice’ – what it meant to the people for whom the book was produced, focusing on the authors – they would recognize that the appearance of a new book inside a scriptural tradition is not new at all. On the contrary, it is very old, as it is the way the Lord…

A House of Order? Serious Problems of Notice in Kate Kelly Excommunication

The disciplinary council for Sister Kate Kelly met yesterday. Today, the council announced that they had decided to excommunicate her, for “conduct contrary to the laws and order of the Church.” This result is very troubling. I have serious doubts about the substantive result here. I will set them aside for this post and instead focus on an important procedural matter: Sister Kelly was never informed that she was to be tried for “conduct contrary to the laws and order of the Church,” was never given a chance to defend herself from that charge, and was ultimately excommunicated for an offense to which she had no way of responding. This is astounding. As noted on her website and in the media, Sister Kelly was informed by e-mail, on June 8th, that the bishopric was considering church discipline “on grounds of apostasy.” In response, she submitted a letter explaining that she had not committed apostasy. This was necessary as the court…

Why is the Church Handbook of Instructions not Public?

I don’t know the answer to this question. Let me suggest some possibilities: Perhaps the Brethren are worried that publishing the Handbook will encourage people to treat it as a legal text. There are two possible problems with this. It might then encourage people to use deviation from the Handbook to attack priesthood leaders, when the Handbook is merely intended to orient them in particular ways not necessarily limit their ability to deviate. Alternatively, treating the Handbook as a legal text might discourage members from approaching issues prayerfully and flexibly rather than legalistically. By keeping it private, the thinking might go, we limit its public authority as a text and thus limit legalism. The problem, it seems to me, is that it tends to function as a legal text anyway, just a problematic one because it is not public. Perhaps the Brethren are worried that the deep secrets of the Church will be revealed if the Handbook is made public…

Knocking With My Sisters

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One of my most recent posts was an attempt to honestly explore (or at least ask) the question: “How do faithful members collectively petition our prophets to petition the heavens?” The scriptures and the early days of our church are replete with faith-inspiring examples. How do we do it now that we’re millions strong? The answer – as the events of the last two weeks have thrown in dramatic relief – is that we don’t have one.[1] Many others have noted the fact of Kate Kelly’s disciplinary council arising from (as many think) her aggressive tactics courting media and engaging non-Mormons on this issue. She has done so (many think) because it’s the only way she was able to actually engage Church leadership. Again, if staying quiet or staying local is not a practically effective means of knocking (and it’s not), and if going public is effective but off-limits (as tonight’s council seems to say), then how do we collectively knock and gain…

Some Thoughts on Church Courts

Karen Hall has an interesting post on church courts that’s worth reading. Her basic point is that church courts fail to comply with some rule of law norms. I would quibble with some of her points. For example I think she slips from the idea of rule of law to the narrower idea of an adversarial judicial process involving juries. Most of the world, however, uses the civil law system which has no juries and uses an inquisitorial rather than adversarial structure. (I do not mean inquisitorial to be pejorative. It simply means a system where the judge actively inquires into the case rather than passively judging a contest.) Still, I think that she makes some valid points about how procedures might be improved. In some important ways, however, I think it misses some key issues. The kind of process Karen lauds serves two functions. First, it generates legitimacy for judicial outcomes. Second, it improves the quality of judicial determinations.…

Scriptural Meanderings

2014-06-16 Lehi Prophecies

Last week I started reading the Book of Mormon again from the beginning. The first day, I made it through 1 Nephi 1. The second day, I made it through 1 Nephi 2:1. For behold, it came to pass that the Lord spake unto my father, yea, even in a dream, and said unto him: Blessed art thou Lehi, because of the things which thou hast done; and because thou hast been faithful and declared unto this people the things which I commanded thee, behold, they seek to take away thy life (1 Nephi 2:1) “Behold,” says The Lord, “They seek to take away thy life.” This phrase really stuck out to me. It’s not like the Lord is likely telling Lehi anything that he doesn’t already know, is he? After all, this is how Nephi ended the last chapter: And when the Jews heard these things they were angry with him; yea, even as with the prophets of old,…

