Category: Mormon Life

Mormon Life – Family – Personal Reflections

The Upside of Returned Missionaries

I want to note, upfront, that although this post was inspired by Rachel’s and Alison’s excellent recent posts, it is not meant in any way to respond to them. I fully agree with them that there are returned missionaries—even active, temple-attending returned missionaries—who do bad things. And those bad things can, physically, spiritually, and emotionally, hurt people around them, especially where the people around them (reasonably) believe that returned missionaries should not do bad things. Moreover, being male, my relationship with (male) returned missionaries did not have the same structural inequities Alison and Rachel describe, even when I was younger. Still, I want to provide anecdotal evidence that, in some circumstances, returned missionaries can do good (at least, if you consider getting me out on a mission good). Before I went to BYU, I thought returned missionaries (or at least recent returned missionaries) were complete losers. No, I don’t remember why—it’s been a long, long time. But I think I…

Elliot’s Vagrants

Coreen Johnson has graciously provided this personal story of Mormon Life, which I loved and thought would be a great addition here. Coreen is a stay-at-home mother of 4 who now lives in New Mexico. Enjoy! Elliot’s Vagrants by Coreen Johnson, FMHer “Hey lady! Do you have a dollar?  Just a dollar!  Please lady! Just a dollar! Please, ma’am!”

Moroni Torgan and the Church in Fortaleza, Brazil (part 3)


[The third part of a translation of an article written by Emanuel Santana and published on the Brazilian group blog, Vozes Mórmons. The article raises many questions about politics and the Church—questions we are familiary with in the U.S. and perhaps Canada, but which are new territory for Mormons in Brazil and elsewhere around the world. Part one of this series was published Tuesday.] . Moroni Torgan and the Church in Fortaleza by Emmanuel Santana The 2004 race for mayor was more exciting. The “Juraci Era” had put Fortaleza’s voters in the mood for change. Inácio Arruda and Moroni Torgan both again sought the office, along with two others who debuted in the election: Aloísio, the candidate supported by Juraci Magalhães, and Luizianne Lins, who, even without the support of the national leadership of her party, launched her candidacy as the Workers Party candidate. From the beginning of the race polls placed the Mormon in front. The barbs exchanged between…

Moroni Torgan and the Church in Fortaleza, Brazil (part 2)


[The second part of a translation of an article written by Emanuel Santana and published on the Brazilian group blog, Vozes Mórmons. The article raises many questions about politics and the Church—questions we are familiary with in the U.S. and perhaps Canada, but which are new territory for Mormons in Brazil and elsewhere around the world. Part one of this series was published yesterday.] .  Moroni Torgan and the Church in Fortaleza by Emmanuel Santana Out of the books and stories of their elders. I can not remember anything of Moroni’s first election, since occurred just a few years after I was born. His subsequent elections, as lieutenant governor, and again as a member of the House of Deputies, I remember somewhat. The political rallies were lively, including comedians, forró bands and gifts meant to encourage people to come. In Brazilian elections, each candidate is assigned a number which is used by the voter in the electronic ballot box. Moroni’s…

Moroni Torgan and the Church in Fortaleza, Brazil (part 1)


The following is a translation from an article written by Emanuel Santana and published on the Brazilian group blog, Vozes Mórmons. I have divided it into three parts because the post is so long and raises so many questions about politics and the Church—things that strike me as repeatedly-covered issues in the U.S. and perhaps Canada, but which are new territory in Brazil and elsewhere around the world. This first part covers background information, from the introduction of the Church in Fortaleza to Moroni Torgan’s arrival and rise to prominence as Brazil’s first Mormon Congressman.


We talk about our Heavenly Father loving us, and our leaders say they love us, but sometimes it feels like they mean “us” in general, and not “me” in particular. We are told that almost any righteous man and woman can have a successful marriage if they are both committed, if both of them have enough faith to do everything right. [fn1] The particulars of the individuals, the quirks and preferences that make up our personalities, don’t much matter. And many couples in contented arranged marriages can testify to the viability of this idea. In the same way, any given community of saints within any arbitrarily drawn ward boundary has the potential to foster Zion within it. We don’t choose our wards, not really. We serve and worship where we are assigned. We learn to love each other in our particularity as we serve together through years. We are not just numbers, we are fellow saints who struggle and celebrate…

