Category: Cornucopia

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…

Times and Seasons Welcomes Chris Henrichsen

Times and Seasons is pleased to welcome Chris Henrichsen as our latest guest blogger. Chris has been blogging for years, first at FPR and then, since February 2013, at the Patheos column Approaching Justice. He has a BA and an MA in political science from the University of Utah and is currently working on a doctorate, also in political science, at Idaho State University. In 2012, Chris ran for the House of Representatives in Wyoming as a Democrat. Chris has taught political science and philosophy at BYU, BYU-Idaho, UVU, and Casper College. He recently relocated to Las Vegas with his wife and three children.

Gay : Marriage :: Mormon : Christian

A Play in One Act Heber: . . . and that’s why we should all recognize that Mormons are Christians. Aquinas: Whoa, whoa. I understand your enthusiasm. The label of Christian is really valuable. But it also has a set definition. And I don’t think Mormons are in that definition. Heber: Why not? We believe in Jesus, don’t we? Christianity is defined by one thing: Belief in Jesus. Aquinas: That’s where you’re wrong. In fact, there’s a lot more to Christianity than belief in Jesus. Throughout human history, the word “Christian” has included a complicated package of additional, interrelated ideas. There is the Nicene creed, the Trinity, and a variety of other beliefs. And no entity satisfies that particular combination except for mainline Christians. Heber: But those are peripheral, cultural, possibly wrong. And when you look at it, even those have changed repeatedly over the years. Aquinas: Yes, there has been some shifting over time. But the label has always…

Everyday Redemption


Strutting down the driveway, whistling with a snow shovel over my shoulder I had a moment where I was struck by the absurdity of the scene. I smiled. Then I wondered at it and how it came to be. Late morning, and gloriously the DC area shuts down at the mention of snow. So I’m still in my pajamas, hanging the picture frames I’ve been meaning to get at for some time. “James, quick, there’s a car stuck out there. Get your shovel and go help.” “Oh. Sure.” That was it in terms of words and thought. But even if the proximate cause, it didn’t really explain much. Why hadn’t we thought or discussed it some more? Why no hesitation? Why was I whistling like a Disney dwarf? Growing up in northern Wyoming surely has a lot to do with it. Boy did I have a lot of opportunities to shovel snow and freeze my hands pushing on car bumpers.…

I Believe in Gender Roles

2014-01-20 Gender Roles

It is an ancient and time-honored tradition of fathers to leap out from behind corners and startle their little kids. According to the venerable template, the little one will shriek in faux terror and scamper away in expectation of pursuit. My son has different ideas. If my son is startled by something truly unknown, like the low-flying medical helicopter that often passed over our apartment in Michigan, then he will get scared. But if he can identify the source of a perceived threat, then his instinctive reaction is immediate and unrestrained aggression. This has been the case at least as long as he’s been able to walk. If I, or anyone else, tries to startle the little dude, he lowers his head, defiantly bellows his war-cry, and charges. So when my wife realized that he was slated for several shots at his routine checkup on Friday, I took off work to go to the appointment with her. It’s a good…

Women and the Priesthood: What’s the Conservative Position?

2014-01-13 No Girls Allowed

Although general terms like “liberal” and “conservative” should always be handled with care, there’s a basic understanding that the movement to ordain women is predominantly a liberal movement and that the skeptics are predominantly conservative. Broadly speaking, this is correct. But some go farther and argue that the default conservative position is to defend the status quo. This is a grave error. The error arises from a misunderstanding of how conservatism operates in a Mormon context. That basic idea of conservatism is “retaining traditional social institutions.” This is always more complex than merely a reflex to defend the status quo. Conservatives exercise judgment in which principles and institutions from the past deserve to be preserved. They translate those principles and institutions into new forms to fit a modern context. And, when the present moment has moved sufficiently far from past principle and institutions, the status quo must be attacked in order to recover past traditions. In short: conservatism cannot be…

