Humanitarian Crisis

In 1994, to the everlasting shame of the Clinton administration and the then-Democratic congress (which would be replaced later that year), the United States stood by and watched as three-quarters of a million people were killed during a three-month period in Rwanda. After the fact, the whole world was willing to call this an act of genocide, but while the killing was actually taking place, we did nothing to stop it. A similar tragedy is taking place today, a decade later, in the Darfur region of Sudan. It is being brilliantly documented by New York Times correspondent Nicholas Kristof, whose columns focus on individuals who have suffered horribly, being displaced, raped, and mutilated, watching their families killed. The most optimistic statistics are that 30,000 people have been killed and a million displaced thus far, and that by year-end, an additional 300,000 will have been killed. More pessimistic statistics suggest up to a million dead by year-end. President Bush, understandably wary…

Sunday School Lesson 28

Lesson 28: Alma 32-35 Warning: this set of study questions is long, probably the longest I’ve done so far. If you bother to go through them, I think you’ll see why. If you don’t, it probably doesn’t matter why, but this should give you some idea: In the first edition of the Book of Mormon, Alma 30-35 are one chapter (16). 1. Korihor (30) 2. Zoramites (31-32a; 35) 2a. the poor in spirit (32a) 2b. faith and the atonement (32b-34) 3. Separation of the Ammonites from Jershon (35) This suggests that we should read these stories as a piece, as a story about how Alma deals with different forms of apostasy. Alma’s sermon in chapters 32 and 33, with Amulek’s response to Alma’s sermon, are the conclusion or climax of the story. Notice that the division between chapters 32 and 33 occurs in the middle of the sermon, breaking it up artificially. The result is that we tend to treat…

12 Questions Answers! for Ken Jennings

King of Double Jeopardy, media sensation and newly minted millionaire Ken Jennings has graciously agreed to participate in our 12 Questions interview feature. However, because Ken is averse to answering questions, we will accomodate his request that we supply nothing but answers and leave the questions to him. ; ) Feel free to ask Ken questions, oops, I mean provide answers, in the comments. If for some reason you want to keep your answer secret, you can email it to Matt (matt @ times and seasons). The T&S staff will select 12 answers from the submissions and will post Ken’s responses in a future post.

A Quick, Technical Post to Help Our Friends the Jews

I first noticed through Eric Stone’s blog that some website owners are now setting up links intended to influence search engines in a particular positive way: Previously, the top search engine result for the word Jew was an anti-Semitic site. This unfortunate result was due to search engine technology, which uses algorithms that count the number of links from web sites based on the word searched for (see explanation). Because search engines use these algorithms, results can be changed if enough site owners create links to different targets. (Indeed, results for searches for “Jew” are already changing; I checked today, and the anti-Semitic site had fallen to #2). Here at Times and Seasons, we want to do our part to help combat hatred of the Jews. I consider many Jewish people to be friends. So we’re throwing the weight of our own humble little Pagerank-6 site behind the deserving movement to make searches for Jew go somewhere other than to…

Name Calling

I am a pretty informal guy. With few exceptions, I address everyone I know by first name. Two of the exceptions are in the Church: “Bishop” for the bishop, and “President” for the stake president … unless I know them really well, in which case I tend to use their titles only at Church functions.

“On Equal Grounds”

The story of Korihor in Alma 30 contains many lessons for the modern audience. Perhaps not surprisingly, the most interesting part of the chapter to me is the discussion of law in verses 7-11. In particular, this discussion is bookended by the concept of equality: 7. “Now there was no law against a man’s belief; for it was strictly contrary to the commands of God that there should be a law which should bring men on to unequal grounds.” 12. “… Nevertheless, there was no law against a man’s belief; therefore, a man was punished only for the crimes which he had done; therefore all men were on equal grounds.” In an earlier post, Jim Faulconer asked a question that I would like to revisit here: What does it mean to be “on equal grounds”?

