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Urban Mormonism

As the sacrament was passed in the rural ward we attended today, my younger daughter looked at the deacons passing the sacrament and asked, “Why are those kids doing that?”[fn1] (My wife tells me that my older daughter noticed the same thing.) — [fn1] Just in case it’s not clear what my daughters are talking about, there is one teenage boy in our ward (but another turns 12 in a month or so!). And that’s not a significant outlier in my perhaps limited experience. So my daughters have rarely seen a bunch of 12- and 13-year-olds get up after the sacrament is blessed.

Mother’s Day, 1996

I sit, waiting for the phone to ring. I haven’t spoken to my parents since December and, though I love what I’m doing, I love them, too. But I’ve been sitting here for almost an hour. I’m not 100% sure of the time zone difference between eastern Brazil and the western United States, but I’m pretty sure they’re late. In this area, none of our members have phones. One of our member’s father has a phone, but, in order to call, I’ve promised that it won’t cost him anything. It’s a party line, something I’d heard about in the U.S. but never actually experienced. (The way it works is, 10 households share a line. Calls come to the first house in the group. That person directs the call to whomever it’s for.) I told the person at number 1 that, when she got a call she didn’t understand to put them through to me. But, after the hour, I decide…

Adventures in Family History, part 2

One Sunday evening, several months ago, I was playing around on FamilySearch, clicking back through my father, his father, his mother (or something like that), etc. After twists and turns—twists and turns I recorded so that I could get back there again—I discovered that I have ancestors from Jersey.[fn1] No, not that Jersey, the one famous for Bruce and the MTV show. Its namesake, the one in the English Channel. Through my clicking, I learned that my great-great-great-grandmother was born in Jersey in 1838 and died in West Bountiful in 1912. For most, this probably wouldn’t be remarkably meaningful. I didn’t do the work to get back these generations, and I have absolutely no knowledge of these ancestors’ lives.[fn2] But . . . . . . but Jersey is a tax haven.[fn3] And I’m a professor of tax law, a researcher of tax law, and, frankly, pretty darn interested in most things tax. And so, learning that I’m descended from residents…

Just Say No?

Just_Say_No

We have had horrible luck while traveling with finding church services through Mormon.org. On one trip, the address it gave didn’t exist. (How do I know? After nearly an hour of looking, asking people in the shops nearby, meeting up with friends who were also looking, well, we never found it.) On another, church started an hour after Mormon.org claimed it did. So I’m gun-shy about trusting Mormon.org when I’m looking for church services. Which is why, last summer, on vacation, when my wife saw an older couple wearing missionary name-tags, we decided to confirm when and where the church met. Turns out that they weren’t assigned to that particular area.[fn1] Still, we started talking. At one point, the husband mentioned something he’d been asked to do, and said, “You don’t say no to a Seventy.” Let me interrupt myself right here to emphasize that it was a throw-away line. They had been asked to report on establishing some program…

The Bott Gaffe: A Chronology [Updated 6Mar12 9:45p]

Randy Bott

Since Wednesday, when I read the Washington Post article that cited BYU Professor Randy Bott, I have been surprised at two elements of the news and commentary I’ve read about it. First, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the unanimity of the response—no one that I’ve seen has tried to defend the ideas that Bott expressed. Second, I’ve been surprised at the speed of the official response. If it is possible, the response makes the views expressed by Bott seem anachronistic to Mormonism today. And I hope this response will make clear to those who still maintain some version of these racist views that they are no longer tolerated among Mormons.

My Cri de Coeur to Randy Bott [Updated][Update 2]

[Update 2:] The Church has responded, both with respect to Dr. Bott’s statement and with a statement on the Church and race. I’m adding the text of each to the bottom of the post, but I want to highlight these two excerpts: We condemn racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church. The origins of priesthood availability are not entirely clear. Some explanations with respect to this matter were made in the absence of direct revelation and references to these explanations are sometimes cited in publications. These previous personal statements do not represent Church doctrine. (In both, emphasis mine.) The first excerpt is wonderful, not pulling punches against our own. And the second, although it’s phrased in the passive voice, is pretty much as explicit a renunciation of previous thought as I’ve seen in the Church, and I know that I’ll be pulling these statements out when (or, I hope, if) I hear…

Romance, MTC Edition

silver-engagement-ring

Tomorrow morning, a bunch of Provoans (and presumably others) will wake up with a brand new ring on their left ring fingers. To all of you: congratulations and good luck! This, though, isn’t your story.

Alan Lomax and All the Good

Alan_Lomax

Today, were he still alive, Alan Lomax would have celebrated his 97th birthday.

