Category: Mormon Life

Mormon Life – Family – Personal Reflections

Homeschooling Then and Now

As was mentioned in my introduction a week or so ago, my parents homeschooled us “back in the good old days when homeschooling was weird and subversive, not hip and progressive.” I’m now homeschooling my own children, and it’s interesting to note how the movement has evolved during the past 25 years. My adjectives describing the change don’t fit perfectly, of course, but they are representative of general trends, at least in how the perception of homeschooling has changed. When my mother decided she’d like to keep me home from kindergarten in 1985, it was a bizarre and scary thing to do. She’d learned about homeschooling while taking a class from Reed Benson at BYU. He lent her a copy of his doctoral dissertation on homeschooling, and told her about his nine homeschooled children. So she hunted down some of the books he recommended by John Holt, the father of the modern American homeschooling movement, and decided to try out…

Making Mormon Documents Available

Following each General Conference I prepare a list of “Conference Books”—the works cited by speakers in the printed version of their talks. The list is always fascinating. But this time I noticed something that led me to rethink one aspect of the Church’s manuals: availability.

Technology and Genealogy

I think I was 12 or so when, in rummaging around my father’s home office, I discovered the family genealogy. Over time I was hooked, visiting our local branch genealogy library and, when we visited Utah during a family vacation, I spent hours and days at the Genealogical Society library, then installed in the new Church Office Building, simply collecting the work that had already been done, copying family group sheet after family group sheet. All this was possible because, as the descendant of early Mormon pioneers, huge amounts of research on my ancestry has already been done.

‘Bouncing the Baby’ syndrome

Why is it that when blessing infants men always bounce the baby up and down? If you’ve seen many baby blessings, you know what I mean. The father or whoever will pronounce the blessing holds the infant on its back in his outstretched hands while the rest of those invited to participate circle the child, adding their outstretched hands underneath the baby. Often before the blessing even begins and without regard to whether or not the child has uttered the merest hint of a whimper, the men slowly rock the baby up and down, usually gently.

Desperately Seeking Seniors

I was surprised a week ago when a senior missionary serving in our ward said that the Church is struggling to get senior missionaries, something that an article in the Deseret News last week confirmed. But my senior missionary friend went further than the article did, saying that the number of senior missionaries has declined by 40% in the past decade.

Priests, Babylonians, and Seven 24-hour Days of Creation

Even though it comes first in the Bible, Genesis 1  represents the youngest of three Israelite creation traditions. As happens in culture and even inspired religion, traditions of the past were once again adapted and (re)appropriated to meet the needs of the time. Genesis 1-2:4 is generally believed to have come from a priestly tradition associated with the tabernacle/temple, and received its current form sometime around the Babylonian exile (which explains some of its anti-Babylonian polemics, which go totally unnoticed by modern readers.) Several characteristics of Genesis 1-2:4a suggest priestly and temple associations, but the most important for our purposes here is the emphasis on sacred time over sacred space (see here, #3 in particular.) If you’ve ever talked to Jehovah’s Witnesses about birthdays, you know they don’t celebrate them, because no one in the Bible does. And this is generally true, because Israelites weren’t the ultra-specific hour-by-hour calendrically obsessed society we are today; as with literacy, they neither had…

Mormons and Meaning on September 11

In the comments to Pres. Monson’s article on the Washington Post’s On Faith blog one Church member claimed that “Not one single LDS employee working in the Twin Towers was at work that morning.” This is, of course, incorrect. In fact, one of the LDS employees working in the towers died in the attack, as did two more on planes and two in the Pentagon.

Beyond Translation: Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra, part 1

Communication is not just about words, but the context, culture and worldview in which they are embedded.1 A simple translation of words will fail to communicate the entire message, because it doesn’t include this information. The complexities of communication are manifest in obvious and less obvious ways; sometimes we know what we’re missing, and sometimes we don’t. Here are some examples. Teenagers can carry on entire conversations at the dinner table or on Facebook by quoting movies their parents haven’t seen. If it goes far enough, the parents realize that something beyond the actual spoken words is being communicated. They may not know what the actual message is, because they haven’t seen the movie; they’re unaware of the culturally-embedded context, which carries meaning beyond the words. If it doesn’t go far enough that the parents catch on, then the kids have communicated a message in plain sight with the parents completely unaware. Let’s say I’m a college chemistry professor with…

Books of Interest to the LDS Nerd

A few of these are forthcoming, a few have appeared recently. I am compelled to read them all, as soon as I can get to them. Now Available Charles Harrel,“This Is My Doctrine”: The Development of Mormon Theology (Kofford Books) “In this first-of-its-kind comprehensive treatment of the development of Mormon theology, Charles Harrell traces the history of Latter-day Saint doctrines from the times of the Old Testament to the present.” I have my doubts that someone who does not equally control original Biblical sources and LDS history, as well as the vast amounts of secondary literature on historiography, exegesis, etc. can give LDS doctrine a truly comprehensive diachronic treatment, and compress it into 597 pages. Nevertheless, I’m grateful to Harrel, an engineering professor, for making the attempt and I look forward to reading it. Too many LDS labor under the assumption that the status quo sprang fully formed from Joseph Smith. I don’t recall which of my friends said, but…