Literary Worship: Eve

Fruit of the tree

Two of the most inspiring parts of life to me are seeing new places and learning new things. So it’s no surprise that I’ve long been fascinated with the story of Eve, the woman who lived in Paradise and gave it up to see and experience things she could never have imagined, and learn things that would change her forever. The traditional religious line has been to condemn Eve for her fateful choice and blame her for the evils of our fallen world. But as Mormons, we think differently. As Orson F. Whitney described it, the Fall was a fall forward as well as a fall downward. It was a difficult choice, but a good one, and to Eve we owe the gift of our own ability to discern and choose between good and evil. Imagine her in Paradise, surrounded by every beautiful and needful thing, happy and contented in her perfect life. And yet wanting more. I think I’ve…

Priors

Question_mark

In statistics, a popular approach is to think of the statistician as having a set of views (“priors” or “prior distributions”) that are based on past evidence and when new evidence comes in, one integrates that information in and forms a new set of beliefs (“update your priors”).  So, for example, if I think I am brilliant in math, a series of poor math test grades even after studying might convince me to reassess that belief.  Alternately, I could stick with my priors and treat the new evidence as flawed or not informative because I am mad or upset.  This is especially applicable on days when new, perhaps startling or emotional, information comes out and everyone, or at least a bunch of bloggers, jump in to say what they think is really going on.  In many cases I think they are largely working off their priors, rather than off the new information. In light of that, it is often best to avoid…

Will No One Rid Me of This Turbulent Priest?

Thomas-Becket-006

“Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” According to popular tradition, this is the line that King Henry II blurted out after repeated disagreements with Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. (There are several variations, such as “who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?”) Four of Henry’s knights interpreted this as a royal command and set off for Canterbury, where they slew Becket while he prayed at the altar. How should we understand the knights’ actions? Should we view them as following orders, or as acting on their own initiative? There are multiple possible interpretations. For instance, if we take an approach that “whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same,” we might attribute the knights’ actions to Henry, whose actions set the events in motion. However, an official press release states that all decisions were made by local knights and not directed or coordinated by King Henry. And who…

Mourning with those that mourn

Dore - castoutfromeden

Job 1: 20 Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, 21 And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.  22 In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly. Job 2: 11 ¶Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that was come upon him, they came every one from his own place; Eliphaz the Temanite, and Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite: for they had made an appointment together to come to mourn with him and to comfort him.  12 And when they lifted up their eyes afar off, and knew him not, they lifted up their voice, and wept; and they rent every one his mantle, and sprinkled dust upon their heads toward heaven.  13 So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great.…

Who is Israel?

When teaching Institute recently to a class of LDS students in our ward, I used the term ‘Latter-day Israel’ and met with a surprised silence: they had never heard the term. Yet, all of them were second generation members, born and raised in the church and thoroughly schooled in whatever the church had thrown at them, several had performed a mission and as university students (most of them) they had read their church books. Being a convert member now for almost 50 years, I suddenly realized how much the discourse on Israel had changed in the church. Maybe this is just a Dutch or European phenomenon, but neither do we produce our own lesson materials, nor do we produce our own gospel discourse, so I do not assume it is. In effect, this demise of the Latter-day Israel discourse highlights the changed notions on descent and race that Armand Mauss analyzed so well in All Abraham’s Children. We transformed from…

Times and Seasons has finished moving

We have moved servers this weekend, and during the move the site was temporarily not able to accept any comments, nor did we have any new posts until after the move was finished. If you can see this post, then the move is complete and you can make comments normally. New posts should start appearing shortly.

