The Kingdom of Heaven is Like Unto…a Starbucks?

Jesus loved teaching with metaphors from the mundane. You remember the stories in Matthew: “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a grain of mustard seed….like unto leaven….like unto treasure hid in a field. He holds up a comparison and invites his listeners (sometimes with His help) to extract meaning and insight. Imagine my surprise in a recent epiphany that the kingdom of heaven in my day is also like unto a Starbucks!

Welcome Our New Guest Blogger: Linda Hoffman Kimball

Many of you may already know Linda Hoffman Kimball from her work as a columnist at beliefnet.com and for Exponent II. Or from her novels (Home to Roost and The Marketing of Sister B). Or perhaps from the essay collection she edited, Saints Well-Seasoned: Musings on How Food Nourishes Us — Body, Heart and Soul. Her latest work is Chocolate Chips & Charity: Visiting Teaching in the Real World, which has already cracked Cedar Fort’s Bestseller List even though it just came out in January. I first met Linda in the Hyde Park Ward on the South Side of Chicago, where she, her husband (Chris) and three children were the backbone of a very transient ward. Like me Linda was baptized into the Church during college (Wellesley College), having been raised a devout Methodist. After Wellesley, she earned an MFA from Boston University, where her thesis was on Art as Propaganda in Nazi Germany. She now lives in Evanston, Illinois,…

The Receding Second Coming

As a kid growing up on the Wasatch Front, I figured that the Second Coming was just around the corner. I remember being Primary age and thinking that I would not have to worry about post-mission plans — the world would be over by then anyway.

Sunday School Lesson 9

Lesson 9: 2 Nephi 11-25 This week’s study questions are a little longer than usual but much shorter than last week’s. Chapter 11 Verses 2-3: Nephi tells us he has two reasons for delighting in the words of Isaiah and writing them down: he can liken them to his people, and Isaiah, like Nephi and Jacob, is a witness of Christ, so that the three stand together as witnesses of him. What reasons might there be for the words of Isaiah to be given to us? For other reasons, see 1 Nephi 19:23; 2 Nephi 11:2-6, 8; 2 Nephi 25:3.

Church Canards

When you hear it over the pulpit, it makes you cringe. You know that it isn’t true, but you also know that this will not be the last time you hear it. Somehow, these stories, sayings, or beliefs have infiltrated the Church consciousness (my theory is that many of them are borrowed from “mainstream Christianity”), and we have the most difficult time getting rid of them. Here is my favorite: “As Jesus said, ‘I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it.’” Aarrgh! Here at Times & Seasons, we want to provide a non-violent means of relieving yourself of your frustration. Share your favorite canard. If you don’t have a canard, exactly, perhaps you have a favorite trite story or poem (“Footsteps in the Sand” anyone?). Or the musical number from hell. (No, not that. I’m talking about the song that you just cannot abide.) Share away. We’re here for you.

Family Ordination?

“The Family: A Proclamation to the World” reads in part: “The family is ordained of God.” What does this mean? (This is one of my wife’s puzzlers.) My inital reaction was that it meant something simple like, “The institution of the family — being defined as a husband, wife, and children — was created by God for the eternal benefit of His children.” But the use of the word “ordain” seems to imply something more than mere creation or invention of the institution. It implies a Divine imprimatur and may suggest that the family is the exclusive vehicle for eternal progression. This seems consistent with Church doctrine (whatever that is), as I understand it. More interestingly, use of the word “ordain” connotes some connection to the Priesthood. The word “ordain,” of course, is related to “ordinance” and to “order,” thereby invoking the notion of authority. Is this significant? Perhaps this is intended to refer to the temple sealing ordinances. Any…

Education and Class

As someone not that far removed from a “redneck” heritage, I think that Gordon has hit on something very important: often our discussions of R-rated movies and such is, for both sides, really a discussion of class. One side sees itself as sophisticated and informed. The other side sees itself as obedient and faithful. The first sides accuses the second of being anti-intellectual. The second side accuses the first of being proud and unwilling to take counsel.