Book of Mormon (Doubleday)

About two weeks ago, the Church announced that Doubleday would be publishing a new edition of the Book of Mormon for general readers. How does it differ from the one that you and I use? “The new hardcover edition will reflect design changes introduced by Doubleday to make the volume more easily read and understood by a non-Mormon audience, but will remain faithful to the text itself. For example, the new edition will not include the exhaustive cross-references and index included in the volume used by Church members.” The list price of this new book is $24.95 (though you can pre-order on Amazon for $16.97). Hmm … less for more. Not the usual marketing pitch, but Sheri Dew, who played a crucial role in getting the project off the ground, believes that the new book fills a niche: The purpose of this project is to extend the reach of the Book of Mormon. I have wished a dozen times for…

Waugh on Unexamined Faith

The really terrific discussion in the comments on Jim’s “Unexamined Faith” post puts me in mind of a favorite passage from Evelyn Waugh. I was saving it for Epiphany, but it fits here. It’s from an early (bad!) novel, _Helena_, and it’s a bit overwritten and treacly, but, well, some of us like that sort of thing!

Inspired Jeopardy

We would be remiss if we didn’t tip our collective hat to Ken Jennings, who is setting records on the Jeopardy game show. Many of the news stories about Jennings discuss tithing or his Church affiliation generally. My favorite is this spoof: According to a source within the Mormon church, a team of investigators have started looking into the life of this bright young husband and father of one…. “This is bad, real bad,” our source said. “Mormons do best when they are flying under the radar. At our core we are a fragile, shallow religion. One tremor like this game show thing could make us implode.” Our source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said a fact finding inquest has quietly begun on the Jeopardy champ. “We’ve started to look into this Jennings fellow and we want to know how he slipped into Mormonism in the first place. He obviously is quite intelligent and we normally don’t go…

Tri-Stake Dance

Although I am not officially involved in the YM-YW programs, my daughter is 16, and in a fit of service euphoria, I agreed to drive her and six other youth from our ward about an hour and a half to a Tri-Stake Dance. We arrived about 40 minutes late because a 13-year-old YW — yes, that’s right, I participated in smuggling an underage YW into a Church dance — convinced the older youth that being on time was uncool. The location had been selected because it was central to all three stakes, but the gymnasium was about one-third of the size of a full stake center, so things were cramped right from the start.

Unexamined Life and Faith

Kaimi refers us to a well-written and interesting piece by Chris Walton. In that piece Chris refers to one of his favorite Unitarian sayings, “An unexamined faith is not worth having.” That is an obvious re-writing of Socrates’s claim, “An unexamined life is not worth living” (Apology 38a). Few sayings are as well-known as the latter one; it can be found in any book of quotations and in the beginning sentence of many graduation addresses.

The Glory of Defeat?

I know I’m risking starting yet another SSM war, but I wanted to point out an interesting op-ed in today’s New York Times. Thomas Frank writes that the constitutional amendment movement was designed to fail: They went with a constitutional amendment, the one method where failure was absolutely guaranteed — along with front-page coverage. Then again, what culture war offensive isn’t doomed to failure from the start? Indeed, the inevitability of defeat seems to be a critical element of the melodrama, on issues from school prayer to evolution and even abortion. Failure on the cultural front serves to magnify the outrage felt by conservative true believers; it mobilizes the base. Failure sharpens the distinctions between conservatives and liberals. Failure allows for endless grandstanding without any real-world consequences that might upset more moderate Republicans or the party’s all-important corporate wing. You might even say that grand and garish defeat — especially if accompanied by the ridicule of the sophisticated — is…

Mormon Punk Rock Pioneer Dies

Arthur “Killer” Kane, the original bassist for the New York Dolls, passed away this week in Los Angeles from leukemia. He had joined the Church in recent years, and according to the New York Times obituary, he worked in his stake’s family history center.

