Author: Melissa

Melissa blogged at Times and Seasons between 2004 and 2005. She teaches at a university in the Northeast.

“This Thing Was Not Done in a Corner”

I was delighted when Noah Feldman accepted my invitation to give the keynote address at Princeton’s Mormonism and American Politics conference because I knew he’d offer a thoughtful and sophisticated outsider’s perspective on these issues. His latest NYT piece, a polished and updated version of his conference remarks, is even more that that, however. In challenging what Feldman calls the “soft bigotry” against Mormonism, still surprisingly so widespread, while at the same time effectively raising legitimate issues for Latter-day Saints to wrestle with themselves, Feldman’s piece does what few other articles on Mormonism have been able to do and is rightly getting a lot of attention.

Rough Stone Rolls Into Times and Seasons

Since its release, Richard Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling has been the subject of conference sessions, media reports, bloggernacle essays and academic conversations far and wide. Seeking to engage Bushman in a sustained and interactive conversation about this compelling new biography of Joseph Smith, we are pleased to announce a symposium running this week at Times and Seasons. Watch for a new review of the book to appear every day with a response from Bushman to follow. To introduce the symposium and provide a contrast to the coming reviews we thought it might be of interest to offer a window into what sorts of questions Rough Stone Rolling is raising for some non-LDS scholars. Last month at the annual meetings of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, one session was entirely devoted to responding to Bushman’s book. Here is the gist of what these scholars had to say.

Trading Places (A Roundtable)

Yesterday, four permabloggers here at Times and Seasons made internal announcements that there will be new little blogglings in their homes come next March. Hours before the flurry of “me-too” emails, I’d heard that my sister is also expecting. I was truly delighted to hear so much happy news at once. Along with my hearty congratulations to everyone, I responded with a couple of comments in an email which led to a much broader discussion. With everyone’s permission I am reposting some highlights here for your blogging pleasure. Please weigh in on the issues we raise. .

Would I Have Been the One?

Two weeks ago today I fell off the high step during my aerobics class. Distracted by other thoughts, I miscalculated the height of the step and came down hard on an inverted ankle. It wasn’t pretty. Within seconds my ankle ballooned to three times its normal size and I was immobilized.

Pope’s Personal Papers

I just heard that John Paul II requested that his personal papers be burned. I don’t know if it’s the historian in me or just the fact that I’m a Mormon, but I gasped at this news. I couldn’t help being curious about why he would have wanted this record destroyed. As a self-consciously journaling people would it ever cross any Latter-day Saint’s mind to make such a request? This got me thinking about the nature of our journaling. Knowing that what we write will be viewed by posterity, do we, consciously or not, write for an audience? If so, does it influence what we say and how we choose to say it? If we thought that burning our personal papers at the end were an option, would our journals be different? I wonder how many people blog instead of journaling now? If blogging has become a substitute for journaling for some has the substance and style of their personal reflection changed or not?

A Big Thing?

Jim’s post “A Small Thing” and the comments it elicited reminded me that good Mormons not only can’t have beards, they can’t have tattoos either!

Sacred Harmony

My a capella group, The Longfellow Singers, will present “Sacred Harmony: A Celebration of Worldwide Choral Traditions” this coming Sunday as a benefit concert for the victims of the recent southeast Asia tsunami. We will be singing selections from Renaissance-era Europe as well as folk songs and hymns from Africa, Korea, New Zealand and the United States. The music is absolutely gorgeous, if I do say so myself. Although a collection will be taken, it is a free concert and there is absolutely no obligation to make a donation of any kind. So, if you will be in the Boston area this weekend, come hear me sing!! Sunday, February 27th 8:00 pm St. John’s Chapel, Episcopal Divinity School 99 Brattle Street, Cambridge (this is right across from the LDS chapel) For more information, visit

12 Questions for Philip Barlow

We are pleased to announce Philip Barlow as our next participant in the Twelve Questions series. My initial encounter with Professor Barlow’s work was almost seven years ago as a first year Bible student at Yale Divinity School.

Are Powerful Women at a Disadvantage?

Pulitzer-Prize winning columnist Maureen Dowd’s op-ed piece, “Men Just Want Mommy” published in yesterday’s New York Times is getting a lot of attention. I’ve had a half a dozen friends email it to me with notes attached at the bottom that vary from outrage to despair.

NEH Seminar on Joseph Smith

Last year in his address to the approximately ten thousand members of the American Academy of Religion, then President Robert Orsi encouraged scholars to expand their research into new areas, among which he explicitly mentioned Mormonism. Scholars interested in pursuing this challenge have a unique opportunity to do so this Summer. The National Endowment for the Humanities has partnered with the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for LDS History to offer a six week seminar on Joseph Smith and the Origins of Mormonism.

January Gym-Joiners

Every year about this time fitness clubs swell with new members. Armed with New Year’s resolutions, people sign expensive contracts and buy new athletic gear in sincere attempts to lose weight or gain muscle as they try to improve their physical appearance. I respect their efforts and try to take them seriously, happily sharing the cardio equipment, free weights and yoga balls that I usually have mostly to myself. Experience has taught me that by the end of the month most of these new members will be but infrequent guests here.