Brandon Flowers and the Song of Redeeming Love

This is going to meander a bit at first but bear with me. Each semester I have to grade something like 1,340,567 pages of student exams. It is horrible. To dull the pain, I pick a new music group each semester as my “grading discovery.” Last semester I picked Brandon Flowers and the Killers. I’d never paid much attention to them, but I got interested after I saw Brandon Flowers’s “I am a Mormon” video spot. It was a happy discovery. I like them. Much to my surprise a long-time friend of mine, an accomplished lawyer and former stake president, also recently discovered Flowers’s music through his daughter. After hearing that I was enjoying the Killers, he sent me a long and fascinating email with his theological interpretations of Brandon Flowers’s lyrics, which he finds filled with Mormon ideas. For example, in “Crossfire,” a song about a man rescued by his love he finds a reference to the Mormon interpretation…

A Look at the Political Affiliations of Some Prominent Members

A friend recently drew my attention to a new website that catalogs Utah voter registration data in a searchable format that was purportedly purchased from the Herbert administration. After checking the voter registration data of a few friends and acquaintances, I thought it would be interesting to identify the party registrations of some prominent members of the Church. Any other fun finds to add to the list? First Presidency Thomas S. Monson, registered Republican Henry B. Eyring, registered Republican Dieter F. Uchtdorf, unaffiliated voter Quorum of the Twelve Boyd K. Packer, registered Republican L. Tom Perry, registered Republican Russell M. Nelson, registered Republican Dallin H. Oaks, registered Republican M. Russell Ballard, registered Republican Richard G. Scott, registered Republican Robert D. Hales, registered Republican Jeffrey R. Holland, registered Republican David A. Bednar, unaffiliated voter Quentin L. Cook, unaffiliated voter D. Todd Christopherson, unaffiliated voter Neil L. Anderson, registered Republican Relief Society General Board Linda K. Burton, unaffiliated voter Carole M. Stephens, registered…

Don’t hate me just because my trek was awesome


When it comes to handcart reenactments, we spend too much time on all the wrong questions, questions like: How much physical suffering is needed for a youth-appropriate spiritual experience? Personally, I’d like to minimize the suffering in my spiritual experiences, thank you very much. Or anxious hand-wringing, like: Do handcart reenactments distort the historically authentic experiences of pioneers who traveled to Utah by various means and responded in individually determined ways to the contingent experience of physical exertion and deprivation over which a superstructure of religious Exodus narrative had been established amid a plethora of competing counter-narratives? Again, I’m not terribly interested; perfect authenticity is not only boring, it’s inauthentic. Instead, the question we should be asking ourselves is What kind of awesome ward activities can we justify thanks to the examples of pioneer ancestors and/or revered persons of non-direct ancestry?

The Heavenly Family: A Proclamation

ALL HUMAN BEINGS—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of Heavenly Parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose. Heavenly Father and Mother have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. Heavenly Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Heavenly Father and Mother will be held accountable for the discharge of these obligations. Children of God are entitled to be reared by Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. Heavenly Father is to preside over their families in love and righteousness and provide the necessities of life and protection. Heavenly Mother is…

Varieties of Divine Eclecticism

Temples, and everything that goes with them, are at the heart of what Mormonism has to offer the world.

When I was a missionary from 2000-2002, we taught about the Restoration in the third discussion. We often drew a picture to convey the core concepts. There was a mirror (representing the Church) a string (representing the Apostles) and a nail (representing Christ). The Apostasy came about, we taught, because the Apostles died, and so the string was cut, and so the mirror fell, and so it was destroyed. If you want to see clearly, you cannot tape together the shattered shards of a mirror. So too, we taught, Christ had to abandon the broken remnants of His former Church and—with Joseph Smith—start all over again. Christ’s Church could not be “reformed” back into existence, it had to be restored. That’s fine as it pertains to the concept of priesthood authority, but unfortunately we specifically taught that the shards of the broken church corresponded to theological truths. Our message was clear: if you want all the truth, you have to…