Mission Finances, part 3

(Note: this is the fourth part of a several-part series. You can read previous installments here, here, and here.) Quick review: prior to November 1990, missionaries and their families paid the actual cost of their missions. Moreover, parents would send money directly to their sons and daughters, with no intermediation from the Church. In May 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Davis v. United States that such payments were not tax-deductible, notwithstanding language in the Internal Revenue Code that contributions made “to or for the use of” the Church would be deductible. In November 1990, the Church announced that, going forward, it was equalizing the costs of missions; all (U.S. and Canadian, at least) missionaries would pay a set monthly amount into the Church’s mission fund; the Church would then disperse to missionaries the amount of money they needed. While there’s no indication that the decision in Davis caused the Church to change its policy, I wouldn’t be shocked…

Mormons and “violence punctuated by committee meetings”

During the fall, Sundays after Church are reserved, among a not insignificant but mostly male portion of Church members in the United States, as a time for enjoying a traditional American pastime—what one commentator described as “violence punctuated by committee meetings.”[1] And the number of Mormons who are paid to participate in these meetings has approached 40 this year.

School’s Back (pt. 2)

Next Tuesday, the Brunson household starts a brand-new adventure. At 9:00 am, my oldest daughter starts kindergarten. Though I’m not sure I’m ready to have such a grown-up daughter, she didn’t ask my permission to get this old. And she’s excited. And she’s completely and totally ready for it. Growing up, my dad gave me and each of my siblings a father’s blessing the night before school started. I’m pretty sure he kept doing it through my first year of law school. (I got married between my first and second years, and at that point, didn’t go back to San Diego over the summer.) That blessing, as much as the actual first day of class, became a mark of my academic year, signaling and sacralizing the new year. It’s a tradition that has stuck with me, and one I’d like to start in a week. But I’m also curious: what did you do growing up, and/or what do you do…

Mission Finances, Part 2 [edited 8/26/2011]

[Note: this is the third (yes, third) part of a many-part series. You can read Part 1 here and Part 1.5 here.] [Note #2: A friend points out that I left some information out of this post that is helpful in understanding what I’m talking about. That information is in Part 1, but it’s been a long time since I posted Part 1, so I’m adding some clarifying details in bold. Thanks, SG.] Pop quiz: when you think “Mormons” and “US Supreme Court,” what do you think? (The correct answer is, of course, Reynolds.[fn1]) For many of us, though, another less-known case impacts our lives, at least while we’re missionaries or while we’re supporting missionaries, nearly as much: Davis v. United States. Brother and Sister Davis had at least two sons, Benjamin and Cecil. In 1979, Cecil was called to the New York Mission, while in 1980, Cecil was called to the New Zealand-Cook Island Mission.  In 1981, the Davis paid…

School’s Back (pt. 1)

In just less than 2 hours, I’ll teach my first class of the 2011-2012 school year. Which means that summer’s over. (Yes, I realize that it may not be for you personally—I know some places have been in school for the last couple weeks, while the Chicago Public Schools don’t start for another two weeks. And many of you have graduated, anyway. But go with me here.) Because of the impending classes, I’ve been thinking recently about memorable classes and teachers I’ve had. And one moment keeps sticking out in my mind: 11th grade English. We had just finished Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. In retrospect [SPOILER ALERT, btw: if you haven’t read The Scarlet Letter, don’t read any further until you have], my teacher looked a little pale. I’m not sure, though, if any of us noticed it. Then, all of a sudden, he ripped open his shirt and we saw a red “A” on his chest. Substantively, I don’t…

The Look of Temples

This weekend I got to drive past the Ogden Utah Temple, which is currently surrounded by a high fence as it undergoes a major renovation. While there is nothing new with renovating a Temple, as far as I can tell, this is the first time that the outside appearance of a Temple has had such a significant change. What does this mean?

USF: A Tribute

Last week I took my family to the Utah Shakespearean Festival for our annual visit with friends. For those who don’t know, the performances and presentation at the festival are first rate (we frequently go to the theater at home in New York City and we have often found the plays at the festival better than those both on and off Broadway). But what is even more impressive to me is that the festival exists because of the vision of a returned missionary fifty years ago.

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…

Affiliation and the Good Cause

Earlier this year I decided I wanted to put together a list of charities and other “good causes” that were either founded or run by Mormons. Of course, it shouldn’t matter at all the religious background of a charity’s founder or management. If they are doing good work, then they deserve support regardless. But in reality affiliation matters to many people.