Missions, 15 Years Later

Today is the 15th anniversary of the end of my mission. (Note that I can’t entirely remember what I mean by that—I’m pretty sure that August 5, 1997, was my last day of proselytizing, the 6th I got on an airplane, and the 7th I arrived home. But it has been 15 years, and I’m not 100% sure.) And what does that two years mean to me, 15 years later? On one level, not a whole lot. I don’t think about it a whole lot; my days are much more likely spent occupied by the Internal Revenue Code. Or my kids. My wife. My calling. Blogging. But although its explicit significance has diminished in my life, I still feel fallout from my mission’s underlying repercussions. (Fallout in a good way, naturally.) Principal among these is that my commitment to the Church and the gospel solidified over those two years. This is not to say that, without a mission, I wouldn’t…

The Way We Teach Our Children Modesty

At the age of two, my daughter Axa could point out an immodest outfit in a shop window. At five, she added sleeves to the dress on the princess picture her babysitter had drawn for her. Although I don’t recall making any special effort to teach her about modesty, I was surprised and gratified that she understood the concept at such a young age. However, lately I’ve been having disquieted feelings when she brings up modesty, as I realize that something in the nuance of what I’ve taught has gone awry. And then just a few weeks ago, something happened that disturbed me. Axa (who’s now seven) was reading the Book of Mormon out loud to me. She hadn’t interjected a word until we came to this passage (from the Testimony of Joseph Smith, describing the appearance of the angel Moroni): He had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness. It was a whiteness beyond anything earthly I had…

On Stephen Covey and Self-help Books

  As most readers here no doubt know, Mormon academic and author Stephen R. Covey died earlier this week. Covey was best known for his highly popular self-help book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, which earned him fame and fortune, as well as some detractors. His death, together with the fact that my bookclub is currently reading Viktor Frankl’s influential book Man’s Search for Meaning and that I came across an old conference talk drawn from a self-help book, led me to ponder a bit about Covey’s influence and self-help books in general and the influence that these books have had on me.

Imagining Mormonism

So after several recommendations, I finally got around to reading Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities. The book examines a simple question: how do institutions or nations (the book’s focus is on nationalism) create a sense of identity in their membership or citizenry? It’s one thing to feel a sense of identity with a group whose membership one knows personally: an extended family, a village, a small company. But what about churches or corporations or countries whose members, workers, or citizens number in the millions? The more you ponder that question, the more interesting it becomes. In that light, let’s talk about the strong identity that Mormons seem to feel.

Globetrotting, Mormon-Style

In front of the Manila Temple

One of the things almost sure to be heard in testimony meeting after someone has traveled (whether it’s across the ocean or just to the next town over) is an expression of gratitude that “the Church is the same no matter where you go.” To a certain extent, it’s true. We all sing the same hymns, although every ward congregation seems to have its particular favorites. We all read the same scriptures. Sunday meetings follow the same general format, even if the meetings are in a different order. Thanks to Correlation, Sunday School and other lesson manuals are standardized and translated into over a hundred languages, and on any given Sunday the whole worldwide Church is studying the same lesson (give or take a week or two depending on how organized the local Sunday School teacher happens to be). We’ve traveled and moved around the world quite a bit, and I’ll admit that I do appreciate the general “sameness” of…

The Boundaries of Independence


As my children have grown and started to leave home, I find myself conflicted by the idea of Independence. Of course I want them to be independent, to go off on their own, make their own choices and even, to be frank, to require less or none of my support and effort. Its not that I’m not willing to give them support and effort, but more that just as they need to be independent, my wife and I would like fewer requirements. We, too, would like a bit more independence.

Practical Apologetics: Help, I want to go back to church

Seismic changes at the Maxwell Institute have prompted reflective blog posts on the fate of FARMS and Mormon apologetics in general (The Rise and Fall of FARMS | The Legacy of FARMS | Explosive Tensions within MSR). My view: the FARMS approach has become outdated. Mormon apologetics will become more decentralized and more social as people (both LDS and non-LDS) turn to Google and Facebook rather than the bookstore, the library, or journals to get answers to their Mormon questions. Apologetics will therefore become more personal and more practical. People still want answers., blogs, and Mormon Stories are the shape of the future for apologetics: diverse, personal, interactive. [Disclaimer: I’m not endorsing the agenda of Mormon Stories, whatever it is, just noting the popularity of the format.]

