Welcome, Julie & Thanks, Greg

Many thanks to Greg Allen, who posted early, often, and well here at T&S. I suspect that he won many new fans for greg.org, and we look forward to hearing from him again soon. Our newest guest blogger is Julie Smith, a native Houstonian who earned a BA in English from the University of Texas at Austin and an MA in Biblical Studies from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, where she specialized in women in the New Testament. You know her here as “Julie in Austin,” but you might also be familiar with her book, Search, Ponder, and Pray: A Guide to the Gospels, which according to Julie “contains over 4,000 questions (no answers) and attempts to get LDS readers to really think about the scriptures and to introduce them to the various approaches of academic biblical studies.” Julie teaches at the LDS Institute in Austin, Texas. She is married to an engineer, and has two children, whom…

Mobilizing the Relief Society

We’ve never been on the receiving end of the Relief Society’s meal brigade until now. (We recently came home with the new baby.) It’s certainly been a great help; we’re really grateful for peoples’ efforts on our behalf, but it also means some adjustments (mental and logistical) on our part. The funny thing is, in NYC, we hardly ever cooked, ate home-cooked food, or even ate at home before. Because of work, etc., we usually went out to eat, or else we ordered in. Interestingly, the RS here has adapted accordingly; sometimes, someone’ll call us from their office to let us know to expect Thai food. A couple of times, the elaborate meals that arrive have far exceeded the expectations and habits of people accustomed to grazing or grabbing a slice of pizza on the way home. And in the mean time, our doormen keep wondering how such a feeding network is even possible in the city. How does this…

Kibitzing about Kibbutzim

A recent story suggests that Israel’s Kibbutzim — a widespread form of communal settlement — may be moving towards a more capitalist model. (Link via David Bernstein). As Mormons, this is an interesting development. Scholars have pointed out that there are some similarities between Israeli communal groups and early LDS consecration. The decline of the kibbutz may be similar to the decline of consecration. Of course, members who want to live more of the law of consecration today may still decide that they want to do less kibitzing and more kibbutzing.

The Times and Seasons Song Contest

Lest anyone miss it, here is a gem from Grasshopper that was hiding in the comments: Jonah was a prophet, swallowed by a whale. When he was on board, the ship just couldn’t sail. So they tossed him over, next thing that he knew, Nineveh repented, Jonah had to, too. Swallow the prophet, swallow the prophet, swallow the prophet, won’t get away; Swallow the prophet, swallow the prophet, swallow the prophet; he’ll find the way. I hereby nominate this song and Kaimi’s “Put Potatoes with the Veal” (which I can’t find; what thread was it in, Kaimi??) as the inaugural entries in the Times and Seasons Satirical Song contest. Entries must fit with a hymn tune or Primary song from the LDS canon. Prizes will be awarded on the entirely rational and objective criterion of how much Diet Coke I splurt through my nose while reading the entries. Entries which cause lightning to strike my computer will be disqualified.

“Mommy, I was wishing that!”

Last night I attended the Pinewood Derby races for my sons’ cub scout troop. My wife loves woodworking of all sorts, so I have never made a Pinewood Derby car. At our first Pinewood Derby, now many years ago, my oldest son thought that the highest numbers on the electronic scoreboard were best, so he was excited whenever his car came in sixth out of six. My wife quickly learned the tricks of the trade, and he won the next year.

Causing offense

Kristine raised the issue of whether and how “critical belief,” in other words belief that is both believing and independently thoughtful about various issues in the Church, is possible. (I hope she’ll agree that I’ve more or less captured her question.) For me that raises another (broader?) question: what bounds do my relations with others put on my behaviors, including criticism? Since I doubt that the connection between the two is obvious to anyone but me, let me explain:

Temple Murals Errata

In my post below, I wrongly stated that the Ghana temple was the first one to have murals. My bad. Los Angles (1956) was the last temple to have murals before the recent spat of temple building. The Winter Quarters Temple didn’t have murals, but it has very large, framed paintings in the ordinance rooms. This paved the way for the Columbia River Temple, which was the first recent temple to have true murals. Since then, murals have been included in the temples listed in this comment. In addition, there have been murals in the Monteray, Mexico temple, and the Nauvoo Temple (although these were commissioned after the temple was dedicated).

God and Game Theory

Ars Disputandi, which is a journal on the philosophy of religion, has a review of what looks like a very interesting book using game theory to analyze stories in the Old Testament. Game theory is part of the rational-actor branch of social science. It attempts to understand social interactions by creating mathematical models of different “games” and then deriving the optimal strategy for pursuing those games. The most famous example is the so-called prisoner’s dilemma. (The optimal strategy in a single round game is to rat; in a multi-round game it is to co-operate and punish non-cooperators). So here is an exmple of applying this kind of thing to the Bible.

