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?…

Writing Our Stories

I welcome all this logistical talk about journals. I think the computer is the only way, because it establishes the text, but technology is such and computers are so disposable that a hard copy is essential and may be what lasts. Burning a CD is an interesting idea, but that technology may also be limited. I keep a month’s entries in a single computer file, adding to it each day. At the end of the month, I print the month out, punch holes, and put it in a binder, and I begin the next month. What to print it on is my current question. For several years I have used the back sides of the beautiful stationery my parents left, but I am now out of several reams of that. I may have to get some expensive rag, bond, archival paper to show that I value the project. Which I do, although I never go back to reread.

Being “born that way” is meaningless

In his attempt to overcome the ‘secularist’ charge and to prove he understands religion, Howard Dean said this week, “[f]rom a religious point of view, if God had thought homosexuality is a sin, he would not have created gay people.” Let me start by noting that if this statement is typical of the quality of Dean’s thinking “from a religious point of view,” it’s not hard to figure out why Dean isn’t religious. Even if he isn’t religious, he’s not an idiot, either, so his argument must have made sense according to his secular worldview. (Andrew Sullivan seems to think it’s compelling, too.) By religious and secular standards, this argument is foolish, no matter that many otherwise-intelligent people have been hoodwinked by it. Too many people think that if they can only prove their behavior is biologically based, due to factors beyond their control, true to their innate identity, or “natural”, then their behavior is justified. But being “born that…

Medicinal Marijuana, the Word of Wisdom, and the Nyquil Exception

The Word of Wisdom instructs us to avoid certain harmful substances. Present-day leaders have told us that we must avoid illegal drugs as well. However, a general exception is made for drugs prescribed by a doctor. In addition, there is, in my observation, a widespread belief that over-the-counter medicines such as NyQuil are permitted to be used for valid medical reasons (despite containing substances such as alcohol). This makes me wonder: What about medical marijuana? May a church member take medical marijuana if prescribed by a doctor? And if it is not prescribed by a doctor, could the perceived right to certain types of (word-of-wisdom-violating) self-medication — the “Nyquil exception” — also allow a church member to use marijuana?

Essential Texts Again

In December Greg posted the very interesting question of what the five essential texts in Mormon studies are. The thread generated a lot of comments. A follow-up thread also got some comments. I just went through and tallied votes thus far. The results are interesting. Besides being a potential catalog of essential texts, the results also illustrate the broad range of ideas that people consider “Mormon studies”. A total of eight (sort of) texts received more than one vote.

Thanks Ady

Besides welcoming Claudia, we want to thank Ady for sitting in as a guest blogger. It has been good for us to have a perspective other than the legal-philosopical-political perspective of the blogging crew here. A scientist’s perspective keeps us on our toes.

Writing Our Lives

Every day for the year of 2003 I read a diary entry by Samuel Pepys, the incomparable 17th century English diarist. The ten-year Pepys diary is being put online a day at a time by Phil Gyford, a British computer person, (www.pepysdiary.com) and the international community that has gathered and comments on the daily entries is similar to this, a tight ingrown, but very learned and witty group.

Claudia Bushman: Historian, Scholar, Blogger

We are pleased to welcome Claudia Bushman as our newest guest blogger. Dr. Bushman is a historian by training and has taught at Columbia University for many years. Her books include How America Discovered Columbus, In Old Virginia: Slavery, Farming, and Society in the Journal of John Walker, Mormon Sisters: Women of Early Utah, A Good Poor Man’s Wife, Mormon Domestic Life in the 1870s: Pandemonium or Acadia, Mormons in America (with Richard Bushman), Building the Kingdom: A History of Mormons in America (with Richard Bushman), and many others. She is one of the founders of Exponent II, a Boston-based magazine focusing on Mormonism and women’s issues. In addition, historian Richard Bushman has the distinction of being married to Professor Bushman.

Mormon Lawyers

Despite Brigham’s frequent attacks on the profession, there are a lot of Mormon lawyers. Some LDS thinkers have posited all sorts of troubling reasons why this is so. Nibley sees it as a symptom of moral decline, and I have repeatedly seen it used as evidence of excessive Mormon materialism or anti-intellectualism. However, today I realized that it might be about something else entirely: book binding.

On the lighter side

As a parent, I often wonder if I watch my kids well enough. They seem to disappear sometimes at church, escaping to the drinking fountain or to crawl under tables in the cultural hall or to turn off the lights during sacrament meeting. However, I can now give myself a reason not to feel so bad — at least my children haven’t (yet) climbed into a toy vending machine. The story of the determined (and limber) vending machine boy is a pretty funny bit of recent news (including a great picture), and yes, it ends well.

New semester

I really like the beginning of the semester. The last week of Christmas break seemed to drag on forever because I was anxious to get started. I liked the beginning of the school year when I was a child. Those times were associated with new clothes and new pencils and pencil boxes and getting to meet my new teacher. I still have a thing for pencils and pencil boxes, as well as fountain pens, but now the excitement of a new school term is harder to explain.

