Blog Archives

Compassion-and-service

February 23, 2014 | 13 comments
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I recently accepted a new calling in my ward. I’m now the compassionate service leader in the Relief Society. It’s been a good change from my previous calling as gospel doctrine teacher; I’m still relatively new in the ward, and this calling allows me to meet and know the people I worship with more intimately. There is a self-interested angle to this: every so often I cause a little trouble in my wards, or contemplate doing so, and I’ve found that when I know and love individual people I can get away with saying more. Plus, you know, once... Read more »

Thinkable priesthoods, usable pasts

September 30, 2013 | 66 comments
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What can we gather from last week’s decision from Salt Lake? The content of the Priesthood session will be made accessible in real time to anybody who wants to view it online, but the live venue will be available to men only — even, presumably, non-Priesthood-holding or -worthy men. Priesthood session, in its primary form, will remain a male-only social space. It appears that the purpose of the formerly-restricted Priesthood session was not chiefly to withhold information from women, although that was the effect, but rather to preserve a single-sex social and spiritual space. Does this suggest anything about... Read more »

It’s time to change early morning seminary

September 12, 2013 | 123 comments
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School’s back in session. Several weeks of early mornings have burned through the summer sleep reservoir. Inevitably, the debate over school start times sputters to life, ignited this year by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who tweeted “Common sense to improve student achievement that too few have implemented: let teens sleep more, start school later.” Duncan’s statement references both the sleep science suggesting that teenagers’ circadian rhythms shift toward later wake and sleep times, and the small but growing initiative to delay high school bell schedules to better accommodate the students’ biological reality and, potentially, improve their academic performance.... Read more »

Mustard sandwiches and melted ice cream

April 25, 2013 | 9 comments
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This is a talk I delivered in Sacrament Meeting this past Sunday, on the topic “Using General Conference addresses in our personal study.”   At the center of Mormon self-understanding is the idea that God reveals himself in the present day, to prophets and to individuals.What, then, is the character of that continued revelation?  We’ve been studying the D&C in Sunday school this year, so we have examples close at hand. I want to look at two passages, chosen for their differences. Listen for the contrast in tone; how would you describe the flavor? Here’s the first, from section... Read more »

Twelve hundred words on pants

December 13, 2012 | 55 comments
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A few disjointed thoughts, first on the pants event itself and then on the response. I have a lot of sympathy for the goals of the pants-protest group, as I understand them. I too would like to see a broadening of Mormon femininity; I would be very pleased to see symbolic changes in practice that would underscore the spiritual equality of the genders; I think the church will benefit from a more open and more compassionate acknowledgment of Mormon feminists’ concerns. To that extent, I say Brava, sisters! I think there were some errors in the conception and planning... Read more »

Missionary Service and Mormon Femininities

October 6, 2012 | 29 comments
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I was surprised and really happy to hear about the big missionary shake-up today. I learned about it first on Facebook, since I wasn’t able to watch Saturday morning’s session, and it was fun to monitor reactions there and around the bloggernacle throughout the day. I pretty much concur with most of the assessments reported in Peggy Fletcher Stack’s great piece in the Tribune: Joanna Brooks and Neylan McBaine both had important comments about the implications of the change for increased gender equality in church governance. I would add one more thought on potential structural implications: a drastically increased... Read more »

Grant Hardy’s Subject Problem

August 16, 2011 | 27 comments
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Grant Hardy’s Subject Problem

Criticisms of the Book of Mormon generally fall into one of two categories: objections to its historical claims on the one hand, and on the other critiques of its literary style. The two prongs are often combined in a single attack, for instance in the suggestion that the awkward style of the book reflects the naïve voice of an unlettered youngster. For their part, the book’s defenders also tend to elide the two categories, arguing that passages of inelegant prose are better understood as latent Hebraisms laboring under English syntax. Most of the time, of course, devout readers of... Read more »

Mormon filmmaker explores sex and singleness at Duck Beach

May 4, 2011 | 8 comments
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Mormon filmmaker explores sex and singleness at Duck Beach

The topic of sex and the Mormon single is a perennial favorite in the bloggernacle, and recently it has drawn national attention as well. No treatment of the topic would be complete without a look at the Duck Beach phenomenon, an informal annual gathering of east coast LDS singles in North Carolina that is equal parts Jersey Shore and Temple Square. LDS filmmaker Stephen Frandsen (my cousin) and his production company Big Iron Productions have trained a thoughtful lens on this singular affair, and are currently in the process of financing and producing a documentary exploring its relevance. We’re... Read more »

Do we still teach homemaking?

