Category: Cornucopia

“I want to do it.” Priesthood, Care, and a Little Girl.

Geneva (8) at Huntington Beach

It was the day before the first day of school. That meant is was time for the annual “back-to-school” father’s blessings. This has been a tradition in our house, as it is with many families. However, that year felt a little different. Todd, my oldest , was starting middle school. Geneva, my youngest, was starting full-day Kindergarten. It is a year of transition. Shem, the new 4th grader, went first. I will not go into the details of the blessings themselves, but I love the intimacy of such blessings. I love the feel of their hair as I place my hands up their head. My hands on their head often reminds me of how little they really still are. Geneva was next. A year before we were very nervous about her education. However, her speech had improved greatly and we now feel that she is ready to conquer Kindergarten…and the world. After I said “amen,” Geneva jumped up. Beaming, she…

Awkward Discourse, Awkward Practice


Let me say up front that I’m a big fan of the Church’s new Gospel Topics section. And the most recent entry “Becoming Like God” is perhaps my favorite. I thought the author contextualized the topic well, and I especially liked the section entitled “How do Latter-day Saints envision exaltation?” In part because of the nature of the topic, and in part because the author courageously included two full paragraphs on our Heavenly Parents, however, this article manifests our incongruent, sometimes incoherent, and at the least wholly awkward way of discussing all things women in the Church. There’s nothing special about this awkwardness showing up in this particular article – as I just mentioned, the author was courageous in candidly discussing Heavenly Mother. Unfortunately, this awkwardness seems to show up in nearly everything we say as a Church. To be specific: I find directly analogous the way we talk about and treat women generally and the way “Becoming Like God”…

“I am glad we pay our tithing.”


My wife Lyndee got an email at work a few weeks ago. It turns out that they have been paying her the wrong amount. They have been paying her significantly less than they should have been paid They had placed her incorrectly on the pay scale. Lyndee has two bachelors degrees and they were only paying her for one. We knew this was the case but she had been told that this was how the district paid new teachers. This development will move her over two columns on the school districts pay scale. Somebody had told her that the district only paid for additional degrees or credits received AFTER one starts teaching. This was discouraging since she is currently our only full-time income and she deserves even more than the new revised amount. I had even been told that if I taught for the school district (my plan for next year), they would start me at the bottom of the…

An Offhand Apologia of Sorts, and some Reflections

I exchange emails with a good number of LDS people. Some of them are simply looking for information, a pointer to the right article or scripture or background. Some of them are finding their spiritual footing to not be as firm as it used to be, which is highly disconcerting. No one enjoys just trying to stay afloat while the waves keep breaking over you. One such exchange recently ended with a personal question, given X, Y, and Z, why do *you* stay? It was a busy day, and I only had five minutes (dangerous to write something serious so spontaneously), but I wanted to give my interlocutor something. Since several people have found it helpful, here’s my quick response, edited slightly for clarity and detail. 

Thanking God’s Advocates, the Promoters of the Cause

2014-02-23 John_Martin_-_Sodom_and_Gomorrah

Today in Gospel Doctrine I played the role of Devil’s advocate. I spent the last 10 or 15 minutes leading a discussion about the children who died when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, when God sent the Flood, when Christ died on the cross and Nephite cities were burned, buried, and sunk, and when Alma and Amulek watched as women and children were burned to death before their eyes. Several of the commenters sought to defend God’s justice using familiar arguments (like the idea that there are some things worse than death) or evasions (like the idea that maybe there were no children in Sodom who were not already engaged in or tainted by sin). Some of these arguments make more sense than others to me, but for me no combination makes the problem go away entirely. The whole idea of using modern reasoning to try and justify these stories seems futile given the existence of ancient explanations that are,…


I recently accepted a new calling in my ward. I’m now the compassionate service leader in the Relief Society. It’s been a good change from my previous calling as gospel doctrine teacher; I’m still relatively new in the ward, and this calling allows me to meet and know the people I worship with more intimately. There is a self-interested angle to this: every so often I cause a little trouble in my wards, or contemplate doing so, and I’ve found that when I know and love individual people I can get away with saying more. Plus, you know, once in a while the service I organize does actually bring some love and support into people’s lives — which is the whole point, after all. Over the past week our ward has whipped up some classic, casserole-style compassionate service. A new family moved in, and several days later a member of that family suddenly became very ill, resulting in week-long ICU…

We’ve All Been Set Up

You have to turn and look.