Gendered Unity

Every ward or branch I’ve lived as an adult has struggled with the dilemma of how to increase a sense of unity among the Relief Society sisters. In some places, demographics have dictated a natural split between the transient (a few months to a few years) young college and graduate age students, wives, and mothers and those who live in the ward on a more permanent basis: more established families, families with grown children, and retirees. We’ve also lived in a branch split by language differences in which about half of the members spoke English as a native language, about half spoke some form of Spanish, and a few spoke other languages like Portuguese and Tagalog. In all cases, there was an obligation felt by the Relief Society presidencies to increase unity among the sisters. We tried planning enrichment meetings that would encourage cross-generational and cross-cultural interaction. Some things, like potluck dinners with recipe exchanges worked pretty well. But we…

Taxing Churches: A Response

Oh no—somebody on the Internet is wrong while I’m on vacation! But duty calls. Recently, Ryan Cragun, a sociology professor, along with students Stephanie Yeager and Desmond Vega, argued that the government subsidizes religion by about $71 billion a year. He thinks this is wrong, and that religions should pay their fair share. I have no problem with his making this argument—tax exemption costs the government significant revenue (though his $71 billion is based on really, really poor assumptions—more on that later), and should be examined carefully and critically. But Prof. Cragun’s analysis is not the careful and critical examination that the tax treatment of churches deserves. His piece has a number of significant problems. I’m not going to address all of the problems, including the fact that he appears unaware that there is an extensive academic literature that explores the place of a tax exemption for churches,[fn1] but I am going to address a handful of his assertions. In…

Church Centers: Multi-use Buildings?

Yes, we were a poster family for our YMCA.

When we lived in La Jolla, the kids and I were members of the La Jolla YMCA. There was a child care center that would watch my little preschoolers for a couple of hours while I exercised and showered. I worked with a trainer and learned to use machines and free weights. I took aerobics, tai chi, yoga and pilates classes. My kids took swim, dance and gymnastics lessons. They went to preschool. I volunteered at the preschool, got trained and taught kids and adult yoga classes, and helped in the annual fundraising efforts that provided reduced membership and class fees for low income families like ours. That Y was great because there was a true sense of community. The early morning aerobics class had a core group of women who had been working out together for 20 years. On Thursday afternoons, the ballet class parents held a potluck dinner in the courtyard, while the children danced and played. We…

O My Father

“My father, thou art the guide of my youth” (Jeremiah 3:4). We turn to him for guidance, for help and counsel as we age and learn our own fallibilities. It is Father’s Day. Today, we recognize the important role that men play in loving and caring for children. Too often, I get caught up on a few words in the Proclamation on the Family and the idea that “fathers are to preside over their families.” It sounds distancing to me; that the father is somehow uninvolved in the day to day work of family and home life; he is, at best, a benevolent administrator. It makes me think of my paternal grandfather’s generation, who were not allowed to be in the hospital at the birth of their children, who were shaped by the culture of their time to not be overly affectionate; to be the authority figure in the home. There was no “My daddy is my fav’rite pal” type…

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.

A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation: Idaho Falls Edition

I took the two-hour drive to Idaho Falls last night to hear Greg Johnson and Robert Millet present their friendly conversation on Mormons and Evangelicals to an audience of six or seven hundred. Johnson is an Evangelical pastor who runs the Standing Together ministry in Utah; Millet is a Professor of Ancient Scripture at BYU. Together they coauthored Bridging the Divide: The Continuing Conversation Between a Mormon and an Evangelical back in 2007. Their live presentation covers some of the same ground as the book, but also takes questions from the audience.