April 8, 2011 | 14 comments
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A guest post from our friend and colleague emeritus, Russell Arben Fox. The title of this post isn’t a snark; it’s an open question, about which I am genuinely curious. (I’m also giving a presentation on this topic next week at the Midwest Sunstone/Restoration Studies conference, so my ulterior motive is a fishing expedition for anecdotes from the Collected Saints of the Bloggernacle.) Read more »

Introducing Adam Miller, guest blogger

December 6, 2010 | 8 comments
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Introducing Adam Miller, guest blogger

It’s my pleasure to announce that Adam Miller will join T&S as a guest blogger. Adam S. Miller is a professor of philosophy at Collin College in McKinney, Texas. He is the author of Badiou, Marion, and St Paul: Immanent Grace (Continuum, 2008), the director of the Mormon Theology Seminar (www.mormontheologyseminar.org), and a managing editor at Salt Press (www.saltpress.org). The Mormon Review recently featured his essay on the film Groundhog Day, which was highlighted here on T&S. Adam has planned a series of posts on George Handley’s recently-released book Home Waters: A Year of Recompenses on the Provo River.... Read more »

Faith frames the pie, and other reasons to be grateful

November 24, 2010 | 2 comments
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Faith frames the pie, and other reasons to be grateful

Today I, with millions of other home cooks around the country, will be getting frisky in the kitchen with all manner of saturated fats and simple carbohydrates as I beget a table full of gorgeous harvest pies. I make pie once a year, the day before Thanksgiving; the rest of the year I prefer my saturated fats and simple carbohydrates in other forms. But at about 4:00 on Thanksgiving Day, surrounded by a riot of dirty dishes and family, there’s nothing in this world or out of it that tastes better. Social scientists would call my Thanksgiving palate a... Read more »

What we talk about when we talk about God

October 25, 2010 | 25 comments
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What we talk about when we talk about God

Bruce Feiler’s daughter was just five when she pitched him a question right to the gut of religious experience:  “Daddy, if I speak to God, will he listen?” Feiler writes books on the Bible and God for a living, so he’d presumably given the question some thought. Nevertheless he had no good answer ready for his daughter. So he did what any loving parent would do:  answered the question with an inartful dodge, and then wrote about it in the New York Times style section. How do we answer our children’s questions about God, he asked, when we are... Read more »

Once upon a time on earth: the Church in a changing world

October 19, 2010 | 35 comments
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Once upon a time on earth: the Church in a changing world

In debates over controversial religious issues, one often encounters a certain kind of argument from history, a sort of “once upon a time” argument. Once upon a time, it’s argued, the Church considered a given practice or belief, from witchcraft to usury to the heliocentric cosmos, to be immoral, unbiblical or otherwise forbidden.  The particular practice or belief in question varies, but the structure of the argument and its implication are nearly always the same: the Church once considered such-and-such to be evil, but now it doesn’t; thus by means of a progressive trope of enlightenment, the argument proceeds,... Read more »

I thought he asked a really good question, actually.

October 8, 2010 | 54 comments
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Most of the commentary that I have read on Elder Packer’s talk (and I have not read widely) treats the decamped rhetorical question as an emotional and political flashpoint.  But I think it’s more productively understood as a confounding question of theology, even theodicy.  The removal of those nine words from the published version does nothing to resolve the underlying doctrinal problem. First let me say that I understood Elder Packer’s talk to take up implicitly but very clearly the question of the origins of homosexual desire. Others interpret it differently, but that was how I heard it at... Read more »

Halloween plays a trick on Sabbath observance

October 5, 2010 | 29 comments
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Halloween plays a trick on Sabbath observance

In October a young kid’s fancy swiftly turns to thoughts of treats. With four young kids in our home, you can guess what’s on our minds lately. At our house we celebrate a thoroughly domesticated Halloween, with no concerns about satanism or sugar, just plenty of candy corn and friendly ghosts and homely, homemade costumes. And trick-or-treating. But this year the calendar plays a trick on us: Halloween falls on a Sunday. We observe the Sabbath in a fairly rigorous but, I hope, joyful and worshipful way: we commune at Church, and we rest, read, play, walk, bike, share... Read more »

LDS Church unveils green meetinghouse prototype

April 30, 2010 | 44 comments
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LDS Church unveils green meetinghouse prototype

This week the presiding bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints unveiled the first solar-powered LDS meetinghouse in Farmington, Utah. The building is one of five green prototypes being developed for LDS chapels in Utah, Arizona, and Nevada—and the building program will eventually expand across the US and around the world. The official press release cites other environmentally-friendly building innovations in the Farmington facility, including high efficiency heating and cooling system that can interface with the solar power equipment, xeriscaped grounds,  plumbing fixtures that cut water use by more than 50 percent, and Low-E Solarban 70... Read more »

At home on Earth, in any corner of the garden

April 23, 2010 | 7 comments
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At home on Earth, in any corner of the garden

I posted this on Civil Religion as an introduction to Earth and environmentalism in Mormon teaching and experience. Thought it might be of interest here, as well. Earth played a prominent role in Joseph Smith’s vision of the cosmos, beginning with the importance of Creation in what we call “the plan of salvation”.  The Genesis creation account is central to LDS temple liturgy, and our latter-day scriptures reiterate and elaborate that account in several key theological passages.  In Joseph’s understanding, the creation of the earth was collaborative and artisanal: Earth was not created ex nihilo, but organized from existing... Read more »

