The Mormons Take Manhattan

The New York Daily News discusses the recent influx of Mormons into New York City. (Via my colleague Wendy Cassity). The numbers are interesting — up from 1700 to 4000 members over the past 10 years alone. And there are apparently 25,000 members in the five boroughs. (Though as a member of a Bronx ward, I have to wonder what percent of the 25,000 are actually active). The article also discusses the new buildings, which have to be an exciting development for Manhattan members. (See Claudia’s earlier post mentioning the choreography of multi-multi-ward buildings in Manhattan).

It (Still) Seems So BIG

What first caught my attention with respect to the Gospel was the sheer size of it. For my first ten or fifteen years of consciousness, growing up in a semi-active part-LDS home, the Church, to me, represented boring meetings, lackluster hymn-singing, and little more. Other things in 1960s California seemed much more exciting, and, frankly, there was little home pressure to think otherwise.

1 Nephi 13

I don’t get to attend Sunday School often, but yesterday I was able to attend an interesting lesson taught by Logan. The major topic was the great and abominable church. The discussion made me wonder about one thing (which we discussed briefly in class). The scripture talks about removal of plain and precious things from the Book of the Lamb (which appears to be the Bible). I was wondering — how exactly did / does this occur?

The Poor Oppress Me

A week and a half ago, Jennifer (I don’t recall her last name) came to our door. It was raining out and Jennifer, who was wearing jeans and an old knit sweater, was soaked and shivering from the cold. I’d never met her before. She was short and fat, had tattoos on her forearms; her hands were calloused and her face had heavy lines–she looked to be in her late 40s, but poverty (and abuse) can age you prematurely. She was desperate for $13 so she could afford a bus ticket to Oklahoma to visit her ailing mother, and had–in a wet garment bag–a wedding dress she was willing to sell. She told me that she’d already walked downtown (they had no car), and tried to sell it at a couple of second-hand stores, but no one would buy it. She stood dripping on our doorstep pleading with me, fumbling with the zipper of the bag, explaining to me the…

God and the Movies

Larry Ribstein, a corporate law professor at the University of Illinois, has an interesting blog on the treatment of business in the movies. He argues, among other things, that the generally negative portrayal of business is in film does not reflect some ideological bias against commerce. Rather, it is a reflection of the tension between the “creative types” who make movies and the studio executives who control them. I wonder if there is not a similar economic explanation for the generally poor treatment of religion in the movies.

Sunday School Lesson 5

1 Nephi 16-22 (1 February 2004) As usual, I’ve not written questions on every chapter or for every verse in the chapters I’ve covered. Chapter 16 Verses 1-2: Nephi’s brothers tell him that the things he has said are too hard to bear (verse 1). What have they heard that has caused that response? In verse 2 Nephi explains why they find the truth to be hard. Which meaning of “hard” is relevant, “difficult to understand” or “difficult to bear”? What does the fact that the wicked are cut to their center by the truth tell us about wickedness and truth?

Doing the Right Thing

Mormons believe in revelation. Within limits. Admittedly, what I am about to say is a gross overgeneralization, but I hope that it will provoke some interesting discussion. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a rich tradition of public and private revelation, but in my experience, most members of the Church do not trust in their own ability to receive revelation. Moreover, those who profess to receive revelation often are viewed with skepticism by other members. Given that our history includes lunatics like the Laffertys, such skepticism is not without foundation. Nevertheless, I think we shortchange ourselves through our fear.

AFA “Poll” and (Dis)Honesty?

A recent episode reinforces my distrust of self-styled “family” and “Christian” political groups: The American Family Association set up a “poll” last month on their web site titled “America’s Poll on Homosexual Marriage.” The “poll” asked people whether they approved or disapproved of gay marriage. The AFA promised that “Results of this poll will be presented to Congress” — presumably as some kind of reflection of nationwide attitudes. (Of course, any attempt to suggest that the results of a self-selected “poll” were representative of the population would have been statistically unsupportable. While a properly conducted, random poll of sufficient size can be a valid statistical representation of the opinions of the population, a self-selected poll cannot). The AFA eventually decided not to present the results to Congress, after gay marriage supporters learned of it and began voting in large numbers. The reason given for the change was that the “poll” now “represent[ed] something other than what we wanted it to.”…

God and Man at Martin’s Cove

Here’s a fairly balanced story from the front page of today’s New York Times on the minor controversy surrounding Martin’s Cove in Wyoming. For those new to this story, the land in question is purportedly the place where the Martin and Willie handcart companies were stranded in the winter of 1856, and it is presently owned by the US Bureau of Land Management. When a prior deal giving the Church access to the site expired in 2001, the Church sought to purchase the land outright. The Wyoming senators, however, responding to a some public concerns, worked to block the necessary legislation. The Church then sought a lease of the property, and Congress agreed to a renewable 25 year deal, which was tucked into an energy bill and signed by President Bush in December.

