Category: Guest Bloggers

Consumerism vs. Stewardship

The following is a modified excerpt from my presentation at Sunstone this summer. We live, not only in a capitalist, but a consumerist, society. Our society is all about spending, acquiring, cluttering, and replacing, not about maintaining, restoring, renewing, and protecting. It is cheaper to buy new than to repair old.  We live in a disposable country, where everything is trash, if not now, then soon. How did we get here? One of the best explanations I’ve found is in the work of the social theorist Max Weber (1). He examined the correlation between the Protestant religious belief and its accompanying work ethic and the accumulation of capital and the subsequent rise of capitalism. One aspect [of the concept of calling that arose during the Reformation] was unequivocally new: the fulfillment of duty in vocational callings became viewed as the highest expression that moral activity could assume. Precisely this new notion of the moral worth of devoting oneself to a calling was the unavoidable result of the idea of attaching religious significance to daily work (39-40). The motivation to accumulate wealth was the desire to have confirmation that one was saved. Unlike Catholics, Protestants had no priest to confess to and receive absolution of sins, so the status of soul was in doubt, which was a very uncomfortable position to be in spiritually (60,66). “Restless work in a vocational calling was recommended as the best possible means to acquire the…

Times & Seasons Welcomes Ben Spackman

Times and Seasons is pleased to welcome Ben Spackman as our latest guest blogger. Ben received his BA in Near Eastern Studies from BYU and an MA in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from the University of Chicago, focusing on philology and Semitic languages such as Arabic, Hebrew, and Aramaic. During his graduate summers, he taught New Testament, Book of Mormon, and Biblical Hebrew at BYU. He has taught various courses in a volunteer capacity for the LDS Church Education System since 2003. Most recently, Ben was the managing editor of the Mormon Portal at Ben has lived in Canada, Minnesota, Utah, Jerusalem, Chicago, France, and Brooklyn.

What If President Monson Endorsed Mitt Romney?

In his talk at the close of the April 2008 General Conference, President Monson talked about the blessing we had received, both as members of the Church and, specifically, over the course of the conference. He ended his talk with counsel: parents are to love and cherish their children, youth are to keep the commandments, those who can attend the temple should, and we should all be aware of each other’s needs. But what if, in closing his remarks,[fn1] President Monson had said, “My dear brothers and sisters, I feel strongly that Mitt Romney is the best person to lead our country. I encourage each of you to campaign on his behalf and to donate to his campaign. We have also established the Perpetual Mitt Fund, with an initial investment from tithing dollars for $1 million in order. This fund will go toward his election and, if any money is left over, it will be transferred to Harry Reid’s next campaign. If you would like to support the PMF, you can use the donation slips. In the ‘Other’ category, please write ‘PMF.’”[fn2] There was, unsurprisingly, an immediate backlash. Dozens of people sent letters to the I.R.S., demanding that it revoke the LDS church’s tax exemption. In its review, the I.R.S. determines that the Church’s actions were in flagrant violation of the anti-campaigning rules. Sick of tax-exempts pushing the envelope, the I.R.S. decides to make an example of the Church and…

The Tax Exemption and the Church’s Political Leanings

In light of the Church’s recent policy statement banning some Church authorities from endorsing candidates, and the speculation that the Church’s political neutrality derives from its desire to stay tax-exempt,[fn1] I thought I’d present a brief primer on the tax exemption.[fn2] The Revenue Act of 1894 probably represents the birth of the modern federal income tax. An inauspicious birth, to be sure–it was struck down as unconstitutional in 1895–but the birth, nonetheless. True, it was enacted 19 years before the 16th Amendment permitted direct taxation (whatever that is), but it set the stage for the income tax to come. Including, it turns out, in the world of exempting public charities from tax. It provided that the income tax would not apply to “corporations, companies, or associations organized and conducted solely for charitable, religious, or educational purposes.” [fn3] Although the list of entities that aren’t taxed has expanded (among other things, the exemption now includes groups that foster amateur sports competition–read the NCAA–and that are organized to prevent cruelty to children or animals), the current law reads almost identically to the 1894 version. Why do we exempt some groups, including religious groups, from tax? Theories range from the historical to the idea that they relieve the government from providing some services to the idea that this subsidy for public charities permits tax payers to directly control some portion of government spending to the idea that they (specifically, in this case, religions)…

