The KJV and the Thereofs Thereof

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The KJV is archaic and foreign today, but did you know it was already archaic and outdated when it was published in 1611? The translation team was instructed to follow earlier translations like The Bishop’s Bible (1568) and only change where they thought necessary. But the Bishop’s Bible was itself a revision of yet earlier translations, all the way back to Tyndale (1525)! This means the translators were not starting from scratch, but essentially critiquing and updating earlier work. The English used was not the current vernacular language of the people when it was published. The abundance of “barbed wire” for readers today is not all a result of linguistic change since 1611; KJV readers in 1611 found plenty of “barbed wire” too.

The General Conference Mirth Index – Take 2

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I always enjoy the opportunity to laugh a little bit in general conference. In January, I introduced the General Conference Mirth Index (for the October 2014 conference), which sums up the number of laughs for each talk. As we enter into the next General Conference this weekend, let’s see how much laughing we did last April. A quick recap. To calculate this, I listen to each conference talk and record the number of instances of laughter that I hear. (Note that I’m not counting jokes or judging what is a joke; I’m only counting what induces laughter.) I listen to each talk in the language in which it was delivered, since the English voiceover often covers the laughter. I then adjust by the length of the talk. This has limitations – it weighs equally Elder Gibson’s chuckle from not eating dinner with Elder Pearson’s medium-sized laugh from #spaciousbuilding. Big picture. More than half the talks had at least one laugh…

“A woman is a woman no matter what, but manhood can be lost.”

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The title of today’s post (“A woman is a woman no matter what, but manhood can be lost,”) is a quote comes from a long and interesting article from the Pacific Standard: Why Men Kill Themselves. There’s a lot that is interesting in the article, especially about some of the gender differences that lead to a much higher suicide rate for men as compared to women. Although there are certainly wide variations between cultures in the overall rate of suicide, it turns out that “In every country in the world, male suicides outnumber female.” The article reminded me of Valerie Hudson Cassler’s article for Square Two: Plato’s Son, Augustine’s Heir: “A Post-Heterosexual Mormon Theology.” The article, a response to Taylor Petrey’s attempt to show how Mormon theology could be retrofitted to be compatible with eternal homosexual relationships, had a tremendous impact on how I view gender and religion. In the article, Cassler allows that “No doubt Petrey would argue that what he is advocating…

Thoughts on a Modern English Translation of the Scriptures

The Church recently announced that is going to be publishing an LDS “translation” of the Bible in Portuguese. I put “translation” in scare quotes because this is not a new Portuguese version of the Bible translated from the original Greek and Hebrew. Rather, it takes a previous Portuguese translation now in the public domain and updates its archaic language for modern Portuguese readers, adding LDS study aids. This is not the first time that the Church has issued new versions of the scriptures to make their language more digestible for members. For example, the original translation of the Book of Mormon into Korean used a very elevated and archaic form of the language that was difficult for modern Korean speakers to understand. My understanding is that the Church produced a new translation that was easier to read, and that it has done similar things in other languages. These efforts on behalf of non-English-speaking Latter-day Saints raise the question, why not…

What is Mormon Doctrine?

What is Mormon Doctrine?

For decades I’ve been fascinated at the regular conflation of doctrine, policy, and practice among members. We tend to claim the policy of today as not just practical, meaningful, and inspired, but as doctrine. Until it changes and we forget all about it. One example that comes to mind is the “doctrine” from my childhood of only taking the sacrament (and only passing the sacrament tray) with the right (covenant-making, clean, dextro) hand and never with the left (unlucky, dirty, sinistro) hand. Somewhere between the church of my childhood and my 30s, this teaching disappeared from all teaching manuals, missionary discussions, and the gospel principles class. (My search was not exhaustive and I haven’t renewed that effort, but I could not find this teaching in any current materials at the time.) 