Justice for Fornicators

The extended discussion of Matt’s last post has got me thinking about abortion. I freely admitt that this is not a subject that I have actually spent a lot of time on, so I can’t claim that what follows is informed by either deep reading or deep thinking. What I have tried to do is put together an argument that makes sense out of the Church’s somewhat modified pro-life position, i.e. no abortion with limited exceptions of for rape, threats to life, etc. Warning, what follows contains a fair amount of pseudo-philosophical rambling.

A New Guest Blogger

We are pleased to announce our newest guest blogger . . . drum roll . . . Dan Peterson. Dr. Peterson is a professor of Near Eastern Studies at Brigham Young University. He studied in Cairo and recieved his Ph.D. from UCLA. He is undoubtedly the best professor of medieval Islamic philosophy that I had during my entire undergraduate education. In addition to his work on Islam, Dan Peterson has long been associated with The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) and is the editor of the ever so aptly and felicitously named FARMS Review. Contrary to the information contained in the BYU directory, however, Professor Peterson is, alas for him, not the Director of the BYU Jerusalem Center.

Numbers

I just wanted to note a few numbers that I thought interesting. Early this morning, the blog passed the 10,000 visitor mark. That counter began on November 21st — two months ago yesterday — so we have had 10,000 visits in 2 months. (This metric doesn’t count repeat visits from the same person on the same day). The level of positive response was certainly not anticipated by me. (Just look how excited I was two months ago, when we started to get 65 visitors a day). I remain amazed and gratified at the fact that people are this interested in our discussions, and I hope that my co-bloggers and I can continue to post interesting enough discussion that people see T & S as a worthwhile place to visit.

New Advertisement Marks Anniversary of Roe v Wade

VISUAL: Color video footage of fetus, 20-25 weeks gestation, in her mother’s womb sucking her thumb. NARRATOR: “Why are some babies aborted? It’s not because her mother was raped. It’s not because her mother’s life or health are in jeopardy. It’s not because her father isn’t supportive. It’s not because she was unplanned. It’s not even because her mother doesn’t want a baby. Then why are these babies aborted?” VISUAL: Screen goes black while “aborted” said. Black screen lasts for 2 seconds.

Perception of Gays

A recent Meridian Magazine article discusses gay marriage. While the article has been praised elsewhere in the blogosphere, I thought the article as a whole was unconvincing, and there was one sentence in particular that I found disturbing. Ms. Barlow states that: “There is no societal benefit to homosexual unions which are based primarily on genital stimulation and the perception of love.” Quite frankly, anyone who thinks that gay relationships are based primarily on “genital stimulation” (wow – she can’t even bring herself to say “sex”!) should actually meet a few gays. Or even crack open a newspaper once in a while and read about committed, long-term gay relationships. Many Mormons seem to have the idea that all gays are wild partiers running naked around Greenwich Village. (And if that were true, then gay marriage might be a bad idea — but it’s not the case.)

The End of Two Weeks

I was invited to be a guest blogger a couple of weeks ago and jumped right in with a piece that day. I probably filed more pieces than I should have, but I was testing the principle that if you have a place to write, you will find something to write about. I think the principle is true. Several times a day a topic occurred to me, something I would not ordinarily write about, most of which I didn’t use. So I had something to say.

Quick Note on Spam Comments

We have been hit with a batch of spam comments over the past 2 days. (I guess it’s a sign that we have hit the big time.) If you haven’t seen them, here’s an idea of what they look like: “The sky is green.” -John Jones. The text is always nonsense, and the name will be linked not to an e-mail address but directly to the spammer’s site. It may be a hosting or gambling site (those are the two that have hit us so far). The combination of nonsense text (they use what appear to be randomly generated, short phrases, hopefully in hopes of seeming like a legitimate poster) and a hyperlinked name is the indication that it’s a spam comment. When we see these, we will delete the comment and ban the IP address from further comments. Readers may notice these spam comments sometimes (there will be some inevitable lag between the time they go up, and the…

158 Years Ago

Watching the ice flow up and down the Hudson in this fierce winter weather reminds me how the Nauvoo pioneers walked west across the frozen Mississippi on 4 February 1846. That’s six or seven generations ago, the combined ages of two old men. I once walked across the frozen Charles, and it was brutally cold for a long time to freeze up that smaller river. On that same February day, by coincidence, New York’s own pioneers, the more than 230 LDS passengers of The Ship Brooklyn set sail for “Upper California” which probably meant Oregon, though they ended up in Yerba Buena, later San Francisco, where they doubled the population. No Panama Canal for them. They sailed down and up South America, passing Tierra del Fuego, the ultima Thule of the world. Imagine the faith, hope and desperation necessary to sail off on those grim grey seas to an unknown future in the worst month of the year.

Competing for Members

Yesterday, my bishop announced that our excellent Primary chorister was being released from that calling so that she could serve as the Ward Communications Specialist. Her new job is to provide content for the ward website. After putting the kibosh on local websites a few years ago, the Church has recently begun to encourage their use. What I found most interesting about my bishop’s remarks was the marketing motivation for this move: in a ward that is leanly staffed, we are putting one of our most competent members in charge of the website because we want to attract move-ins.

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.