The Parable of the Talented Endowment Tax

Governments impose taxes in order to raise revenue that, in turn, funds government function and services.[fn1] In designing a tax system, tax theorists generally try to create provisions that will raise revenue without significantly altering taxpayers’ economic choices. That is, ideally, taxpayers will act in approximately the same way as they would have in a world without tax.[fn2] But we can’t hit the ideal. The income tax alters people’s actions, because it alters the price calculus. One way is in our work-leisure decisions. Assume with me that I earn $10 an hour. That said, I enjoy not working, too–my leisure is worth $8/hour to me. In the absence of an income tax, if I have a choice between work and leisure, I’ll choose work. Even with a 10% tax, I’ll choose work, because I’ll bring home $9 after taxes, while my leisure is still worth only $8/hour. However, if the income tax is at a 25% rate, I’ll only bring home $7.50 after taxes. Suddenly, an hour of leisure is worth more to me than an hour of work; the income tax has caused my to substitute less-valuable leisure for more-valuable work.[fn3] One way you could eliminate this problem, according to some economists and tax theorists, would be to replace our income tax with an endowment tax.[fn4] An endowment tax is, in broad strokes, a tax on potential income, rather than on actual income. An example (though not a rigorous…

In Praise of the Administrative Function of the Prophet

When I was just off my mission, President Hinckley announced that, in answer to a question about how to provide temples to smaller LDS communities, he had been inspired to construct smaller temples. There was a palpable sense of excitement at BYU, as we saw the prophet make what we regarded as a prophetic announcement. And, as a result of this revelatory change, we waited with baited breath for other announcements of revelatory changes. Occasionally I run across complaints about the bureaucracization of the leadership of the Church. The complaints seem to suggest that that’s not the role of a prophet/apostle and that administrative duties detract from prophetic ones. I want to argue that neither complaint is correct. The prophet’s role isn’t to hold our MTV-addled (or video-game addled, or ADHD’d, or whatever) attention. As much fun as it was to have things change, they shouldn’t have to. What’s more, the argument that the prophetic role is solely to receive revelation is myopic and, frankly, wrong. Administration has, historically, been a role of the prophet. Though Jethro encouraged Moses quit mediating all of Israel’s issues, some still fell to him to administer. Samuel found the king. Alma the Younger worked to make sure that the church was in harmony. The ancient apostles debated whether gentile converts had to be circumcised (which is, frankly, an administrative, not a revelatory, discussion, though it’s worth noting that Peter appears to have received revelation…

Summer 2011 Syllabus

Part of my job as a law professor is to model to students what a transactional attorney does. As part of that, I include in my syllabus a list of things media that they ought to consume in order to understand the world a business lawyer functions in. The list is not exhaustive, by any means, nor should they necessarily read or listen to all of it, but it provides a slice of intelligent commentary on the world I’m teaching them how to enter. If you were preparing people to do what you do, what resources would you recommend? [fn1] And, if you do what I prepare my students to do, what necessary resources am I tragically leaving out? [fn2] Syllabus: Wall Street Journal.  Depending on your politics, you may detest or you may embrace the Opinions section, but the Journal’s business reporting is superb.  (Note that it has a paywall around most of its content; you either need to subscribe or hunt down hard copies.) Financial Times.  The FT is making real inroads in the U.S.  Unfortunately, it, too, has an annoying paywall—I believe you can look at 10 articles a month for free, if you register. New York Times business section [and, of course, the rest of the paper, too].  Of course, it, too, just instituted its paywall Marketplace.  You can listen weeknights at 6:30 pm on WBEZ or you can download the podcast.  I listen to the…

Times & Seasons Welcomes Sam Brunson

Times & Seasons is excited to introduce Sam Brunson as our latest guest blogger.  Sam grew up in the suburbs of San Diego and served a Brazilian mission what seems like a millennium ago.  He went to BYU as an undergrad and found that a freshman saxophone performance major made his eventual English major look like a practical choice.   After toying with teaching critical theory or becoming an author, he did what all good English majors do and chose law school.  At Columbia, he met his wife, got a degree, and got a job as a tax associate at a New York firm.   Several years later, he managed to escape the clutches of big law and landed a job teaching tax and business law at Loyola University Chicago.  While Sam, sadly, does not play much saxophone these days, he and his wife do have two beautiful girls with whom he loves to spend time when he’s not pondering important questions like whether the transactional net margin method of transfer pricing constitutes an arm’s length price within the interquartile range.

Times & Seasons Welcomes Brad Strum

Times & Seasons is excited to introduce Brad Strum as a guest blogger.  Brad lives and works in the DC area as an economist, where he has been since earning a Ph.D. in economics at Princeton University.  Before grad school, he served in the Russia, Rostov-na-Donu mission and attended Brigham Young University, earning undergraduate degrees in economics and mathematics.   Going back even further, Brad grew up in a military family, living in a number of places around the U.S.   When he isn’t working, Brad enjoys many activities, including tennis, biking, dancing, reading, discussion groups, and spending time with family and friends.

