Deconstructing Babar

As a child, I remember much enjoying the story of The Story of Babar the Elephant by Jean de Brunhoff, so I gave it to my son as Christmas present. Reading it to him, I have been struck by what very strange – very French – story it is.

A Knock at Midnight

In honor of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I offer some excerpts from a sermon he delivered August 9, 1964 at Riverside Church in New York City. It is entitled “A Knock at Midnight.” ___ This morning I would like to have you think with me on the subject of a knock at midnight. Out text is taken from the very familiar parable as recorded by St. Luke: “And he said to them, ‘Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him”; and he will answer from within, “Do not bother me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything”? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will…

Original sin

Kristine pointed out the other day that if we want to understand the Protestant concept of grace, we have to understand their concept of original sin. That got me to thinking. Sometimes when Latter-day Saints speak of the Fall, we deny original sin, However, we also say that, because of Adam?s transgression, we inherit a fallen nature. It is not clear what the difference is between inheriting a fallen nature or disposition and original sin. Without intending to, we may sometimes be teaching something that is difficult to distinguish from the doctrine of original sin.

Change

Three days ago, I returned from a faculty development program in Delhi, India. While I attempted to adjust to Central Standard Time immediately upon arrival, I wasn’t successful. On Saturday afternoon, I fell exhausted on my bed and took a much-needed nap. Unfortunately, I awoke just in time to send the rest of my family to bed, and I have been awake since, reading and pondering. Something I encountered on Times & Seasons inspired me to write this entry. I hope that you will not begrudge me the opportunity to share a testimony in this sea of intellectualism.

Sunday School Lesson 4

Lesson 4: 1 Nephi 12-14 (25 January 2004) In chapter 12 Nephi sees the future of Lehi’s descendants: apostasy and destruction, though a remnant will remain. In chapter 13 he sees the future of the Gentiles: apostasy and restoration, though not all will come to the restoration. In chapter 14 he sees the last days: the Gentiles who accept the Gospel will be numbered with the children of Lehi and the abominable church will be destroyed.

East Coast Bias

College sports fans debate endlessly about a supposed East Coast bias among sports writers and polls. Most recently, this issue was raised in connection with the omission of the University of Southern California from the so-called “national championship” football game. As a Midwesterner, I feel obliged to expose the East Coast bias of Times & Seasons.

Does God Need Us?

In some circles, just asking this question requires some serious chutzpah. The “man is nothing” crowd would find the mere suggestion that God needs us offensive. Nevertheless, we have several indications in Mormon doctrine that God needs His children. Perhaps most important is Moses 1:39: “this is my work and my glory — to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” The notion of mutual interdependence is pervasive in the Gospel. For example, we believe that individuals (families) are bound together in the eternities, and that “[t]he dead are not perfect without us, neither are we without them.” (Joseph F. Smith) All of this suggests to me that God is not a solitary being. To press the point even further, He cannot be a solitary being; that is, the very definition of God implies community. I am not sure that all of this matters very much, but it seems to cast my relationships with family and friends…

Confused About Grace and Works

I recently had a conversation with a self-described Christian, who was eager to teach me about the doctrine of grace. When I quoted 2 Nephi 25:23 (“We know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”), my companion scoffed. He said this was similar to saying, “We fly from India to the United States on an airplane, after all we can do.” In other words, Jesus does so much and we do so little that our part is not worth mentioning.

The Ascendancy of the Book of Mormon

I just finished Terryl Givens’s _By the Hand of Mormon_. Its a fun read, though a bit more polemical than I assumed it would be. I think it does make a solid contribution to Book of Mormon studies in its final chapters. Most interesting to me, though, was the summary it provided of Church’s attitude toward and utilization of the Book of Mormon over the past 175 years or so. Givens gives statistics for how often the BofM was cited in church talks, church magazines, etc., before Pres. Benson’s landmark addresses on the topic, and they are astonishing to someone who grew up in a post-Benson Church. What I am interested in, however, is not how the BofM was treated publicly, but how it was treated by the membership, and what contributed to the success of President Benson’s efforts to change that.