I confess that I wasn’t familiar with Lomax until after I got married. The long and the short of it: Alan Lomax was a folklorist and an ethnomusicologist.

Mitt Romney’s Tithing Problem (?)

stock certificate

ABC broke the news: Mitt Romney has donated millions of dollars worth of stock to the Mormon church. SEC filings disclose that a Bain partner donated $1.9 million of Burger King stock to the Church; in addition, the Church has received stock of other Bain holdings, including Domino’s, DDi, Innophos, and the parent company of AMC Theaters.

But why? Why would Romney give the Church equity stakes in bad fast-food chains, second-rate pizza chains, and other such holdings?

Interest Never Sleeps

Hypothetical:[fn1] Alex and Pat both want a Kindle Fire.[fn2] Alex goes to the local brick-and-mortar[fn3] Amazon store, pays $200 cash, and takes a Kindle Fire home. Pat goes to the bank, gets a loan for $200, goes to the local brick-and-mortar Amazon store, pays the $200, and takes a Kindle Fire home. Who made the better decision?[fn4] *** In the Church, we’re suspicious of debt. Sure, we get a pass on student loans, a modest house, a first car, but, as a general rule, our leaders discourage incurring consumer debt, and celebrate those who have escaped debt’s clutches. Having grown up a member of the Church, and having heard the various talks and lessons, I suspect most members would say that Alex made the better decision;Alex has the Fire and no debt. Pat, on the other hand, has both the Fire and the debt. *** Assuming you agree with my intuition that, in general, Mormons would think that Alex made…

Harold Bloom, the Byrds, and Me

About a week ago, James posted a reflection on Harold Bloom’s (frankly awful) New York Times op-ed. Rather than directly responding, though (other than expressing his rightful disappointment), James engaged with Dr. Bloom’s allegation that Mormonism and Protestantism are converging. Though concerned about such a convergence, James ultimately (and rightly, I believe) doesn’t think we’re headed inexorably down that path. That said, Dr. Bloom is right that the Church has changed a lot between 1844 and 2011.[fn1] Change is inevitable and, as Ecclesiastes tells us, is to be expected. And, frankly, there have been a number of changes that, even if they risk our Protestantization, I’m really happy about. And I’m not talking Official Declaration 1 or 2 stuff—I’m going to assume that most of us are grateful that polygamy is no longer the sine qua non of the faithful member, and that all of us are grateful that we don’t live in the world of a racially-based Priesthood ban.…

Things for Which I’m Thankful

1. My family. I haven’t said much about them on this blog, and will continue not to say much about them here, but I’m certainly thankful for them. 2. Social networks. And I mean this on all sorts of levels. Facebook has brought me back in touch with friends from high school with whom I otherwise wouldn’t have any contact. But I’m also thankful for IRL social networks: my colleagues, my neighbors, members of my ward, my kids’ friends’ parents. I’m thankful for the community that can happen when the guy comes out to repair your internet, and it turns out he has a kid the same age as your kid. 3. The eternal potential of (1) and (2). It adds that much more to these relationships to know that they can continue. 4. North Face. For this Southern Californian, it’s nice to know I’ll be able to survive another Chicago winter.[fn1] 5. Jim Henson. I remember watching the Muppet…

14.1 Million

In the comments to Dave’s post discussing Joanna Brooks’s discussion of myths about Mormonism, the conversation is getting hung up on whether her citation of 14.1 million members is disingenuous[fn1] or not. That discussion, I believe, misses the point.[fn2] Why? Baseline. First, because 14.1 million is as good a number as any. Sure, in a real discussion of how many Mormons there are, you need to do a whole lot more work to define what you mean by “Mormon.”[fn3] There are some areas that are clear: for example, it’s hard to argue that a person who has been baptize in the LDS church, attends church every Sunday, and self-identifies as Mormon should not be counted as a Mormon. It’s also easy to say that a person who grew up in a devout Catholic home, who has never met a Mormon, been to a Mormon church, or heard of Stone and Parker’s Book of Mormon musical, and who, moreover, self-identifies as…

Blogging on the Road to Damascus

saul damascus one

Transcripts of the recent General Conference have been posted at LDS.org, including President Uchtdorf’s talk “Waiting on the Road to Damascus.” The talk was mostly a word of encouragement to those members of the Church who, for various reasons including self-doubt, are not full participants in their local wards. The focus of the talk was on the invitation to get past or around whatever the issue is, not on the details of the difficulties or doubts some people face. Of course, his comments on blogging and social media were the most interesting part of the talk. He made these comments in the context of how members of the Church ought to be more open about sharing the gospel. With so many social media resources and a multitude of more or less useful gadgets at our disposal, sharing the good news of the gospel is easier and the effects more far-reaching than ever before. In fact, I am almost afraid that…