Faith, Philosophy, Scripture: A Typology of Readers

In the introduction to his Faith, Philosophy, Scripture (Neal A Maxwell Institute, 2010), Jim Faulconer gives us a kind of typology of religious subjects. Imagining the different kinds of responses he might get to the difficulty of his philosophically inclined essays, he picks out four basic types. I. Typology 1. Those who enjoy a kind of childish naivete. Those with childish faith will find what I say difficult because it makes the obvious difficult. They are likely to be bored or, at best, indulgent of me, and their reaction is the right reaction. I have nothing to say to those who are naive in a childish way because anything I say would be superfluous. (xv) 2. Those who enjoy a kind of mature naivete. Those with more mature, childlike faith have moved from their initial naivete to one that knows the obstacles to faith and has faith anyway – not necessarily in spite of those obstacles, but aware of them and able to cope with them. Often those who have a second naivete are aware of the problems but do not find them problematic, though perhaps once they did. It is as if they do not care because their faith has made them secure. I especially like to read the work of those in their second naivete, or listen to them speak, but what they say is not philosophical. It if were, it would not be naivete. The second kind of naivete is better than…

Home Waters: Soul as Watershed

Spurred by Handley’s Home Waters, I’ve been reading Wallace Stegner. Like Handley, Stegner is interested in the tight twine of body, place, and genealogy that makes a life. On my account, Handley and Stegner share the same thesis: if the body is a river, then the soul is a watershed. Like a shirt pulled off over your head, this thesis leaves the soul inside-out and exposed. You thought your soul was a kernel of atomic interiority, your most secret secret – but shirt in hand, everyone can see your navel. Stegner’s novel, Angle of Repose, opens with the narrator’s own version of this thesis. An aging father, writing about his pioneer grandparents, names the distance between himself and his son: Right there, I might say to Rodman, who doesn’t believe in time, notice something: I started to establish the present and the present moved on. What I established is already buried under layers of tape. Before I can say I am, I was. Heraclitus and I, prophets of flux, know that the flux is composed of parts that imitate and repeat each other. Am or was, I am cumulative, too. I am everything I ever was, whatever you and Leah may think. I am much of what my parents and especially my grandparents were – inherited stature, coloring, brains, bones (that part unfortunate), plus transmitted prejudices, culture, scruples, likings, moralities, and moral errors that I defend as if they were personal and…

Home Waters: Overview

George Handley’s Home Waters: A Year of Recompenses on the Provo River (University of Utah Press, 2010) practices theology like a doctor practices CPR: not as secondhand theory but as a chest-cracking, lung-inflating, life-saving intervention. Home Waters models what, on my account, good theology ought to do: it is experimental, it is grounded in the details of lived experience, and it takes charity – that pure love of Christ – as the only real justification for its having been written. It is not afraid to guess, it is not afraid to question, it is not afraid to cry repentance, and it is not afraid to speak in its own name. The book deserves some time and attention. It’s what you’ve been wanting to read. It may also be what you’ve been wanting to write. At the very least, it made me want to write about it. I’ve planned a few posts that will air some of my ideas about Handley’s ideas: one on the importance of place, a second on the importance of genealogy, and a third on importance of (re)creation. The book’s self-description reads like this: People who flyfish know that a favorite river bend, a secluded spot in moving waters, can feel like home—a place you know intimately and intuitively. In prose that reads like the flowing current of a river, scholar and essayist George Handley blends nature writing, local history, theology, environmental history, and personal memoir in his…

Times & Seasons Welcomes Ralph Hancock

While Rana Lehr-Lehnardt’s guest run continues, Times & Seasons is happy to introduce our next guest blogger, Ralph Hancock. Ralph is a long-time professor of Political Science at Brigham Young University. He is the author of Calvin and the Foundations of Modern Politics, as well as of numerous edited volumes, articles and chapters.  His forthcoming book, The Responsibility of Reason (Rowman & Littlefield),  addresses the meaning and limits of reason through a triangulation involving de Tocqueville, Heidegger and Strauss.   Ralph has also translated three books (including one with his son Nathaniel) and numerous chapters and articles from French, and has organized and directed more than a dozen scholarly conferences and colloquia concerning philosophical and religious dimensions of public issues. He holds degrees from BYU and from Harvard University. Ralph is also the founder and president of the John Adams Center for The Study of Faith, Philosophy and Public Affairs, which aims to resist the  narrowing of the notion of “reason” to the blind expansion of certain purported “rights” and instead encourage the exploration of the philosophical and religious dimensions of public issues so as to enrich individual understanding and public debate.  Just this past weekend, the John Adams Center sponsored an academic symposium in Duck Beach, North Carolina on “Mormons and the Public Square.” As if this was not enough, Ralph recently helped to found the online journal SquareTwo, which focuses on LDS thought concerning the important issues of the world…