Amateur Music in the Church

I was recently thinking about music in the church. To be specific, I was wondering about the church policy of not hiring professional musicians, but simply plugging the best available members into any slot where they can conceivably fit. I have been ward organist myself, despite my complete lack of training on the organ. Our current ward organist is Logan’s lovely and talented wife, who has also (I believe) had no formal organ training. This is not to critique her efforts (or my own); we have both done pretty well, I think, especially with liberal use of the Bass Coupler button. I have also, while living in New York, attended the Manhattan First Ward. The organist there is no mere pianist-pressed-into-service, but a bona fide, trained specialist in the instrument. The result — as anyone who has attended that ward can attest — is awesome. It is also, in my observation, the exception rather than the rule. The “Kaimi or…

And Also Works

And Also by Works I’m impressed by how much energy goes into this site. All this erudition. All this argument. All this heat and light, even as the entries trail away into some “sub-thread.” I keep waiting for one of these discussions to cohere, for the statements to galvanize the group to action. It’s a matter of style, I guess. I like projects. What shall we do about this? is my basic question.

T&S: Cheesy and Faith Promoting

Here is a brief follow-up to the discussion below about the rampant “intellecualism” at T&S. A poster on one message board for self-identified “fringe Mormons” opined that “I found [Times & Seasons] sort of cheesy (as far as I read anyway). I get those little faith promoting stories daily through spam.” You can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people…

The Conservative Case for Group and Sibling Marriage

In his column last November, David Brooks’ argued for gay marriage on the premise that it would channel gays into monogamous relationships, and that monogamous relationships are healthy and fulfilling. If gay couples want to be faithful and monogamous, Brooks opines, conservatives should be doing all they can to encourage and support them. He’s partly right. But he’s mostly wrong because he doesn’t go far enough.

What’s wrong with this picture

Last night Cirila and I got a babysitter and went out to celebrate our anniversary. After dinner and dessert we ended up in our local Barnes and Noble, enjoying the chance to browse without our two year old demanding that we purchase those Matchbox car “books”. Anyway, I was somewhat surprised to see what books made up B&N’s LDS section.

A Mormon on the Nihil Obstat

I like books. I own lots of them. Far too many of them in fact. Most of my books are on law, philosophy, or history. I also dabble just a bit in biblical criticism. By and large, I can’t stand Mormon commentaries. They tend to be a vacuous collection of GA quotes largely unrelated to the text they are purportedly commenting on. So I have turned elsewhere.

Mormonism and Christianity

“Are Mormons Christian?” The question comes up again and again, and causes no small amount of frustration and hard feelings between Mormons and (other?) Christian groups. The response of the church, and of many members, has been to assert “Of course we’re Christian! We believe in Christ, don’t we?” Mormons are frustrated that that assertion doesn’t answer the question. After all, Christians, including those who believe that Mormons are not Christian, state that the requirement for Christianity is acceptance of Christ. If that’s the sole requirement, then Mormons are in (The church states “Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He was the Creator, He is our Savior, and He will be our Judge.”). However, Dave’s recent discussion of a Methodist examination of differences between Methodism and Mormonism made me rethink the question. Are we all being a little too simplistic? That is, is Christianity defined solely by belief in Christ, or is there more to being “Christian”?

That Smile

Have you seen “The Mona Lisa Smile?” I loved it. Not only was it at my beloved Alma Mater, the most beautiful campus in the U.S., but showed it when I was there. Long, long ago. Not everyone loved the film. My classmates are planning to sue the producers for devaluing their education. But it was accurate in spirit if not in detail.

Mormonism and Commodification

One of the perennial (and perennially fun) debates in legal theory revolves around the issue of commidification. In this context commidification means the ability to take something and sell it. Thus, we have all sorts of fun debates about prostitution, markets in adoption rights, surrogate mothering contracts, and the like. So does Mormonism offer us anything that gives us any unique traction in these debates, or as Mormons do we simply argue about these sorts of issues in the same way as everyone else?

Church on Sunday

We meet in a city structure six stories high which has been home to eight units, manageable when we had two chapels. When a temple using all of the fifth and sixth floors and parts of the first and second floors began to take shape in the building, chaos ensued. The three single wards met together (stake conf. every Sunday) and a family ward, a Spanish branch, and a deaf unit began to meet together, every space used at all hours. A new and different church with many things going on that never used to. For me, the transformation is that my jobs are now off the books.