We’ve all been set up for failure. Consider the plan: go to Earth and obey the commandments.  How likely is that to turn out well?  Add in that part with Adam, Eve, and the fruit and I think it is pretty clear that this was a set up to force us to… turn to God.  Failure makes us humble.  Repentance changes our hearts.  Which is the goal: a broken heart and a contrite spirit. So when someone complains about a standard being too high or that we are setting people up for failure by expecting things like chastity, honesty, modesty, tithing or whatever else.  Well, they may be right.  Failure, after all, was part of the plan. (this post owes debts to, but no has no claims on, Nathaniel’s post here and the fireside speaker in my ward last week).

Success in Life

My daughter just turned 12, and her new Young Women’s advisor and the  one other Beehive in the ward came over to introduce her to the program, give her a slew of pamphlets, and welcome her to Young Women. After they left, I read through the Guidebook for Parents and Leaders of Youth that they had left for me. It is a nice little booklet. In the section “Role of Parents” it states: “Your sons and daughters are children of God who have great potential. Although the Church has many leaders and resources to help them, you as their parents have the primary responsibility to help them succeed. the Church’s programs and materials for youth, described in this guidebook, are designed to assist you as you help your children develop the skills and attributes needed for success in life.” And that sounds good. But remembering Craig’s piece Bo Knows Heaven, I have to admit that I don’t know what success…

Raising an Ensign: Challenges of Scholarship on Mormonism at BYU

In his recent First Things article, Ralph Hancock argues that it is vital to the mission of BYU that it produce scholarship articulating a distinctively Mormon worldview, as a major part of its regular work. What would it take for BYU to respond seriously to Hancock’s call? Hancock notes that there is much more one would need to consider on the way to concrete action than what he is able to say in a five page article. As things stand, for such a large, well-funded, highly religious university, BYU is doing surprisingly little on this front. For the vast majority of BYU faculty, including in the humanities and social sciences, this is simply not included in their job description. Rather, what they will be recognized for professionally is scholarship done in the mode and according to the standards of the (secular) mainstream academic world. It should go without saying that the production of scholarship is a core purpose of a…

Sounding the Secularist Alarm at BYU

Ralph Hancock has a provocative article in the March edition of First Things in which he raises concerns about the specialization/secularization he sees occurring at Brigham Young University: “For some decades, BYU had managed a compromise between the academic mainstream and its own aspiration to a distinctive mission. [While encouraging excellence in the scholarly communities in which we participate, leaders have also] urged the faculty to resist hyper-specialization, by which we seek merely to ‘imitate others or win their approval,’ and instead to assume the responsibility of ‘those educated and spiritual and wise [to] sort, sift, prioritize, integrate, and give some sense of wholeness… to great eternal truths.’ But the machinery of specialization was already in place, and it has only accelerated. “While the mainstream academic suppression of all questions of transcendent purpose and of associated moral limits was taken as a given across the disciplines, and while most researchers and teachers deferred intellectually, in their specialized professional capacities, to the authority of a rationalist and reductionist framework of understanding, they were not for the most part concerned to draw the moral,…

Men, Women, and Modesty


Imagine that every single talk you ever heard about missionary work was given by someone who had not served a mission or every single talk about fasting was from someone who (let’s say for health reasons) had never fasted. It is reasonable to suspect that our rhetoric about missionary work or fasting would, in these circumstances, sound very, very different. Currently, we define modesty as being (almost) solely applicable to females, and yet the discourse is (almost) entirely shaped by people who are not female. I think this has led us to several problems.

‘Traditional Marriage’: what are we speaking about? An anthropological view

Amalea 3

A modern Kapsiki groom, leading his bride (first one behind him) with her friends to the dancing ground No discussion in present Mormondom tops the issue of same-sex marriage. In the debates the notion of ‘traditional marriage’ is used, especially by people who want to limit marriage to a monogamous heterosexual union. Julie Smith, in her excellent guest blog, has shown that the gender division of providing and nurturing that is usually thought to be an integral part of so-called ‘traditional marriage’, does really not hold, but the notion as such is highly problematic. First, what is marriage? Like no other academic discipline cultural anthropology has a wide and varied experience with forms marriage throughout the world, and it has developed its understanding of marriage with the findings coming in from different cultures. Just after WW II, at the heyday of a basic field research, the famous field manual ‘Notes and Queries’ could still define marriage as: ‘A union between…