Mission Finances, Part 1.5

(Note: this is part 1.5 of series that looks to be running at least 4 posts long at this point. Part 1 is here.) In the comments, Naismith pointed out that the $400/month is not the sole expense potential missionaries face. In order to go on a mission, a potential missionary needs a dental exam (including, at least in my case, getting his or her wisdom teeth removed) and a medical exam. There are also clothing costs—for my mission (IIRC), I needed 10 short-sleeved white shirts, 2 long-sleeved white shirts, a bunch of ties, two suits, a couple pairs of slacks, and a couple pairs of shoes. The thing is, all of these upfront expenses represent real money. While potential missionaries with their own health insurance or on their parents’ insurance only have to pay their $20 (or whatever) copay, without insurance, medical and dental exams represent a real out-of-pocket expense. (And the New York Times tells me that more…

Student Review, Redux

The announcement this week that a group of BYU students is starting a new Student Review raised a lot of memories for me. Twenty-five years ago I was one of the group “tired of the universe” which was doing the same thing—starting an off-campus student newspaper for BYU students.

Mission Finances, Part 1

(Note: this is part 1 of an at-least-3 part series.) During the 19th century, missionaries often travelled without purse or scrip, relying, instead, on the hospitality of the very people they were trying to teach and convert. And the practice apparently continued, at least in part, until the mid-20th century: until as recently as 1952, missionaries would spend at least some of their time traveling and teaching without purse or scrip. But, as missionary work became urbanized, and as the world became what it is today, missionaries (with the help of their families and their congregations) began supporting themselves, rather than relying on the hospitality of their contacts. And when I say “supporting themselves,” I mean it, at least for the next 40 years or so. In 1989, the New Era informed future missionaries that the average mission cost $300, but that costs could vary radically. And, in fact, in 1989, the average monthly cost of a mission in, say,…

Rhetoric v. Practice

By the time I was, say, 15, my hair was long. Not long-for-a-good-Mormon-boy, but legitimately long. (Also, I listened to heavy metal and grunge–there may have been a causal relationship there, but I’m not sure which way it ran.) Both my music and my hair probably violated the Church’s rhetorical standards.[fn1] That is, per statements in various Church publications and general Mormon cultural rules, both were probably inappropriate. But, even though I braced myself for the inevitable condemnation, it never came. Seriously. I participated in the administration of the sacrament throughout my long-haired days. No young men’s leader, teacher, bishop, or other person in the Church ever asked me to cut my hair, or otherwise remarked negatively on my hair.[fn2] And, during all those years, I only got one lesson on evil music. And the Sunday School teacher kind of undercut his point by bringing, as a visual aid and example of music we shouldn’t listen to, one of his old…

Pioneer Meaning

I’ve always felt quite ambivalent about Pioneer Day, although in recent years I’ve spent it in Utah rather frequently and am descended from the gentleman who proclaimed “this is the place.” In my case, I’m not only separated from the Mormon pioneers by more than 125 years, but also by 2,200 miles (I live in New York City). [Often ignored is that more than 1/3rd of the Mormon pioneers who crossed the plains did so after arriving at the port of New York.]

Summer 2011 Syllabus

Part of my job as a law professor is to model to students what a transactional attorney does. As part of that, I include in my syllabus a list of things media that they ought to consume in order to understand the world a business lawyer functions in. The list is not exhaustive, by any means, nor should they necessarily read or listen to all of it, but it provides a slice of intelligent commentary on the world I’m teaching them how to enter. If you were preparing people to do what you do, what resources would you recommend? [fn1] And, if you do what I prepare my students to do, what necessary resources am I tragically leaving out? [fn2] Syllabus: Wall Street Journal.  Depending on your politics, you may detest or you may embrace the Opinions section, but the Journal’s business reporting is superb.  (Note that it has a paywall around most of its content; you either need to…

A Patriotic Chosen People?

Yesterday in the Sacrament Meeting I attended, we closed singing the Star Spangled Banner (I managed to suppress the urge to yell “Play Ball” at the end). While going through the typical sacrament meeting in the U.S. before the July 4th Independence Day holiday, I couldn’t help thinking about what role patriotism should play in my life.

Handbook 2: Chapter 1—the Plan

Last week I began a series of posts that will examine Handbook 2, the policy handbook that the Church put online last Fall. Since so many local leaders are urged to read and study the handbook as part of their callings, I hoped to provide an interesting forum to do that. Chapter 1 of the Handbook is an overview that tries (I believe) to put the Handbook’s policies in procedures in the context of the plan of salvation. I encourage you to read the chapter before commenting, since you may have more topics to discuss:

defining ‘Oh My Heck’

So, is “oh my heck” really a Mormon term? If you hear someone use it, can you assume that they are Mormon? Do Mormons use it more than others? And where did it come from anyway? [I apologize to anyone offended by the use of profanity in this post. I’ve only used it when necessary. But I have not made any attempt to disguise or shield users from it.]

Handbook 2: Introduction

After the Church posted the text of the 2nd volume of its administrative handbook (formerly known as the Church Handbook of Instructions—CHI) last fall, a few bloggers looked at the handbook, including our own Dave Banack.

Objective Measures

Yesterday’s priesthood lesson opened with what turned out to be a provocative question: How do you measure obedience? How do we know when we are being obedient?And, perhaps most difficult, how do we know that we aren’t fooling ourselves?