Times & Seasons Welcomes Rana Lehr-Lehnardt

Times & Seasons is happy to introduce our newest guest blogger, Rana Lehr-Lehnardt. Rana is a mother of three who just finished up her first semester teaching at the University of Missouri at Kansas City Law School. After spending several years in the D. C. area, Rana and her family are adjusting to life in Liberty, Missouri where her husband, Mark, has established a corporate and international trade practice. Before finding her way to the University of Missouri, Rana attended law school at BYU, clerked on the Tenth Circuit for Judge Terrence O’Brien, earned an L.L.M. from Columbia Law School, worked at Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute, and served as the legal adviser for the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. In her Missouri ward, Rana is in the YW presidency where she encourages the young women to question openly, think critically, and search diligently. Please give Rana a warm and hearty T&S welcome.

T&S Introduces Dane Laverty as its Newest Blogger

Almost two months to the day that we invited him to guest, Dane Laverty has continued to blog with us at a prodigious pace.  We are now happy to report that he is a guest no longer, but will be joining T&S as a full-time blogger. Dane is a resident of Salem, Oregon and Sacramento, California. He graduated from BYU in contemporary dance, supports his family as a computer programmer, and is attending Willamette University as a business student. He is also a prolific reader and — as we have seen — blogger. We certainly look forward to more of his thought-provoking posts in the months and years to come. Welcome aboard Dane.

Letting Go

Thanks so much for all the fun. Before departing, I leave this layered perspective on parenthood and then return you to your regular T&S, already in progress.

Sacred Spaces, Holy Ground

We, the children of our Heavenly Father, naturally make places where we can draw closer to Him. Almost all of us do it- in some way- all over the world. The thoughts and efforts we put into these holy places reflect our theology, values, hopes and desires.

Vanity, What Is It Good For?

Several months ago, I temporarily transfered from a place where personal vanity is refreshingly low (Vermont) to a place where it is remarkably high (Northern Virginia) and it has caused me to ponder the following question: is there such a thing as righteous vanity?

Dinner, Old Testament Style

Middle Eastern foods are my favorite. So at the risk of totally overstepping the bounds as a T&S guest blogger, I offer the following to enhance one’s study of the Old Testament and further an appreciation of ancient culture. May you have your meal with gladness and health!

Light Thoughts

Light and shadow are the essence of photography. Where light and shadow are together, there is something to see and an image can be made. These polar opposites make up the visual part of this life; they are both required in order to see anything. Opposites are necessary in order to understand. I believe that most things in life have their opposite. Order and chaos. Gorgeous September days and ice storms in March. Chocolate cake and pickled eggs. Sometimes the opposite of something is not as simple as we were taught when we were young… compassion and hatred are opposites in a way, but as feelings they oppose apathy and are therefore part of a triangle of opposites. It can get complex, but opposition is a necessary possibility in this life. It’s not that all bad things are necessary, just that they must be allowed. In order to have real agency, there must be the option to choose, and thus a full range of choices available. It’s partly regrettable and partly beautiful. Close your eyes for a moment, then open them. Why is vision the only one of the five senses we can turn off while we are awake? What is the purpose of that small difference? We blink to renew the moisture in our eyes and we sleep with our eyes closed so they don’t dry out. Couldn’t they have been made another way? Possibly, but I like the…

Marriage and gender roles

I suppose we have Mark Sanford to thank for the recent frenzy of articles about marriage (or was it Jon and Kate?). There’s Caitlin Flanagan’s piece in Time, Aaron Traister at, the Women’s Day/AOL living survey, Amanda Fortini wondering “why would anyone submit to the doomed delusion that is marriage?” No surprise then that last week, the Church’s Mormon Message was Elder Oaks on divorce.

Worshipping a dead law

A couple of years ago I got really interested in the Law of Moses. It’s hard to read the scriptures and miss it—particularly the Book of Mormon or the Bible. I can’t help but feel like it was the issue of the day. The thing that, for one reason or another, many members of the ancient Church just couldn’t get their heads around. I can almost see Paul sitting up late at night, rubbing his temples, trying to think of another way to teach that the Law of Moses had been fulfilled, that salvation was—always was—in Christ, that if they couldn’t understand that critical doctrine they didn’t get any of it. I wondered why the ancient Saints had such a hard time understanding it.

Faith’s Fear Factor

I recently had a co-worker ask me how many wives my husband had. “Just one,” I answered. Red-faced, I hurried to explain that Mormons don’t practice polygamy. By the end of our conversation, he looked unconvinced and I felt uncomfortable because I belong to a church outside the mainstream. The innocuous encounter gave rise to one of my least favorite emotions—feeling guilty for feeling embarrassed about the most important thing in my life. Religiosity, I often worry, isn’t chic.