Single Moms and Adoption — Another Perspective

I have been fascinated by the idea of adoption for a long time. Growing up, I knew a few people who were adopted, and the idea of bringing home your baby from Korea or the Ukraine always seemed exotic to me. But my obsession really took off when I got my Patriarchal Blessing. After gushing about the children that would be born to me, a totally out-of-the-blue paragraph began with the words, “I bless the love of your family to extend to other children . . . ” Suddenly, adoption was part of my envisioned Mormon “happily-ever-after,” and I embraced the idea delightedly. When my husband and I were newly married and trying for a baby, I recall telling him that if we didn’t have a baby before we went on our field study to the Philippines the next year, we were adopting one there. Two biological children later, my compulsion to adopt has only increased, and we’re finally preparing…

Not Ready for Naptime

Tomorrow, the Chicago Tribune is hosting the Printers Row Lit Fest.[fn1] If you like books, there are all sorts of cool things to do. What am I going to do at the festival? Two words: Justin Roberts. In my opinion, he’s the best kids’ musician out there.[fn2] This will be the third Justin Roberts and the Not Ready For Naptime Players concert that my family has seen. Plus, we’ve been to WBEZ’s So Many Ways to Tell a Story twice, and he wrote songs with the kids at both of them. But wait, you say, this is a Mormon blog. Is Justin Roberts somehow Mormon? No.[fn3] But lots (though not all) of us have kids, and our kids should listen to music, and there is a lot of really cool kids’ music out there these days. I know, if you grew up when I did, you’re mostly aware of the backlash against Barney’s repetitive and simplistic songs, or the over-synthesized…

Forbes List Update

I’m a bit behind in putting together my lists, so I won’t analyze this too much. As I’ve done with each of the major Forbes lists of the wealthy, here is a summary of the Mormons who appear on the list of the world’s billionaires that Forbes published last month. While there is certainly a bit of churn on the overall list, the Mormons on the list have remained relatively in the same place since I last looked at them in October.

More Than Christian?

Two recent essays provide a new perspective on the never-ending discussion centered around the question, “Are Mormons Christian?” Mormons claim to be Christian, while at the same time denying divine authority and full legitimacy to all other Christian denominations. Consider the specific topic of rebaptism. Previously baptized Christians who join the LDS Church are required to be rebaptized by an LDS priesthood holder, which seems quite natural to Mormons. Baptized Mormons who later choose to join another Christian denomination are generally required to be rebaptized by that denomination because, in their eyes, Mormon baptism doesn’t count, which rather incongruously strikes most Mormons as wrong. We seem to think everyone else should accept our baptism as valid while we are free to reject anyone else’s baptism as invalid. Obviously, we haven’t adequately thought through this question of Christian identity and Mormon identity.

Internet Radio and the Church


I recently bought a couple wireless speakers so that I could listen to my music collection away from my computer, without earphones. It turns out that these speakers not only play music off my computer, though: they’ll also allow me to listen to, among other things, podcasts, Pandora, and any number of radio stations, as long as the radio station broadcasts online.

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…

Mahana, You Ugly!

Let me tell you a little story. Not long ago, we moved to a new ward. After a few weeks, my husband and I were invited to come early to church to meet with a member of the bishopric. We figured, of course, that he wanted to extend a calling to one or both of us. When we arrived, he asked my husband to come in and speak with him first. So I assumed that my husband was getting the calling. To my surprise, after I was ushered into the room, the bishop’s counselor extended a calling to me. He explained that it was church policy to obtain the husband’s permission before his wife even found out about the calling. When my husband remarked dubiously that this is the first time he’d ever encountered such a policy, the counselor said (somewhat defensively) that they had been instructed to do it that way by the stake president. According to him, it’s…

The Same 10 Families

With the exception of student wards, every ward or branch I’ve attended seems to rely on a few families to fill all of the major callings. We’ll call them “the same ten families.” In our Long Island branch, there were about six families that carried the load. The branch president was married to the young women’s president. The young men’s president was married to the Relief Society president. The Elder’s quorum president was married to the primary president. We weren’t president level material there: my husband was a counselor in the young men’s presidency and the gospel doctrine teacher while I was a Relief Society counselor. Even so, we were exhausted by church and looked forward to moving away just to get a break on Sundays. (It was hard to leave, and we still miss the people of our branch.) So we moved to Provo. We thought that here, in the middle of happy valley, we would be extraneous and…

The Implied Statistical Report 2011

Missionaries and Convert Baptisms 2000-2011

Over the past few years I’ve put together an analysis of the cumulative information in the Church’s statistical reports. Three years ago I posted The Implied Statistical Report, 2008, and last year I titled my analysis The Implied Statistical Report, 2010. Over this time I’ve tried to improve my methods and the data available, collecting data from a few different sources. This year I’ve again looked at the data and discovered something unexpected: The Church’s real growth is actually faster in the U.S. and Canada than it is in the rest of the world.