LDS Law Students’ Conference

The Mormon student group at Harvard Law School is sponsoring a conference for LDS law students to be held next month at Harvard. All interested parties are invited. Below is a message from one of the event organizers.

LDS Blogosphere watch

A number of interesting posts have appeared in the LDS blogosphere over the last few days. I will probably write a bit more in-depth commentary on one or more of these when I have a little more time (or someone else will). For the moment, let me just point out: Dave’s examination of a Methodist committee report on whether Mormons converting to Methodism need rebaptism. Jan’s not-to-be-missed discussion of church authority and spousal abuse. and Logan’s discussion of what church meetings women may conduct.

Church on Saturday

On Saturday I went to an LDS stake leadership meeting via satellite. I soon realized that I wasn’t too interested in the two major messages, the importance of trying to preserve the family and the subordination of all Church auxiliaries to the priesthood. I’ve heard those a few times. I remain unconvinced that Jehovah and Joseph Smith were advocating marriage and the family as we know them, and being an old auxiliary leader, I know that it is unwise to expect much help from the priesthood.

Covenant and Contract

I have been working on this post for a while, and I have finally given up (for the time being) on trying to make my thoughts more coherent. So be warned, what follows involves some rather rambling discussions of legal theory and legal history. I disclaim any warranties explicit or implied. Read at your own risk. Void where prohibited. One of my main academic interests is contract law and contract theory. As a result, I am fascinated by the theological idea of “covenant.” Generally, when people talk about “covenant” and “contract,” they distinguish them by saying that “covenants” involve spiritual things, while contracts are merely commercial transactions. They then go on to describe a covenant as a set of recipricol promises. We promise X and in return God promises Y. I tend to think that this whole approach to the question is wrong.

Thoughts About Baby Blessings

Last Sunday, I blessed Alison Edra Fox in sacrament meeting. It was a mob scene; for reasons far too complicated to go into here, all of my six brothers were present in the circle, as was my younger sister’s fiance, my father and father-in-law, a couple of friends and the bishop. We barely had room on the stand. I’ve blessed three children now, and I’m still not sure what I’m doing, or why I say what I do. Am I saying a prayer, expressing my fondest fatherly hopes and wishes for my child with as much faith as I can muster? Am I, on the other hand, exercising a kind of patriarchal power, making certain promises (contingent upon my daughter’s obedience, perhaps?) on her behalf? A little bit of both?

Honoring authority

In Sunday School today, while talking about what it means to be chosen, I used an example that I thought was straightforward. I said, “The bishop has been chosen, but not because he is more righteous or smarter than everyone else in the ward.” No one disagreed with me straight out, but I was surprised how many people wanted to qualify what I said with “Yes, but . . . .”

Situating Zion

We had some wonderful discussion about Zion in the lengthy comments on Material Prosperity, and I would like to revisit the topic here. My visit to India will end this week, and I have been confronted again and again with thoughts about helping the poor. Today, we visited a government heritage park; as we walked along a path, we came upon a family — two parents and a small child — sitting atop a pile of used bricks. Our guide explained that they were employed by the park to turn the bricks into dust for use in the restoration materials. They lived on site. The mother was using a small hammer, like we would use to hang a picture in our living room. The sight of mother and child moved many of us nearly to tears.

Sunday School Lesson 3

Lesson 3: 1 Nephi 8-11; 12:16-18; 15 In order to keep the lesson materials within a usable limit, I’m going to focus on chapter 11, referring to other chapters in the context of that one. Verse 1: Compare the personage who responds to Nephi’s desire with that who responded to Lehi (1 Nephi 1:5-6). Are they the same being? How does Nephi’s desire to know what his father had seen (see 1 Nephi 10:17), presumably a desire expressed in prayer, differ from his prayer in 1 Nephi 2:16? Three things seem to precipitate Nephi’s vision: he wants to know what his father has seen, he believes that God can reveal that to him, and he is pondering in his heart. The word ponder originally meant “to weigh,” and based on that meaning it came to mean “to weigh something mentally.” What meanings does the word heart have in the scriptures? What does it mean to weigh something in your heart?…