Reading Genesis

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The latest entry in the how-to-read-the-Bible genre is How to Read the Bible (HarperOne, 2015) by Harvey Cox, a Harvard divinity prof who has been around since the sixties (his classic The Secular City was published in 1965). The first chapter is devoted to Genesis. He offers some helpful perspectives to go beyond simply plodding though chapter by chapter, verse by verse, trying to follow what is going on or being said. Here are four approaches to shape one’s reading.

Teaching Genesis, Sort Of

OT seminary manual

A new year of LDS seminary is just starting up, and this year’s course of study is the Old Testament. The first week of lessons gives some Mormon framing: (1) an introduction to the Old Testament (it “contains images, symbols, and teachings about the Lord Jesus Christ” and “in the Old Testament, Jesus Christ is known as Jehovah”); (2) a review of the Plan of Salvation (essential elements: Creation, the Fall of Adam and Eve, and the Atonement); (3) a module on how to study the scriptures; and (4) a lesson on the Bible (with a timeline starting with Adam at 4000 BC). Then lessons 6-16 cover the LDS Book of Moses, followed quickly by three lessons (19-21) on the LDS Book of Abraham. The material in Genesis 1-5 is never studied directly. The student reading chart includes all of Moses and all of Abraham but omits Genesis 1-5. The early lessons use Moses references almost exclusively.

Quotes of Note- Elders Ballard and Packer on Meetings

(I was trying to find President Packer’s statement about meetings for second post on 1 Corinthians, and realized it had disappeared from LDS.org. I’ve relocated it on the Wayback Machine, and the link below is correct. The source is no longer a “recent address” so it had disappeared from lds.org) Elder Ballard- “Are you using the ward and stake councils effectively as they were intended? Don’t let them become meaningless exercises in organizational bureaucracy. The way some leaders conduct council meetings, you would think they really believe in a fourteenth article of faith: ‘We believe in meetings—all that have been held, all that are now scheduled—and we believe there will yet be held many great and important meetings. We have endured many meetings and hope to be able to endure all meetings. If there is a meeting, we seek after it.’ We hope you do not have a fourteenth article of faith operating in your wards.”– Source at lds.org President Packer (quoted…

The Love of God

The Love of God (painting: The Sun by Edvard Munch)

    The Sun by Edvard Munch It’s been one of those weeks. You know, the kind with too many hurried mornings to get to school before the bell rings and too few slow afternoons to help you remember why you hurried in the first place. The kind of week where the laundry will get done and the bills paid and the children raised and the home kept and the dreams stoked. The kind of week where all those true blessings felt a little like burdens. The kind of week where the questions about faith and fact break across my eyes in the morning and sift like so much sand into the the creases of my dreams at night. The kind of week where I overreacted to the kids fighting and undercooked the pork chops…again. And yet. And yet, in the quiet of the night, with music humming across the room and the windows open, I can’t help but rejoice…

Introducing Meg Conley

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I am excited to introduce Meg Conley as our newest guest-blogger here at Times and Seasons! Meg Conley is a freelance writer and blogger specializing in topics of womanhood and motherhood. Her website, megconley.com, is quickly becoming a nationally recognized platform for women’s issues and day to day inspiration. She has appeared on Good Morning America, Nightline and The Steve Harvey Show. Her writing regularly appears on The Huffington Post. She is also, as she puts it, “the mother of two sparkling girls and married to the kind of man that lights the days.” I’ve been a big fan of Meg’s writing for a long time now, and I’ve been consistently nagging her to write for Times and Seasons. She will be joining us for two posts a month over the next two months. I’ve already read her first post, and it’s great. I hope y’all enjoy her pieces as much as I do.

Do Mormons Have a Duty to Vote?

We'll get back to Trump towards the end.