Times and Seasons: Disaster Compliant

A quick administrative note here. We’ve had occasional technical difficulties, though nothing too debilitating so far. Still, I was concerned that a technical problem could potentially bring the site down, and there would be no way to notify anyone as to what was going on. Our host had a brief service disconnection on Sunday — about an hour, as far as I could tell — and I was a little worried at the time, wondering how long it would last, and how to notify readers about what was going on. It belatedly occurred to me that our original blogspot.com location could be put to a good use. Since the move to timesandseasons.org, waaaay back in November, we had not used this blogspot site for anything. (It did/does serve as an interesting archive — and take a look at the early sidebar! — but that’s about it). So, as of today, I’m designating that location, www.timesandseasons.blogspot.com , as a technical/disaster back-up…

Recent Happenings in the Bloggernacle

The bloggernacle is buzzing. Over at Wump Blog, frequent commenter and bloggernacle evaluator Danithew (also our resident chupa-cabra specialist) has created a list of the top ten Mormon blogs. (Full disclosure: His assessment is that T & S is number one; and yes, I should really be trying for a tone of false modesty here, but I don’t know if I could pull it off). Meanwhile, Danithew’s ranking is very interesting and has kicked off some debate over in his comments. Who was included? Who was omitted? Were there any egregious slights? Take a look at who the top ten are, and then tell the chupa-cabra expert your thoughts! Meanwhile, Jeff Lindsay at Mormanity (unranked: controversial? you decide) has an interesting post up about an ancient manuscript called the Narrative of Zosimus, and its parallels to the Book of Mormon. Also, Unrandom Thoughts (unranked and protested: controversial? you decide) has some interesting statistics about baptisms as a percent of membership.…

UofU and Theatre Student Settle

Christina Axson-Flynn’s lawsuit against the University of Utah garnered lots of attention, but I am not sure that we have discussed it here. The events took place in 1998, and revolve around Axson-Flynn’s experience in the University of Utah’s Actor Training Program (ATP). When she refused to use vulgar and profane language, her instructors pressured her to “get over it.” In the face of her refusal to change her views, the instructors escalated the pressure, and she ultimately decided to leave the program. In the wake of her withdrawal, she sued the University and her instructors for violating her First Amendment right to refrain from speaking and for violating her free exercise rights under the First Amendment. After losing both claims on the defendant’s motion for summary judgment in the U.S. District Court, Axson-Flynn won a double reversal at the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. This entitled Axson-Flynn to pursue the lawsuit in the District Court, but earlier this week,…

It’s not easy being wearing green

Over the the-blog-that-dare-not-speak-its-name, Aaron B. has some interesting observations about the (lack of) righteousness of green-wearing missionaries. Straight from the mouth of his mission president, we have it: Elders who wore dark pants were “dignos de ser representantes de Cristo.” [Translator’s note: This means “worthy to be representatives of Christ”]. Elders who wore green pants were most definitely NOT “dignos de ser representantes de Cristo.” The moral dividing line between the colors was completely black and white (green). . . . We got treated to a fire and brimstone lecture (I exaggerate, but not by much) meant to inculcate the strongest of taboos regarding the color green. You could’ve been forgiven for thinking that Christ himself was offended at the color. I’m shocked that I heard this rule as late as I did, and I can’t believe my mission president was so callous as not to tell me this crucial law of heaven. Had I heard this earlier, I might…

12 Questions for Rodney Smith

Rodney Smith, the president of Southern Virginia University, has agreed to participate in our next installment of 12 Questions. Smith took over as president of SVU in June 2004, after serving at the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law (University of Memphis) as the Interim Dean and Herff Chair of Excellence in Law. Among other positions, he has been a law professor and administrator at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the Capital University Law and Graduate Center, and the University of Montana School of Law. He was also the City Attorney in Bishop, CA for two years. Smith received a Doctorate in Juridical Science from the University of Pennsylvania, and is a graduate of BYU’s law school.