Apologia of a critical believer

In the long comments thread on Karen’s post on women’s issues, Brent has done the inevitable: accused those who criticize the “revealed structure” of the church of faithlessness. Brent gets kudos for stating his opinion forthrightly and eloquently. His is a criticism that gets to the heart of many divisive discussions between Mormons of different temperaments and ideological persuasions, so I am hijacking the comments thread to address the issue separately.

Next Up: Methodists

This just in: The “2004 Yearbook” reports on 215 U.S. church bodies with a record high total membership exceeding 161 million. Leading any other single U.S. church is the Catholic Church, reporting 66,407,105 adherents, followed by the Southern Baptist Convention (16,247,736) and the United Methodist Church (8,251,042). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ranks 5th (5,410,544). … From 2001-2002, major U.S. churches that grew included the Catholic Church, Southern Baptist Convention, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Assemblies of God, American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., Jehovah’s Witnesses and Church of God (Cleveland, TN). Recording membership losses were The United Methodist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod), African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and United Church of Christ…. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), an American-born church, continues to grow remarkably, remaining the fifth largest church in the nation. Among the 15 largest churches, the LDS also reports…

Ward Web Sites

So my wife took my daughters to Enrichment Night tonight, and I was trying to remember why. Is it the Relief Society’s birthday? Some sort of mother-daughter bonding event? Or perhaps the women of the Church have finally had enough and they are simply taking over. Then I had a bright idea: check the ward’s website! Sure enough, it lists Enrichment Night for tonight. When I click for more details, I am prompted to give a username and password, which I navigate successfully. My reward: Wednesday, 17 March 2004 Enrichment Night 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM Hmm. That was almost pretty cool.

Around the blogs: Karen Hall discusses gender discrimination

In a very interesting post up at By Common Consent, Karen Hall takes on the issue of gender discrimination in the church. She writes: My concern is the insinuation that women are powerless to affect change in the church. I simply don’t think that is true, and that we have every obligation to use our time, talents, and means to improve and build the church. Think these situations are isolated? How much attention is payed to the scouts vs. the young women in your ward? Think about the jokes about the frivolousness of Relief Society. I think the relevant question is how do we respond to the numerous cuts, insinuations, and “bone-headed” remarks that we are sooner or later exposed to. I think we have four options. 1) Over time we start to believe the message that women’s experiences in the church are less valuable than men’s. (Sadly, a common reaction.) 2) We “turn the other cheek” recognizing the ridiculousness…

A Mormon Image: Ghana Temple Murals

Beginning with the Saint George Temple, our temples use to include murals. Generally the endowment would progress from a creation room, to a garden room, to a world room, to a telestial room, and finally to a celestial room. From the Saint George Temple to the Los Angles Temple, the practice was to put murals on the walls of the creation, garden, and world rooms showing some version of creation, garden, and world. Then for a long period of time, these murals disappeared from our temples. With the Ghana temple, they are back.

More Family Night Fun at the Harris House

For reasons that remain opaque to me, my two oldest children (ages 7 and 5) have lately become enamored of the story of the ten cleansed lepers, and regularly ask to have it told to them. Last night, during family home evening, they asked to hear it again. We obliged, and when we got to the part where the one returns to give thanks, Steve asked, “And what did Jesus say?” Sam (3) said “You’re welcome!” After I picked myself up from the floor, it seemed to me that, in fact, this might have been the expected response from a gracious lord. “Where are those other nine ingrates?” seems, well, human.

How Mormons Became White

As we all know, in 1978 the President Kimball and the Quorum of the Twelve (sans two members) recieved a revelation proclaiming that all worthy males — regardless of race — could now recieve the priesthood. Following the long and torturous course of the “Negro Doctrine” as it was called would, of course, require a great deal of careful discussion and research. No one in his right mind would attempt to do so in a blog post. Here goes.

Q: Do you know LDS artists Greg and Linda Christensen?

We missed a fireside the other evening (ahh, the new joys of a screaming baby) given by “well known LDS artists Greg and Linda Christensen,” who apparently created art for the Manhattan Temple. I’ve poked around online, but I couldn’t find any information about them. Does anyone know of info, images, or work they’ve done? [I do know LDS artist Greg Olsen, who lorded over me in Google searches for “greg” for a long time. Altogether different guy.]

Arresting Ministers

The State of New York is charging two Unitarian Universalist ministers with a misdemeanor for solemnizing a marriage without a liscense. (Story here) The Unitarians have long granted gay couples religious unions, but they have not exercised the power delegated to them by the state to create legal marriages. Given the ubiquitious comparisons between the gay marriage legal kerfuffle and the anti-polygamy crusades, is there a parallell here?