You might think that this is a strange question, and that of course everyone has a duty to vote. That’s part of being a good citizen, isn’t it? Well, there’s a growing body of opinion that says this isn’t so. It all starts widespread agreement that voting doesn’t make a lot of sense from the perspective of an individual voter. Your chance of swaying a national election—of being the decisive vote—is for all practical purposes zero. So there’s no benefit to voting. But there are costs. There’s the gas you pay for the drive to the polling place and the value of the time you spend waiting in line, for instance. This makes voting sort of like buying a lottery ticket when the jackpot is $0.00. It doesn’t matter how cheap the ticket is, no one would buy it at any price. Of course, there are some folks that think voting might be worthwhile because it’s not just who wins…

Data, Doctrines, & Doubts: Improving Gospel Instruction

I’m grateful for the invitation and excited to participate here at Times & Seasons. The following is a talk I gave in our recent Stake General Priesthood meeting as the newly called Stake Sunday School President. While many of the ideas below were conceived independently, I was heavily influenced by some of Ben Spackman’s writings (especially the quotes) when it came to their final form. Big thanks to him. I’ve been asked to speak tonight on improving gospel instruction in the home and at church. So much time could be dedicated to analyzing the best teaching methods and the how-to of engaging gospel lessons. However, I will forgo these particulars partially due to time constraints, but mainly because they don’t really get to the heart of the matter. There are plenty of resources provided by the Church that can assist us in improving the mechanics of our teaching. Manuals like Teaching, No Greater Call or Preach My Gospel as well as Leadership and Teaching tutorials…

Introducing Walker Wright

After citing him on multiple occasions here at Times and Seasons (for example here and here), I’m very pleased to announce that Walker Wright will be joining us for a guest blogging stint. Walker is an MBA student at the University of North Texas, and his primary interests are in the theology of work and sacralizing the mundane. Walker has written for Square Two, presented at Sunstone, Mormon Transhumanist Association, Faith & Knowledge, and Mormon Scholars in the Humanities, and is contributing a chapter to Julie Smith’s forthcoming Come, Let Us Reason Together: Dialogues with Scripture. He also blogs at Difficult Run, Worlds Without End, and at his own blog The Slow Hunch.

Covenant and Speech

Membership in the Church is a covenant relationship. We repeat this to ourselves a great deal but generally aren’t clear exactly what we mean by it. Often, we imagine a covenant as a contract, a set of reciprocal promises. Given what the scriptures say about covenants, this isn’t a false way of thinking about it, but it is seriously incomplete. The most powerful image of covenant in the scriptures for me is the image of marriage. Israel, we are told, is like the (often faithless) spouse of God. A marriage is a relationship that is defined by reciprocal promises, but it isn’t just defined by reciprocal promises. It is also defined by love, passion, and what I think of as habits of affection. We often think of love as a kind of Dionysian force that assaults us, but married love is more than simply Dionysian. It is also agricultural, something that one treasures, cultivates, and seeks to protect. I think…

Reminder: SMPT deadline Tuesday Sept. 1

Paper proposals for the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology’s 2015 Annual Meeting are due soon—Tuesday, September 1. There have been a number of strong submissions already, and we are looking forward to more. For full details on the conference and the call for papers, see the original announcement.

Church Sticks with Boys

Church Sticks with Boys

As Dave Banack wrote yesterday, in spite of some public huffing and puffing, the church has decided to continue the relationship with the Boy Scouts of America. They have also decided to continue to seem unaware that the first word in the organization’s title makes it gender-exclusive. With equal concern for the substantial number of youth who live outside the United States and Canada, the Church will continue to evaluate and refine program options that better meet its global needs. The correct wording should be “with equal concern for the substantial number of male youth who live outside the United States and Canada.” The powers that be, again, haven’t noticed that it’s not “youth who live outside the United States and Canada” who don’t have access to scouting. It’s male youth who live outside the United States and Canada and female youth from every corner of the globe. In other words, there are far more female youth without the resources, infrastructure, incentives, support, and awards than…

Church Sticks With BSA

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At least for the moment, as announced in this statement posted at the Mormon Newsroom: “Church to Go Forward with Scouting Program.” So despite the sharply worded LDS statement released a month ago at the Newsroom expressing frustration with BSA for the timing and content of the decision to allow gay scout leaders to serve and despite Internet rumors that an LDS-BSA divorce was imminent, this troubled marriage will continue, at least for now. How long will this last given declining support for BSA among the LDS rank and file? And what does this mean for LDS youth and youth programs?