When I’m a Mission President…

…pigs will fly. But until then, I can imagine. The article which Kaimi referred us to in the previous post has sparked a very nice, rambling discussion about church growth rates in Latin America and elsewhere. More importantly, it has reminded of the excellent, wide-ranging work of Dave Stewart, a church member who has spent over a decade gathering and synthesizing information on how our mission program actually works (or doesn’t), and compares the rather undeveloped state of “Mormon missiology” to that of other congregations, who have thought long and hard about what constitutes real growth, what makes for real and lasting conversions, and how missionaries and the rank-and-file membership can work together. I first ran across Stewart’s stuff a couple of years ago, and was deeply impressed then; I’m still impressed now. His collected research is thorough, somewhat repetitive, and no doubt could be criticized by professional statisticians, sociologists, and numerous others. But that doesn’t stop it from being…

Where is God?

Some of you are probably tired of retellings of conversations with putatively precocious toddlers that are supposed to elicit some great insight or something. If so, I apologize in advance. But last night my 2.5 year old son stumped me pretty well.

Church Growth in Latin America

“Clutching the Book of Mormon and dressed in a white starched shirt and neatly pressed charcoal colored slacks, Willy Guzman walked across the cracked sidewalks of Zona 6 in Guatemala City to the shiny, white church that rises above the modest and mostly shanty flats of the neighborhood. As it neared 8:00 a.m. Sunday morning, the streets were bustling with men dressed in Western-style suits and women in skirt suits pushing baby strollers, all making their way towards the church. ‘Everyone walks to church,’ Guzman explained, ‘so as not to make anyone work on this day of worship.’” Sound like a paragraph or two from the church news? Nope — it’s the lead-in to a very nice article on MSNBC, titled “Mormon Conversions Surge in Latin America.”

Thanks, Fred

Fred beat me to the punch announcing the end of his stint as a guest blogger, but I want to thank him anyway, even if tardily. Fred not only raised issues that generated much discussion, he set an even and friendly tone in them and in his responses. He showed many of us how we can talk to each other about matters over which we may have deep disagreements and remain civil. And I don’t think anyone–guest blogger or permanent–has been as conscientious about replying to those who responded to his blogs. Thanks very much Fred.

Thanks

Dear Times and Seasoners, I had hoped to make another post, but other matters intervened and my time expired before I could get back. I was impressed by the level of discourse, and learned a lot. Thanks for the exchanges. Fred

Sunday Play … Again

The issue of Sunday play is a perpetual discussion-starter in Mormondom. Some celebrate as courageous those who refuse to dishonor the Sabbath by participating in sporting events. Then there is this story. On Saturday, Todd Miller, BYU golfer and son of golfing legend Johnny Miller, qualified to play in the Sunday final of the Utah State Amateur, then declined to play. Miller said: “What I do on Sunday is way more important than winning a tournament. I don’t look down upon people who play on the Sabbath. I would just feel like a hypocrite in my own heart if I did. I made that decision, and I’m going to stick with that.”

Music Notes, July 11

I don’t do great Sunday School lessons like Jim and Julie, but I do write short notes on the music for our ward bulletin most weeks. Mostly I shamelessly steal from Karen Lynn Davidson’s book on the hymns, but sometimes I plagiarize from other sources as well, and I occasionally have an original thought. I’m going to start posting my notes here, too, on the off chance that someone might find them interesting.

Sunday School Lesson 27

Lesson 27: Alma 30-31 We are all familiar with the story of Korihor, sufficiently familiar that we may read it too quickly. When we read quickly, we tend to skim over the text and “see” in it what is already in our heads rather than what it says. So take time to read through this story slowly, looking for places where it says things that you do not expect it to say. Those are places where you are likely to learn something new. Since Alma 31 fits naturally with Alma 32-35, lesson 28, I’m going to include it in those lesson materials rather than here.

Sinlessness

We often say that Christ was sinless, that he was the only sinless human being. Surprisingly, that isn’t a teaching that we find often in the scriptures. The word “sinless” doesn’t occur in the scriptures. Using the sacrificial type, two scriptures describe him as “without spot” (Hebrews 9:14, 1 Peter 1:19). We infer his sinlessness from other scriptures and, especially, from the teaching of latter-day prophets. But what does it mean to say that he was sinless?