Appropriate Language

Between teaching Seminary and raising five children, I have plenty of opportunities to consider the topic of appropriate language. The other day, for example, one teenager referred to another as a “brown noser.” I asked, “Do you have any idea what that means?” Blank stare. Another piped up, “Yeah, it means that he sucks.” Arggh!

March Madness

Earlier tonight the NCAA announced the men’s basketball tournament bracket, and BYU barely made the field for the second year in a row. Also for the second year in a row, BYU will be playing the defending national champion, though most “experts” give BYU a better chance this year against Syracuse than they had last year against Connecticut (which was a fairly close game, by the way). Some of my best memories from my time at BYU are connected to sports, but I will confess to being surprised when Merrill Bateman, then President of BYU and member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, placed such a heavy emphasis on BYU sports. This excerpt from an article written by Greg Call’s brother portray’s Bateman’s attitude toward BYU sports: “Cougar sports play a vital role in furthering the mission of both the school and its sponsoring institution, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. President Bateman said it’s essential that…

If You Could Hie To Kolob – Lyrics

One of the recurring internet searches (on search engines such as Google) that brings people to this site is “If You Could Hie to Kolob Lyrics.” We get hits from variations of that search at least three or four times per week. So, in an effort to respond to this need and serve our readers, who apparently want to find these lyrics, here they are:

An Extraordinary Collection of Mormon Historical Materials

I was researching the rarity of some early Church documents my stepfather collected over the years, when I came across John Hajicek’s website, mormonism.com. It seems he’s a non-LDS resident of Independence, Missouri, and he has amassed what looks like the largest collection of LDS-related historical materials, rare books, manuscripts, and artifacts in private hands. It makes for truly fascinating reading. Has anyone ever seen or studied this or any other significant collection of historical Church materials?

Did Somebody Say Gay? Gay Mormon Art Stolen from SLC Exhibit

An annual exhibition of gay pride-related artwork opened at Salt Lake Community College, and artist Don Farmer’s photos of two RM’s hooking up while wearing their missionary tags became the immediate center of attention. First came shouting matches at the opening, protesters trying to remove the photographs, police being called, and administrators relocating the show from the lobby to a classroom. Then, two days later, the photos turned up missing, stolen. The SLTrib reporter lazily kicks off her article with, “But is it art?” Unequivocally, yes, it is. Is it good or not? Doesn’t matter now; it’s certainly effective.

Political Leanings

Steve Evans and Mathew Parke recently set up a new blog for discussing LDS thought from a liberal perspective. I hope to weigh there as well sometimes. In the inaugural substantive post, Steve made the interesting observation that even liberal Mormons are pretty conservative in general. Using the imperfect indicator of the online Political Compass test, Steve and I both turned out to be more-or-less left-leaning centrists (as did Steve’s wife Sumer). I’m curious as to how our group of readers places on the spectrum (I’ve seen Russell’s score somewhere on his blog, but I don’t know anyone else’s). And so I invite T & S readers to post their own scores as comments to this thread. A tally will be kept.

The Filmody of the Latter-Gays

Having bled dry the secular culture, filmmakers have had to find new wine to fill the old bottle of liberating oneself from convention. They’ve found a homegrown subculture juicy enough to do it. Transgressively moral Mormon, I present you to yourself. You’re the wine. An alert reader ran across a film called Latter Days and suspected it might have something to do with, well, us. As this sympathetic article shows, it does.

The Physicality of the Atonement

All of the discussion about The Passion has prompted thoughts about the importance of the physical in the Atonement. This topic has been touched briefly in some of the comments below, with Melora opining that “Christ’s atonement did not need to be violent and bloody,” and Matt responding, “but the atonement was preordained to parallel the violent and bloody slaughters of the sacrificial lamb.” I am interested in the unspoken premise of these arguments, namely, that the physical pain and death endured by Jesus was part of the Atonement. In my view, the physical pain the Jesus experienced at the end of his life may have been an important part of Jesus’ personal development, but it was, at most, a small part of the Atonement.

Utah Near the Bottom for Public Corruption

A recent study ranked all fifty states according to how corrupt they were. As a measure it used the ratio of public officials convicted of corruption to the population as a whole. Lousiana came in first, as the most corrupt state in the country. (Actually D.C. is more corrupt, but it didn’t count as a state.) Nebraska came in as the least corrupt state. Utah ranked the sixth least corrupt state after Nebraska, Oregon, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Colorado. Interestingly, Idaho, which I believe is the second most Mormon state in the Union, came in as the 17th most corrupt.