Mormonism and Evolution

Evolution has been a topic of much debate in many Christian churches, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon Church). Members fall into various categories: those who reject evolution outright, those that accept some principles of evolution, and those that accept the theory of evolution in its entirety thus far. I fall into the middle camp since I accept some principles of evolution such as adaptation and natural selection, but I find some parts of the theory problematic. However, I believe that the theory of evolution is currently the best scientific theory that attempts to explain how life began on Earth. I also don?t think that the theory of evolution necessarily precludes belief in God. As an LDS biologist, I?ve taken several courses on evolution and I?ve extensively read papers on both sides of the evolution/creation debate. In this essay, I will focus mainly on the pro and cons of evolution, and its place in…

Risking Evil, Doing Good

The title for this post is a little cryptic, I admit. But let me explain. The Cheiko Okasaki thread is a really wonderful one, if you haven’t been following it. It has turned into a wonderful series of thoughts and arguments about the proper (that is, safely within LDS moral guidelines) boundaries for male-female associations, whether at work or in the church. I have some ideas about what, in practice, adhering to those boundaries ought and ought not involve, but (as usual), my thoughts have been sidetracked by a more theological concern. In one of his comments, Matt shared the following, very revealing anecdote–though what it reveals is not, I think, immediately clear:

Mormon Structuralism

There is an interesting post on “The Strange Career of Mormon Structuralism” over at the Metaphysical Elders about the relationship between structuralism and the thought of Hugh Nibley. I am not sure that I agree with everything in the post, but it does raise some interesting questions

Do we have to love Saddam?

An interesting discussion has been going on in the blogosphere about the comments of Catholic Cardinal Martino, who spoke of Saddam Hussein: “I felt pity to see this man destroyed, (the military) looking at his teeth as if he were a cow. They could have spared us these pictures . . . Seeing him like this, a man in his tragedy, despite all the heavy blame he bears, I had a sense of compassion for him.” In response to this statement, Professor Bainbridge wrote that the Cardinal “comes off looking like an idiot.” Mark Kleiman then took Bainbridge to task and suggested that the Cardinal was filling his Christian duty to love Saddam Hussein. Then, Stuart Buck adapted C.S. Lewis to suggest that loving one’s neighbor may mean “a desire that someone gets exactly what he deserves [whether good or bad].” Finally, Kleiman critiqued both Lewis and Buck, writing: Lewis was a brilliant prose stylist, an awfully clever fellow, and…

Examining Moroni’s Promise

Moroni’s Promise has had increasing use in missionary work and in the church generally, starting with (I believe) President Benson’s emphasis on using it to show that the Book of Mormon is true. Now, in a recent blog entry, Dave critiques Moroni’s Promise as essentially being an unfair test, which allows church members to accept positive results but disregard any negative results. Dave writes: There’s an ugly side to Moroni’s Promise if you don’t play along with the Mormon script. “[I]f ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of [the Book of Mormon] unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost” (Moroni 10:4). So obviously (to the convinced Mormon) a person who doesn’t get nice Holy Ghosty feelings about the Book of Mormon (1) is insincere; or (2) is sincere but irresolute, lacking real intent; or (3) is sincere and determined but lacks faith in God. Plenty…

Chieko Okasaki on women in the Church – 9.22.01

Less than two weeks after the attacks of September 11, Sister Chieko Okasaki spoke at the Manhattan Stake Priesthood Leadership meeting. She delivered what I thought was a thoughtful, courageous, and provocative sermon. The reaction afterward was striking: some men lined up at the podium to thank her; others lined up to object to stake leaders. Today I just happened to come across my notes from that meeting, and I thought it would be worthwhile to post them here, for posterity if nothing else. So here they are, without editorializing (and with apologies for their limitations):

Has Mormon History Taught Us Anything?

Since the publication of Leonard Arrington’s Great Basin Kingdon, the writing of Mormon history has largely been professionalized. The major players in the field are no longer autodidacts like B.H. Roberts or Joseph Fielding Smith. Rather, they are by and large university trained historians, generally with an emphasis on 19th century American history. So here is my question, if we think of ourselves not as Mormons but as students of history, has the “New Mormon History” (if I may use that now loaded phrase) taught us anything? My answer: Not much.

Sunday School Lesson 2

Lesson 2: 1 Nephi 1-7 (11 January 2004) As is often the case for Sunday School lessons, there is a tremendous amount of material to cover in this week’s lesson. These questions will focus on only a few verses that help us see some of the lessons taught in these chapters. However, to help keep the study questions in context, here is an outline of the history surrounding Lehi’s flight from Jerusalem and an outline of the story in these chapters:

Condercet, Brigham, and Succession to the Presidency

Condercet was a French social theorist in the opening decades of the 19th century and is credited with first discovering a paradox of majority voting that bears his name. Here is the paradox: Imagine that you have a group of three people (A,B, and C) who are voting on three different alternatives (X, Y, and Z). A prefers X to Y and Y to Z. B prefers Y to Z and Z to X. C prefers Z to X and X to Y. If X is paired in a vote with Y, then X wins (A and C against B). If Y is paired with Z, then Y wins (A and B against C). But – and this is the kicker – if Z is paired with X, then Z wins (B and C against A). In other words, even if the individual preferences of A, B and C are transitive, the collective preferences of A, B, and C are…

Encounter on the Plane to India

I am happy to report that my trip to India went smoothly. Two long plane rides, but my luggage and my hosts were both waiting on the other end, much to my relief. Moreover, I was pleased to find that my room (a dorm room at the Management Development Institute just outside of Delhi) has a computer with internet access. Thus, this post.