The Most Important Question about the Future of Mormonism

A couple of weeks ago, Patheos had a fun series of blog posts on the future of the Mormonism. (I’m too lazy to provide a link; Google it.) Most of the contributions were insightful and interesting, but I was struck that none of them put front and center what I think is the more important question facing the Church today. Mormonism is driven, ultimately, by missionary work. If you look at the development of our theology, for example, it has largely been formulated in the context of polemics driven by the needs of proselytizing. We articulate our theology through the process of trying to convert people, rather than trying to covert people to our previously articulate theology. More dramatically, whatever seems to be the most successful missionary message tends to come to dominate Church discourse and transform Church practices. We don’t necessarily invent new doctrines or the like for missionary purposes, but the way in which we present those doctrines…

“Another Important Step Forward in the Restoration of the Gospel”

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Yesterday, President Oscarson announced on her Facebook page that she was now assigned to be a member of the Missionary Executive Council. President Burton is now a member of the Priesthood Executive Council (which has been renamed the Priesthood and Family Executive Council) and President Wixom is now on the Temple and Family History Executive Council. In an article in the Deseret News, former General RS Presidency member Sheri Dew said that “This is yet another important step forward in the restoration of the gospel.”

Teaching Old Testament for Seminary

Concept image of a lost and confused signpost against a blue cloudy sky.

You recently got called as a Early Morning Seminary teacher, and feel surprisingly sanguine about it. Then you found out that you’re starting with Old Testament this September, and all of a sudden, your confidence in the face of world-weary, eye-rolling teenagers plummeted. Why is this so tough? The audience is hostile and sleepy. You teach every day, without the luxury of a whole week to think through your 45 minute lesson. You’ve got to get in there every morning to teach about the longest book we know the least, with the hardest material that is also the most foreign, culturally speaking. Not to stack the deck, but you’ve got my respect, Sister Volunteer Seminary Teacher.

Seer Stones and the New Narrative

A week ago, the Church released a suddenly iconic photograph of Joseph Smith’s favorite seer stone, and also posted at LDS.org an article by three LDS historians, “Joseph the Seer,” to be published in the October 2015 Ensign. It seems clear that the image plus the content of the article are going to rewrite the standard (“official”) LDS narrative concerning Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Mormon text. I’m concerned it may also bring folk magic back into that narrative and even back into mainstream LDS culture. That seems like a step in the wrong direction.

Review: Fresh Courage Take, or What It’s Like to Be a Mormon Woman

Fresh Courage Take

I recently read the new book Fresh Courage Take: New Directions by Mormon Women (Signature Books, 2015; publisher’s page), edited by Jamie Zvirdin with a foreward by Joanna Brooks. Twelve enlightening essays reflecting the plight, fight, and delight of being a Mormon woman circa 2015. You might ask: Not being a Mormon woman myself, who am I to write a review of this book? I know at least a few Mormon women rather well (mother, wife, daughter). Also, I have read lots of blog and Facebook posts by articulate Mormon women sounding some of the same themes and experiences, albeit shorter and less polished than these published essays. There’s a certain “I’m mad as heck and I’m not going to take it for much longer, only a few more years, but I really enjoy teaching the Sunbeams” quality to a lot of Mormon feminist writing. These essays show even less mad and more enjoyment.

Another View of the Seer Stone

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Yesterday by invitation, I attended  the first known joint press conference between the LDS Church and its cousin, the Community of Christ (formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or RLDS.) The occasion was the release of the 2-part 3rd volume in the Revelations and Translations series of the Joseph Smith Papers, the Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of the Mormon. As with the others, these books are hefty, high-quality, and thought-provoking. While available at Amazon (part 1, part 2), they will also be available in their entirety online soon.