Reasoning Together – Zion

We talk about Zion in a lot of different senses, but I think most of these share the general idea of communally gathering, developing, sharing, and partaking in everything that is lovely, virtuous, or praiseworthy or of good report. How do we do this, both collectively and individually, on both a theological and political level? Once again (obviously) I can’t adequately answer that question here. But once again I’m bothered by a lot of the discussions I see flying around our virtual and ward-level worlds. I don’t like the divisive,  polemical way in which these discussions are framed – especially when the discussion revolves around whether all is well in Zion or whether Zion is in need of some serious, often non-contiguous reform. In what follows, this question is my main target and what I want you to consider. Is the good ship Zion sinking while the crew and passengers obliviously bask in what they take to be the sunlight?…

Leaders are Fallible (No, Really)

Nephi saw the Tree of Life only because he believed, but was not satisfied.

The changes at the Gospel Topics section of (which I wrote about two weeks ago) and especially the Church’s new Race and the Priesthood article have rekindled questions about the fallibility of Church leaders. After all, the Church’s current position completely disavows the past practice of denying the priesthood to blacks and all but explicitly states that the practice was an error from the start. Chalk it up with Adam-God and blood atonement and poor Brother Brigham seems to be batting 0.000 at theological innovation. It’s difficult to reconcile such grave errors with the statement, canonized in Official Declaration 1, that “The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray.” It’s possible that President Woodruff had in mind an even more grave contravention of God’s plan when he spoke and so is still correct, baseless priesthood ban notwithstanding. But if institutionalized racism is not “astray”, then what is? The simpler solution…

My Beef with Goals

According to the de facto Mormon liturgical calendar, it is the time of year to talk about goal-setting. Most Mormon discussions of goals make me want to poke myself in the eyeball with a fork–a reaction I initially did not understand, since I set goals for myself all of the time. But after thinking about it for a while, I figured out a few reasons why the standard Mormon discourse on goals and goal-setting aggravates me so much.

BYU-Idaho: the next ten years (II)

To keep the rest of this post in context, let me repeat that I think Rexburg is a fantastic place, that BYU-Idaho has gotten the most important things right in its transformation from a junior college into a four-year university, and that its dress code is not a terribly important issue. The university’s path forward to becoming the kind of university it hopes to be, although not simple, is clear enough. Another tricky question for the future of the university is how to strike the right balance between local heritage versus consistency with the system flagship in Provo: How much BYU, and how much Idaho?

Partaking of the Fruit of the Tree


One of my favorite parts of Christmas is sitting in the darkened living room, gazing at the lighted tree. There is something magical and transfixing about the warm, gentle light, the fragrance of pine, and the palpable presence of nature that fills my home with its incongruous beauty. I have many memories of reading Scripture by the light of the Christmas tree. Usually we read from Luke, with Matthew’s bit about the Wise Men added in; sometimes we expand into Isaiah, either spoken or set to Handel. This year, though, when I stole a moment of stillness out of the hectic holiday rush to sit beside the tree, the words that came to my mind were Nephi’s: “I looked and beheld a tree . . . and the bbeauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the cwhiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow.” It had never struck me before how much meaning the…

2014 Summer Seminar on Mormon Culture: The History of the Mormon Family

In the summer of 2014, the Neal A Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University, with support from the Mormon Scholars Foundation and the Jack and Mary Lois Wheatley Institution, will sponsor a summer seminar for graduate students and junior faculty on “The History of the Mormon Family.” The seminar will be held on the BYU campus in Provo, Utah, from June 15 to July 26. Admitted participants will receive a stipend of $3000 with an accommodations subsidy if needed. The seminar continues the series of seminars on Mormon culture begun in the summer of 1997. In 2014, the seminar will be conducted by Richard and Claudia Bushman. The question we will address is: how did the Church move in the course of a century from the most unconventional marriage system in the nation to a model of family stability? Mormons were criticized in the nineteenth century for their assault on family values. By the mid-twentieth century, they were lauded for…

This Is War Like You Ain’t Seen


I’m spending time moving my family into our new home and getting ready for Christmas, so here’s a song from Dustin Kensrue’s Christmas album This Good Night Is Still Everywhere. It’s not the usual sound, but that’s part of why I like it so much. (And now I’m going to get some Mannheim Steamroller going…)

Gospel Topics at, A Change of Direction?