The hidden apologetics of Banner of Heaven

Scott at Bloggernacle Times has been putting on a very impressive Behind the Music retrospective about the old Banner of Heaven blog.  The hair, the women, the trashed hotel rooms — it’s all there, complete with interviews with band members (Brian G. comes clean about the infamous “no brown M&M’s” contract), groupies band aids, and even the occasional critic. In fact, about the only point that Scott seems to have missed so far is the group’s hidden apologetic purpose. What apologetic purpose, you ask?  Only that a widely read book — also widely perceived as hostile towards the church — was google-bombed halfway into oblivion.  Now, curious souls who google “Banner of Heaven” are as likely to read about X-boxes or the speculation train as they are to learn about Mountain Meadows.  Apologetics, meet Web 2.0. And the apologetic stone cut without hands will roll forth virally, until it has overcome the entire Googleverse.  Amen.

New Mormon Blog at Beliefnet

Jana Reiss, former T&S guest blogger and author of Mormonism for Dummies, is running a new Mormon blog at Beliefnet: Flunking Sainthood. Put a link in your blogroll (do people still do blogrolls?) and visit often. Having myself previously hosted a Mormon blog at Beliefnet, I have some idea of the challenge the new blog is facing. The problem can be put very simply: (1) few people who aren’t Mormon have much to say about Mormonism, and (2) there aren’t too many Mormons hanging around the Beliefnet site. But it just seems wrong that one of the most popular Internet religion sites doesn’t host a Mormon blog (they host just about everything else), so I’m happy Jana is taking on this project. I hope she is the surprise hit of the year at Beliefnet. As the author of What Would Buffy Do: The Vampire Slayer as Spiritual Guide, I’m sure she has a few tricks up her sleeve. You can…

Testimonies of the Bloggernacle

Conference Center Pulpit

A friend asked whether I was aware of any good collections of testimony or “Why I Believe”-type posts in the Bloggernacle. Nothing really sprung to mind, so I thought I’d issue a call for people to share their favorites here. I’ll compile a running bullet-point list below of the suggestions.

Anonymity as Virtue or Vice

Online anonymity is a topic that comes up regularly. Does if facilitate public discussion of controversial issues or just allow anonymous commenters to spread rumor and innuendo with no accountability? Does real-name posting or commenting improve quality via reputation effects or lead to self-censoring? These are valid questions for all online forums, not just blogs or the Bloggernacle.

Going Social and Open Source

The LDS Church’s Chief Information Officer, Joel Dehlin, called for help Wednesday in a post titled Mormon Open Source Open for Business. The project seeks help with a number of LDS Church projects, including, first on the list, a rewrite of the software that runs the Stake and Ward Websites.

Compassion for the Unworthy

Can I remind us of something? The rhetoric here and elsewhere on the bloggernacle, the Internet, and evidently in the personal lives of some of us, seems all too often to be based on the idea that there is a worthiness test for compassion.

To Tweet or Not to Tweet

When I first heard about Twitter, I thought it was one of those truly dumb ideas that couldn’t possibly catch on. Now it is an infotsunami, sweeping over the world in a growing horde of 140-character snippets [see “People Are Flocking to Twitter” at LDS Media Talk for a quick update]. So do you join the wave or run for high ground?

Only a Clerk

Soon after I was made a ward clerk 20 years ago this month, I walked into the clerk’s office to find a xerox copy of an article posted there. The article was the text of a letter, sent by one of my predecessors, to the Church’s membership department, and had somehow found its way to Sunstone. It was titled “A Religion of Clerks.” The author, Randal Quarles, has since served as Undersecretary of the Treasury.

Three Million Strong (and Growing)…

A little more than a year ago, Russell wrote a post commemorating Times and Seasons 2 millionth hit. A feat he said wasn’t bad “for a blog that doesn’t feature kittens or porn.” Looking back, he also noted that while “We’ve weathered storms and squalls, and some people have gone overboard… Still, old Times and Seasons lumbers onward.” Fifteen months, a few new shipmates, and another million readers later, it’s still plowing onward (with the occasional hiccup). Whatever success Times and Seasons has enjoyed along the way is due in large part to all of you who peek in on us once in awhile. So, to echo Russell once more, thanks… “to our [three] millionth reader, and our first, and everyone who has come in between.” Hopefully, we can keep you coming back for more.