Elliot Rodger, Sex, the Good Life, and the Peril of Rights

There are certain things that we need and desire. Among these is love and sex. I conjoin two words, but I mean it to refer to a single whole, the embodied connection of affection, commitment, and pleasure that comes in the mutual giving of two people of themselves to each other. That. It’s a longing that has deep roots in biology and human experience. It seems a good candidate for a necessary component of a good life. The problem comes when that truth – that a good and complete life includes love and sex – combines with our dominant moral discourse, the discourse of rights. Consider Martha Nussbaum, a philosopher at the University of Chicago who has spent the last couple of decades thinking about the links between development and human rights. She has produced something that she calls capabilities theory. The idea is that when we think about what society owes us, what our fundamental rights are, we should…

False Choices and Fence Holes

2014-06-02 The Good Shepherd

It is very common in the Bloggernaccle to talk about an exodus of members from the Church. These members are usually described as a cohesive demographic. The two examples I’ve seen most frequently are (1) young Millennials who are disillusioned by the discrepancy between real history and CES whitewashing and (2) good women whose contributions and perspectives are devalued and rejected by the institution at large. I don’t have any insider or objective data on these concerns, and so I couldn’t say where they fall on the spectrum from urban legend to imminent crisis, but I suspect the problem is genuine based purely on my own experiences. The question becomes: what should we do about it? Cynthia L proffered a twist on the usual tale of the lost sheep at By Common Consent on Saturday. In her parable, sheep wander away because there are holes in the fence. Disagreement arises among the shepherds. One group insists that we ought to…

The three voices of the Scriptures

A quite Mormon snack table

I love the Old Testament, both as an anthropologist and as a Mormon. None of our other Standard Works has as many wonderful stories as the OT, and none raises as many questions as this longest and most complex of all Scriptures. Now that we plough our way through it in Sunday School, we noticed how hard these stories are, and even harder are the parts we skip. That has everything to do with the purpose of these tales, what I call their ‘voices’. Jonathan Green correctly reminded us in his blog that the ‘Why told’ question is more interesting than ‘What happened’. Pursuing this angle, I think we as Mormons could have a privileged understanding of the Scriptures, also of the Old Testament. The simple reason is that we have been and still are witness to the genesis of scripture, as one of the few denominations in Christendom. Our last instance was in 1978, for most of us still…

A (Partial) Response to Brother Otterson

There is a lot that could be said about Michael Otterson’s recent open letter. I think it does a lot to heal the immense pain and anger that many people—especially those who do not support Ordain Women–have felt in recent weeks as a result of how Church PR has (mis)handled Ordain Women. So thank you, Brother Otterson. There are a few places where I think it falls short of the mark, however; this post pushes back at just one statement:

Otterson: Context Missing from Discussion about Women

Below is a letter from Michael Otterson, Managing Director of Public Affairs for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that the Mormon Newsroom asked Times & Seasons to consider publishing. Comments on various blogs over recent months about what Church leaders should or should not think and do about women’s roles in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints prompt me to provide some context from an insider perspective that may be helpful. Recently a woman posted this comment on a blog: Please understand that not [all] women who wish to be seen in all their worth are seeking to be ordained to the priesthood…. What I am finding…. is that most of these women have been demeaned and marginalized by one (and usually many more) of the brothers of our faith. They have been told their ideas won’t work. They have been told they are not important. They have been told they are lesser. The point is…

A Brief Note on History, Angels, and Such

Let’s say that the historicity of the Book of Mormon could be demonstrated irrefutably. (Say that Nephi returned in a cloud of glory, held a press conference, and pointed us to incontrovertible archeological proof.) Would I tune in to watch? Yes. Would this convince me to join or stay in the church?