The eighth circle of Paradise: Saint Damien of Molokai and Jonathan Napela in Kalaupapa

April 21, 2010 | 12 comments
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The eighth circle of Paradise: Saint Damien of Molokai and Jonathan Napela in Kalaupapa

Sunday evening I attended a screening of a preliminary cut of the documentary “The Soul of Kalaupapa.”  The film examines the ecumenical legacy of the leper’s colony  on the Hawaiian island of Molokai.  Kalaupapa was brought to recent prominence by last year’s canonization of Saint Damien of Molokai, the key figure in the community’s history.  Fred Woods, a producer of the film and an historian whose research focuses on Kalaupapa, presented the film and followed it with a lecture on the topic. The history of the place is compelling, and heartbreaking.  Founded in 1865 on an isolated peninsula of... Read more »

Mastering the art of Mormon cooking

March 26, 2010 | 69 comments
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Mastering the art of Mormon cooking

The Atlantic’s food channel recently posted an article entitled Jello Love: A Guide to Mormon Cuisine (my co-blogger kindly linked to it in the sidebar).  The author lived in Utah for a time as child, and she knows whereof she speaks.  The piece is charming, nostalgic and mostly reality-based.  But I blog, therefore I quibble. Classic Mormon fare seems to have crystallized as a cuisine in the 70s or 80s, though I couldn’t tell you why that’s so.  In a lot of ways, its provenance is a bit of a mystery:  I doubt that any of the dishes originated... Read more »

James Alison and the reconciled discourse of dissent

March 24, 2010 | 11 comments
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James Alison and the reconciled discourse of dissent

Last week a friend invited me to attend a lecture sponsored by the  SLU Theology Club and featuring James Alison, a Roman Catholic priest and theologian.  Alison grew up in Britain, was raised in a low-church Protestant tradition, converted to Catholicism, and now resides in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, living as an openly gay Catholic and working with AIDS patients. That collision of proper nouns seemed provocative. The talk was to be titled “The Gift of the Spirit and the Shape of Belonging: Meditations on the Church as Ecclesial Sign.”  Even more promising: Catholic ecclesiology shares something in common with its... Read more »

Cardinal George on religious freedom at BYU

March 18, 2010 | 14 comments
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Cardinal George on religious freedom at BYU

A loyal reader requested that I blog about His Eminence Francis Cardinal George’s speech at Brigham Young University last month, available to download here.  Ever the faithful servant of my reading public, all three of you, I respond with alacrity! BYU often invites prominent figures to address the university community on topics of mutual interest, and Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago and President of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, graciously contributed to the long-running series with his February 23 remarks entitled “Catholics and Latter-day Saints: Partners in the defense of religious freedom.” Cardinal George framed his remarks within the cooperative efforts... Read more »

Reading lessons: interfaith, intertext, intersect

February 2, 2010 | 14 comments
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Reading lessons: interfaith, intertext, intersect

Last Saturday morning I attended an interfaith Torah study session, warmly hosted at the Shaare Emeth congregation and jointly led by LDS and Jewish presenters. The discussion focused on the week’s Torah portion, parashat bo, which recounts the story in Exodus 10 of the plagues visited on Pharaoh at his refusal to free the Israelites. It’s a challenging tale, both narratively and ethically, and Rabbi John Borak and Mark Paredes each shed some light on the special difficulties and rewards of those verses. As I listened to the speakers’ presentations, I was impressed, beyond any particular interpretive insight into... Read more »

A New World Christmas

January 6, 2010 | 7 comments
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A New World Christmas

As I’ve mentioned before, Mormons don’t follow the traditional liturgical calendar, but that won’t stop me from using this January 6, the twelfth day of Christmas and the feast of Epiphany or Three Kings Day, as a happy occasion to put up the one last Christmas post that escaped December. (It’s also a great reason to enjoy my Christmas decorations—and avoid the chore of taking them down—for just one… more… night.) Several days before Christmas I attended a concert by the St Louis Chamber Chorus at the Cathedral Basilica. I’ve attended this concert most years that I’ve lived in... Read more »

The globe and the gourd: Christianity in a global world

December 14, 2009 | 9 comments
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The globe and the gourd: Christianity in a global world

It’s a small object, not a simple one: a Peruvian nativity carving, fashioned inside a gourd from intricate wood figures painted in bright colors. It was on display at the creche festival last weekend; I lingered over it for a moment, pointed out the tiny llama to my children, and moved on long before its meaning had bloomed. The object is a simple commemoration of Jesus’ birth, that much we read on its surface. But it’s also a tale of the complex intersection of Christianity and globalization in the modern world. Any powerful set of ideas will make several... Read more »