Millet on “The Passion,” R-rated Movies, and Evangelicals

Another one of those typical “what-do-the-Mormons-think?” articles this morning in the Deseret News, this one on “The Passion of the Christ” and the supposed challenge which its R-rating poses for members of the church. (I always love these articles by the way, because they differ not a whit in their form from the sort of articles we often had to write back at The Daily Universe: call up some random religion professor–it was usually a religion professor–and get them to talk on the record about what everybody had already beaten to death in elder’s quorum the week before. The more straightforward Deseret News article on showings of “The Passion” in Utah is here.) This one has some notable nuggets in it though, because Professor Robert Millet (the BYU religion professor they managed to get on the phone) was willing to elaborate at some length on why he’s going to see the movie.

Welcome again, Kristine!

For the past two weeks, we have all enjoyed Kristine’s thoughtful presence on this blog, in posts like this and this and this. No one wants this to end, including Kristine, who recently agreed to carry on as a permanent blogger. Welcome again, Kristine!

Managing the Donor Base

I have been meaning to write about this for a while, and Brayden’s comments on the centralization of budgeting have spurred me on. So here is Nathan Oman’s based-entirely-on-meager-evidence-and-speculation theory of Church financing. Or at least a part of it.

What I did over summer vacation

Last summer, I belatedly spent my first term at BYU, as a Summer Fellow at the Smith Institute for Church History. There were eight of us, working under the direction of Claudia Bushman. Our topic was the history of Mormon women in the 20th century.

My 18-month Mission

In April 1982, the First Presidency announced that male missionaries would thenceforth serve missions of 18 months, rather than two years. The justification for the change: “It is anticipated that this shortened term will make it possible for many to go who cannot go under present financial circumstances. This will extend the opportunity for missionary service to an enlarged body of our young men.” I had been a member of the Church for less than six months. In September 1982, I was called by President Spencer W. Kimball to serve in the Austria Vienna Mission for a period of 18 months. After returning home, I obtained a teaching position at the Missionary Training Center in Provo. On November 26, 1984, during my first semester as a teacher at the MTC, the First Presidency announced that the length of missions would be changed back to two years.

The Landscape of Memory

I am facinated by the way in which a place carries with it the memories of a people. The Civil War provides an example of what I am talking about. The trauma of that event is seared into the landscape of the eastern United States.

The Grammar of Inequity

All this talk about scriptures brings up a perennial discussion topic which I think has so far gone undiscussed on Times & Seasons. Does it matter that the language of our scriptures is all based on older English usage which allowed the use of he/him/his to refer to persons of either gender? How about in our hymns?

STQ: Old Testament Stories

This morning my Seminary class discussed 2 Kings 2. At the end of that chapter are the following verses: And [Elisha] went up from thence unto Beth-el: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them. That’s it. That’s the whole story. Let me summarize: Some youth mock the prophet for his bald head, he curses them, and a couple of bears rip them apart.

Humility and Excellence

*Warning: Lengthy and self-indulgent blathering!* On Sunday, I had what might have been, for a better person, a humbling experience. For me, it was merely humiliating. I was playing a violin solo for the special musical number during Sacrament Meeting. This in itself is a little embarrassing for me–I was a decent violinist a long time ago, but haven’t taken lessons or practiced seriously in many years, so I’m really not very good anymore, but there’s nobody better in my ward, and I’ve thought it important to offer my talents, such as they are, even though a bushel feels to me like a better place for them–ad Dei majorem gloriam and all that.

Zeezrom

We are reading the Book of Mormon as a family, and last night we came to the story of Amulek and Zeezrom. Would it surprise you to learn that Zeezrom is my favorite character in the Book of Mormon? Of course, Zeezrom was a lawyer, who is described as “a man who was expert in the devices of the devil.” (Alma 11:21) At one point in the exchange with Amulek, Zeezrom attempts to purchase Amulek’s testimony against God, and Zeezrom fails. (Alma 11:22) But when Amulek describes spiritual death, “Zeezrom began to tremble.” (Alma 11:46) Then Alma jumps in, calls Zeezrom a liar and reads his mind — “Now Zeezrom, seeing that thou hast been taken in thy lying and craftiness, for thou hast not lied unto men only but thou hast lied unto God; for behold, he knows all thy thoughts, and thou seest that thy thoughts are made known unto us by his Spirit.” (Alma 12:3) At this…

My Big Problem With the Big Commandment

The greatest commandment, so says Jesus, is that we love our neighbor as ourselves. I confess that I have always had a difficult time understanding, let alone obeying this commandment. I take it to mean that God wants me to love everyone. I frankly find the idea of this impossible.