Reading Bileam: an embarrassing prophet and us

Bileam, the donkey and the Angel by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1622

The Gospel Doctrine class gives quite some attention to one of the strangest stories in the Old Testament, the one of the prophet Bileam, or Balaam; I just taught it in our ward in the Netherlands. The story is strange in many ways, and with a personage that is surrounded by miracles one easily assumes that he is fictive to start with. But he really existed and as an important prophet! When studying anthropology at Utrecht University, during the archeology course the professor told us about his visit to Deir ‘Alla, a site on the East Bank of the Jordan river. A team of Dutch archeologists from Leiden University led by Hoftijzer and van der Kooy had found there a bronze age shrine, and lo and behold, they found a text on the wall of that shrine, in itself a rare event. But there was more to that text, it even spoke of BLM BN BR, which the scholars recognized…

Literary Worship: The Lost Sheep

shepherd

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the Middle East, where in many places shepherds still live with their sheep, sleeping with them at night and following them around all day to keep them out of trouble. It’s a common enough sight to see a weather-beaten man walking among a dozen or more sheep and goats as they range through wadis and small valleys, nibbling at the sparse vegetation and scampering from hilltop to hilltop. The whole scenario always strikes me as timeless and exotic; it’s something I never imagined in my American world of fences and orderly pastures. Often, the sheep block the road completely as they cross it, and one learns to simply wait until they are finished crossing, participating for a moment in the eternal patience of the shepherd. It is hard for me to picture what it would be like to spend all day every day following sheep around. Exhausting, I think. And mind-numbing. How…

Literary Worship: Living Waters

water drop_4910678169_3b95ec3c02_b

A few weeks ago I shared with you the first of my Sacrament poems, Bread of Life. For some reason, just the act of sharing it made me feel closer to my faith than I’ve felt in a long time. So I’ll take the liberty of sharing a second poem, in the hope that it might help both me and perhaps someone else. I’ve always loved the symbolism of the Sacrament. The idea of Christ literally feeding us is so evocative of the deep necessity we all share for his love and Atonement. I can appreciate that from an aesthetic standpoint, wine is an appropriate stand-in for blood. But I kind of like the fact that we use water for the Sacrament instead of wine. Water is such an elemental thing. What substance is more necessary and fundamental to our body’s function (and the very ecology of our planet) than water?  Rain is life, falling from heaven. The Scriptures are replete…

Practical Apologetics: Keeping the Faith

Another installment in my occasional series (see here, here), this one prompted by a fine little two-page article titled “Keeping the Faith” in, of all places, the BYU Magazine. The Church, both the membership and leaders, finally seems to be waking up to the fact that the Church is losing its youngest adult cohort, the Millennials. What exactly is the problem? What can be done at the local level to address the problem? What can LDS leaders do at the Church-wide level to address it?

Understanding Anger against Mormon Missionaries

Eugène Dodeigne_Three Figures_Middelheim Museum_

We sometimes hear stories about Mormon missionaries who are confronted with angry people. We praise the missionaries for suffering for Christ like the apostles of old. We condemn the iniquity of those who loathe the messengers of the Lord. I am going to take up some perspectives of those angry people—because of my mother and others I’ve known over the years. And thousands I do not know. In other churches, missiology experts have been studying at length this topic of tensions, conflicts, and social damage resulting from Western missionizing, including the ethical issue of intra-Christian proselytism. We Mormons seem to ignore it or do not want to be confronted with it. But with the surge in our missionary numbers and the insistence to “hasten the work”, the topic is acute. But first, my mother. A former cloister novice who ultimately chose marriage and motherhood, she raised me, her only son, with a deep love for education, languages, and Catholic-faith commitment.…

What You Hear

A friend of mine shared the following with me. With her permission (and with some details scrambled for privacy) I share it with you; I thought her insights into the practical reality and consequences of being single in the Church are profound.

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

2014-04-28 Dresdenfiles Quote

This post is a follow up to my two previous posts As Much As I Know Anything and What It Would Take To Not Believe. I have to start out by clarifying something that I didn’t define well enough in a previous post. I made the statement that we cannot not believe, but that depends on a definition of belief that isn’t universal and that I should have made more clear. Obviously we can choose to not believe in lots of things individually. But when I think about belief I have something more holistic and systemic in mind. Our really important beliefs tend to weave together in a web that makes it impossible for some strands to be pulled without having an effect on the entire fabric. At this point we’re not just talking about individual propositions. We’re talking about a world view, which is a cohesive whole that includes not just beliefs, but also values, emotions, and memories. I’m tempted…