The Bad Side of Jesus

Last week, as we were walking to school, my 6 year old spontaneously started telling me about his latest Primary lesson.  He does this often, and usually reports the talking points accurately. “I learned about the bad side of Jesus,” he said. “Really? Jesus has a bad side?” I responded, wandering if they had talked about casting moneychangers out of the temple. “Yes. A very bad side. You know, when we were all in heaven, and he decided that one third of the spirits shouldn’t be allowed to have bodies, and that made them really sad, and Jesus did that, so that was the bad side of Jesus. Can you believe Jesus did that?” So that particular lesson about the plan of salvation and the pre-existence didn’t get through as clearly as his teachers must have hoped. But I do like the way that slightly distorted view casts a different light on those experiences we lost when we passed through…

UPDATED: The 1st Annual Wheatley “Faith Seeking Understanding” Summer Seminar

UPDATE: The deadlines and notification date have been pushed out an extra month to give additional time for people to submit. The new deadline is March 28, 2014. (Notifications will go out by April 15, 2014.) The 1st Annual Wheatley “Faith Seeking Understanding” summer seminar will run from July 14 through August 1, 2014.  It is being sponsored by the Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University and is under the direction of Professor Terryl Givens, Wheatley Fellow and Professor of Literature and Religion at the University of Richmond. From the announcement: What are the general contours of Christianity’s efforts to find a marriage of belief and intellect? Does Mormonism face the same challenges as the broader Christian tradition? What are the contributions of Mormon theology to current debates in the political and cultural realms? How reasonable are LDS positions on the family, marriage, pro-life and end of life issues? Is the Mormon theological tradition an asset or a handicap in the public sphere?…

What Are Gender Roles Good For?

2014-02-10 Grace Hopper Quote

The argument against perpetuating normative gender roles has two prongs. First, there is the argument that gender roles do not offer anything that is not available to human beings autonomously determining their own roles. Second, there is the observation that no set of gender roles applies universally. There will always be those who, because of individual nature or life circumstance, cannot conform to the prevailing gender roles. In practice, those who conform least are most marginalized. Taken together, gender roles appear to offer little substantial benefit but carry genuine cost. So what’s the case in favor of gender roles? The strength of the first prong of this argument rests on a misleading intuition. Generally, the more beneficial a thing is the easier it is to identify the way in which that things is beneficial. We all know penicillin is beneficial, and we can all state clearly exactly why. Therefore, the intuition goes, if gender roles are really all that important…

Mormon Appropriation of Fundamentalism and Its Outcomes (u)


The last post I whipped off quickly and in frustration was surprisingly well-received. This post was similarly written, and may require editing. Update: I have good reason to believe that the Ensign article in question did not and definitely does not fully reflect its author’s position. This post is not about the author, nor even the Flood itself. (For that, please go read my Flood post first.) After 16 years, however, the article’s content is still easily and prominently accessible to members, with the authority of The Ensign and his BYU position behind it, and that remains highly problematic. Let’s focus on the ideas as written, and not the author. Mention was made today at Church of the 1998 Ensign article “The Flood and the Tower of Babel.” That article is conspicuously absent from the manual and the CES page of resources for teaching these chapters.

Bo Knows Heaven

So there’s my sort of neighbor big Bo, who despite owning two rock-solid Scandinavian names including, yes, Bo, doesn’t exactly seem to have things rock-solidly together.

Guest Post: The Heavenly Mother Poems of Louisa “Lula” Greene Richards

Guest poster Martin Pulido is a businessman by day, LDS scholar by night, who has extensively researched Mormon belief in a Heavenly Mother. He co-authored the BYU Studies article, “A Mother There: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven,” with David Paulsen, and has organized the A Mother Here Art and Poetry Contest with Caroline Kline. The “A Mother Here Art and Poetry Contest” is currently looking for 2-dimensional visual arts pieces and poems that portray Heavenly Mother. The contest will accept entries up until March 4, 2014, and over $2200 in prizes will be awarded when the best entries are announced on May 11, 2014. For more details, visit The contest is being sponsored by Exponent II, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Sunstone, Peculiar Pages, LDS WAVE, and Segullah. As part of the A Mother Here Art and Poetry Contest, we have been examining the literary and artistic works referring to Heavenly Mother created by latter-day saints…

Lineage and the Book of Mormon’s Universal Audience

An excellent entry on “Book of Mormon and DNA Studies” has just appeared in the Gospel Topics section at It explains why studies of New World genetics can neither prove nor disprove the historical claims represented in the Book of Mormon. In the process, it provides a delightfully clear and thorough explanation of some key principles of population genetics, and of how these would apply with regard to the Book of Mormon peoples and the genetic evidence they would (or would not) leave today. Along the way it also offers some helpful observations about what the Book of Mormon record does or does not imply about the demographics of the New World in the events it describes. It is exciting to see offer material of this intellectual depth and complexity. Of course, it is ultimately an article for a popular audience (not for professional researchers), but they obviously aren’t afraid to make their audience think a bit with…