2013-12-16 Going Rogue

I told my Gospel Doctrine class yesterday afternoon that since we had run out of lesson manual for the year we were going to go rogue. Then I proceeded to give the first lesson I’ve ever given (I think) in which I exclusively used officially-approved Church materials[1].  I could pick anything I wanted to teach about, and I choose to cite three videos and four articles from the Gospel Topics section of And yet I did feel like there was something quietly revolutionary about the material we covered in the lesson. The article that has riveted the Bloggernaccle and even the world beyond this week is the article Race and the Priesthood [2], and that’s where I got started. I’d heard vague mentions about efforts on the part of the Church to revise the curriculum and/or to start addressing difficult issues head on. I even think I’d heard something about the article on the First Vision accounts, but I sort of figured that…

God, the Necessity of Scholars, and the Old Testament: A Long Post and a Short Announcement.

Among laypeople, one sometimes finds a distrust of scholarship as it applies to the Bible, particularly if that scholarship runs against a traditional interpretation, or if tells you an obvious face-value reading you favor doesn’t really mean what you think it does. LDS have competing traditions towards serious scripture study. On the one hand, we are not a Bible-based (or even Book of Mormon-based) religion, where doctrine comes primarily through exegesis and interpretation. No sir, we’ve got prophets! We make an end run around all that stuff. We don’t believe you must attend college and be trained for the ministry to preach the orthodox religion! If you’ve read the Ensign and served a mission, or you grew up in Utah, most weeks you don’t need to bother preparing anything at all to participate fully in our Sunday lessons. A great pity, indeed. So there can certainly be an anti-intellectual strain, the expression of which varies greatly by ward and geography. In…

Deadline – New Summer Seminar in Mormon Theology

Just a reminder that the deadline for applications for the First Annual Summer Seminar in Mormon Theology, co-spsonsored by The Mormon Theology Seminar and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, is December 15, 2013.

The Old Testament, Scripture, Apostles, the Priesthood Ban, and Theological Diversity: Calibrating Our Expectations

(I’m probably cramming too much into this mishmash of a post, but frustration over certain conversations has collided with academic stress and lack of time to refine it. I may regret it, so consider this a preview, a beta.) The expectations we bring to reading scripture can radically affect our reading, our faith, and our communities. One frequent assumption, traditional in many religions, is that revelation (and scripture, as a subset of revelation) must be monolithic, unified, in harmony, univocal, internally consistent. This is not the case, and it is not an accident. Let’s back up, though, particularly as we get in to the Old Testament, and ask, what are our expectations of scripture? Are they properly calibrated? I think we tend to read the scriptures for three reasons, devotional (performing piety and seeking communion with God), doctrinal (stripping away the “irrelevant cultural dross” to extract “True Doctrine”), and moralistic (expecting to find simple models of modern LDS principles and standards). Certainly, those…

The Wrongness of Being Right

It seems to me that any time you turn something into a point of conflict, you risk being in the wrong. It becomes more important to be right than it is to understand your fellow brother, to exercise compassion, to be humble and teachable.

Zion, Mortal Loneliness, and The Hall of Records

2013-12-08 Antisocial Technology

In my imagination there is a hall of records in the future Celestial Zion where anyone can review the mortal life of any other person as seen from their perspective. It is an imposing structure in its own right, one part great library and one part museum, but it lies in the shadow of grander and more glorious edifices. The business of Zion will be eternal progression, and so the hall of records receives fewer visitors than the other communal spaces of learning. It is vast and solitary place. A person could enter and spend an entire day walking between the towering shelves on the buildings many levels. Outside the sun would roll across the sky, and inside that person would encounter only a couple of other souls, and those at a distance, as each quietly pursued answers to their own questions. The shelves are loaded with the weight of a hundred billion human lives. The impressions, the thoughts, the…