The Art of Gift-Giving

Along with all the glorious choral music of the season, which we’ve praised recently at T&S, Christmas is also a time of gift-giving. We make long lists of presents to give to those we love, trying hard to fulfill everyone’s Christmas wishes. Lots of toys, clothes, CDs, books and flannel pajamas get purchased and carefully wrapped. Some years bigger-ticket items like electronic equipment, jewelry or even furniture are given. Still, despite our best efforts it may be rare that we give gifts that are really cherished because they speak love. Over the years I’ve come to believe that gift-giving is an art.

Are Supererogatory Acts Possible for Latter-day Saints?

King Benjamin teaches us that we “should not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition . . . in vain.� This is not merely passing advice we can choose whether to follow or ignore without consequence. In fact, Benjamin warns that those who stay their hand in the face of such requests have “great cause to repent and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever and hath no interest in the kingdom of God (Mos 4:18). According to this text, giving money to the beggar on the street is a duty, required of us by the Gospel with penalties attached to its omission. It is clear that imparting of one’s substance to the beggar is obligatory. However, what is not clear is whether there is a limit to this sort of obligation.

What Is Religion?

Ironically, one of the most debated questions in religious studies is the definition of religion. In most disciplines there is at least a general consensus about how to define the subject of inquiry. Biochemistry is the study of the chemical substances and vital processes occurring in living organisms. Astronomy is the scientific study of matter in outer space with particular attention paid to the positions, dimensions, distribution, motion, composition, energy, and evolution of celestial bodies and phenomena. Clear disciplinary boundaries are not limited to the hard sciences, however. If you study English Literature it is plain to everyone what the subject of your inquiry is, even though one’s individual study within that discipline may be focused on Medieval, Renaissance, Romantic, Victorian or Modern texts. Such transparency about the topic at hand simply does not exist in religious studies.

An Apology

My thoughts this morning echo the words of a poem by Lula Greene Richards (1849-1944). Lula was the editor of the Woman’s Exponent, a staunch defender of women’s right to vote, to obtain an equal education, and to choose their own occupations. This poem comes from Branches That Run Over the Wall.

Hives and Honeybees

I remember being confused as a little girl by the words of the song “In Our Lovely Deseret.” I supposed that the word must be “desert” because I had no concept of deseret. Much like the many children who sing “little purple panties” instead of “little purple pansies” because they have no concept of what a pansy is, I belted out “in our lovely deseerrrt” trying to make the word I understood fit the music I’d been taught. The word deseret doesn’t stay foreign for long if you grow up in Utah, however, since one quickly encounters the Deseret News, Deseret Book and Deseret Industries. But, what does the word deseret actually mean?

Taking the Slums Out of the People?

In 1990 Revered John Heinemeier gathered with other local ministers to solve the housing crisis in East Brooklyn. Together they developed an innovative housing program to construct 5,000 single-family housing units designed for lower-income buyers. East Brooklyn Churches (or EBC) had a long-term vision of what they needed done but there was much to overcome. These neighborhoods were crumbling, impoverished and drug-ridden. The majority of middle class families had long since fled the area. The EBC found inspiration for their ambitious endeavor in the story of Nehemiah who had been sent by the King of Babylon in 420 back to Jerusalem to facilitate the rebuiling of the city. “You see the trouble we are in, How Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the walls of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer in disgrace.” So, the Nehemiah Housing Project was begun

Bungling the Basics?

Several weeks ago during lunch at a professional conference a colleague told me that the LDS missionaries had knocked on his door recently. I took a deep breath and immediately commenced mental preparations for whatever he was going to ask me. This particular colleague is a philosopher of religion so I was fairly sure he was going to ask me about some bit of LDS history or theology. But, I was wrong.

Ambivalence as a Theological Virtue?

In her book, The Religious Imagination of American Women, Mary Farrell Bednarowski suggests that to understand the lived religious experience of American women one must appreciate the ambivalence they experience in their religious traditions. According to Bednarowski this ambivalence is not to be identified as a state of confusion, indecisiveness or vacillating equivocation. Rather, ambivalence is the reflective position of religious women who experience both a deep sense of belonging and an equally strong sense of alienation and distrust. Thoughtful American women, she argues, are committed and connected to their religious communities, but also critical of the religious traditions which define those communities. She explains that the virtue of ambivalence “stirs up love and hate, attraction and repulsion, devotion and impatience . . .” Bednarowski argues that such ambivalence is a virtue that ought to be cultivated since living in the unsettled tension of ambivalence has great potential for theological creativity. Interestingly, Bednarowski points to Mormon women as among those who successfully cultivate this sort of willed ambivalence. Although I believe that learning to live gracefully with unresolved (and un-resolvable) paradox is one of the marks of mature adulthood, I wonder if Bednarowski’s suggestion of a piety of ambivalence can cohere with Mormon scripture and doctrine without painful cognitive dissonance. Throughout the LDS canon we encounter few examples of ambivalence. Of course, there are the three famous J’s—Jonah, Jeremiah and Job, who all manifest their own sort of ambivalence. But…