Sunday School Lesson 8

Lesson 8: 2 Nephi 6-10 This week’s Sunday School materials are much longer than previous ones. It isn’t that there is so much more material, but that I decided to try to cover the whole assignment rather than only part of it. I came to that decision because we often stop reading the Book of Mormon when we get to Isaiah and I wanted to see how Isaiah’s teaching are connected to the events of the Book of Mormon as well as its teachings.

Un je-ne-sais-quoi

Russell mentioned that he is “a doubting, debating, Socratic philosopher.” I’m at least sympathetic. Neither of us would be doing what we do?teaching philosophy of some kind?were that not true. I’m happy to say that the longer I live, the less often I have difficult religious doubts, the more I feel that my intellectual life and my religious life are of a piece. But that has not always been true.

A Sabbath poem

from “The Brewing of Soma”–John Greenleaf Whittier Dear Lord and Father of mankind, Forgive our foolish ways! Reclothe us in our rightful mind, In purer lives thy service find, In deeper reverence, praise.

Most Inspiring Rock Song Ever?

Last week, Kaimi made this Comment: “Possibly the greatest rock song of all time: Hotel california.” This was followed by a few expressions of incredulity, including this from cooper: “Hotel California??????? Ugh! Gross. Blech!” Kaimi defended his choice on grounds that the song had a great guitar solo, and he backed up his assertion with this ranking. When I heard Hotel California on the radio today, it reminded me of this exchange and started me thinking. Rock music can be rated along various other dimensions: best vocal (should we just agree by acclamation that Bohemian Rhapsody wins this?), best drum solo (anything by Keith Moon), best rock ballad (hmm, “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd?), etc. How about the most inspiring rock song ever?

Mormons and Lord Devlin

When Mormons get up set about things like abortion, pornography, SSM, constitutional prohibitions on anti-sodomy laws, and the like they frequently talk about how these kinds of developments threaten to undermine society’s “moral fabric.” However, I don’t think that we have been sufficiently reflective about this rhetoric. I think that Lord Devlin can help us understand why.

The Coming of the Clone Wars

One of my best friends is a biochemist, and he recently pointed out to me that while the a great amount of ink is spilled and blogs filled with debate about SSM, in his mind a farther reaching event has occurred: South Korean (Hanguk mansae!) scientists have cloned a human cell and grown it into a blastocyst.

Don’t Drink, Don’t Smoke

Perhaps nothing outwardly sets Mormons apart from the rest of society more than our adherence to the Word of Wisdom. And for insiders, as someone once said on this site, the Word of Wisdom just *feels* important. I’m far more likely to offend the Sabbath day, forget a fast, skip hometeaching, use inappropriate language, break the speed limit, or commit dozens of other sins of omission and commission than I am to join my friends sipping tea at a Chinese restaurant.

Contentment

As I drove home from work today, I heard an announcement for an upcoming program on Wisconsin Public Radio dealing with the topic of contentment. Implicit in the announcement was an assumption that contentment is a worthy life goal. This caught me off guard. Honestly, it has never occurred to me to pursue contentment. I’m not sure I even know what it means.

Legislative Judgments of Morality

Randy Barnett has an interesting post up at the Volokh Conspiracy, giving a persuasive argument about why legislative judgments of morality are not a particularly good basis for legal punishments or restrictions. Barnett makes the very interesting initial assertion that: “A legislative judgment of ‘immorality’ means nothing more than that a majority of the legislature disapproves of this conduct.” Responding to a critique of this position by Rick Garnett, Barnett then elaborates: Consider the claim that homosexuality is immoral. I strongly disagree. Now what? In a contest between a majority of state legislators and me and those who agree with me, what privileges the legislature’s judgment of morality? In what way are they experts? How does being elected to the legislature qualify them to make these judgments? Do they hold hearings on the morality of homosexuality and offer reasons for their conclusions? Or do they just press a button and register their vote? Most importantly, how can we assess the…