Benjamin the Scribe: My Old Testament Gospel Doctrine column


Perhaps redundantly, I’m announcing my  Old Testament column at Patheos, called Benjamin the Scribe. I post a lesson each week, with thoughts, analysis, background, handouts, links, and articles. I also have some other things, such as a link to my other writings (in which I demask my two past internet personalities), and a screencast about the Rediscovery of  the World of the Old Testament. Given my schedule (classwork and MCAT study), most of my posts will be there instead of here for at least a few months. You can subscribe to get an update whenever a new post goes up. I’ve just put up my lesson on the Flood, but see the Introduction post and About page. If you’ve missed me here after my flurry of  Old Testament posts in December, check me out there.    

Orihah’s Uncle, Moriancumer

Why is the brother of Jared called the brother of Jared? He is far more important in the narrative of the Book of Ether than Jared, so why isn’t Jared called the brother of Moriancumer instead? Here’s my swipe at this much-pondered issue. One might think that Jared is more of a political leader, even though his brother is clearly the more spiritual one, and it is Jared’s political importance that makes him the one with the name recognition. At times, it looks like Jared is telling his brother what to do. Jared asks him to pray for them and their friends, so that their language will not be confounded. When the revelation comes, however, Moriancumer (for short?*) is told to gather Jared and his family and friends. Jared isn’t the one to do the gathering. In fact, the Lord says that Moriancumer is to go at the head of them all as they travel (Ether 1:42). When they come…

I am a Beggar


I am a beggar. I view King Benjamin’s discussion of the beggar as the ultimate Mormon discourse on desert and wealth. Hugh Nibley spoke much on the topic as well. By his own admission, Nibley was drawing upon King Benjamin. Mosiah Chapter 4: 16 And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need ; and ye will not suffer that the “beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.   17 Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just- 18 But I say unto you, 0 man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent ; and except…

Utah same-sex marriage and the international church


Media around the world have been reporting the developments in Utah in relation to same-sex marriage. Nearly always the articles and broadcasts also mention the Mormon Church as the conservative force that tries to prevent same-sex marriage. What could be the effect of such reporting on the image of the Mormon Church worldwide? As far as can be known, what do church members around the world think about same-sex marriage? How will the Church deal with same-sex couples who are legally married in a growing number of countries? This (long) post tries to suggest answers to these three questions. But first, the broader context. The broader context: media and religion The news about Utah runs parallel with similar news about other countries and states. Various countries are currently considering the legalization of same-sex marriage. Meanwhile same-sex marriage has already been approved in a fair number of countries, most of which belong to developed nations, such as Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, the Netherlands,…

A Seven-Participle Pile Up in Mark 5

Mark’s writing style is characterized by parataxis, which means that he writes really short, simple sentences and then joins them together with the word “and.” (It’s the kind of thing your elementary school teachers were always trying to get you to stop doing.)

Defending Faith

Hugh Nibley

One of my heroes is Hugh Nibley. I know. I know. How cliche for a Mormon Studies guy. Though it seems almost equally cliche to dismiss Nibley. In my second semester of graduate school at the University of Utah, I took a graduate seminar in ethics and public affairs. It was a small group. I was the only active Mormon. However, most of the regular participants in the seminar were very familiar with Mormonism. Jason was a returned missionary who had served in Japan. He worked at Sam Wellers Bookstore in downtown Salt Lake City. He was gay and had left the Church. Another participant in the seminar, Arlyn, was somebody I knew a bit better. He was active in the College Democrats and we had been in some classes together before. He was the youngest member in our little group. He was LDS and he came from the tiny Mormon enclave of Shelley, Idaho. He was also gay. The…

Are Prophets Superheroes?

2014-01-27 Superman

Superheroes are a different breed. For a lot of them, this is literal. Most of the well-known superheroes in the Marvel Universe (Fantastic Four, X-Men, Avengers, etc.) are mutants. One of the central themes is the tension between ordinary humans and those genetically gifted with extraordinary mutant powers.  Other superheroes start out as perfectly normal human beings before something happens to set them apart. Peter Parker is consecrated by the bite of a radioactive spider. The Green Lanterns are called and chosen by an ancient alien race at the center of the Universe and endowed with power rings that let them fulfill their duties as Guardians. It’s no coincident that one of the oldest superheroes, and perhaps the archetype of the entire genre, is defined in contrast to human beings: Superman. Quentin Tarantino, cribbing from earlier work by Jules Feiffer, included a monologue in Kill Bill that gets to the heart of this: Superman stands alone. Superman did not become…