I received my review copy of Hearken, O Ye People at work; I opened it and began to read on the El heading home. And, from page 1 (or, actually, page xvii), my jaw dropped. Staker started his book with an almost-15-page chronology of Kirtland, beginning in May 1796 as a group begins to survey townships in the Western Reserve and ending on July 6, 1838, when Kirtland Camp leaves Kirtland to settle in Missouri. For that chronology alone, Hearken, O Ye People is worth its price, at least for those form whom the Kirtland years are overshadowed by the founding of the Church in upstate New York, the conflicts and eventual extermination order in Missouri, and the theological and organizational innovations in Nauvoo.
Author: Sam Brunson
Sam Brunson 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, Sam 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.
Missions, 15 Years Later
Today is the 15th anniversary of the end of my mission. (Note that I can’t entirely remember what I mean by that—I’m pretty sure that August 5, 1997, was my last day of proselytizing, the 6th I got on an airplane, and the 7th I arrived home. But it has been 15 years, and I’m not 100% sure.) And what does that two years mean to me, 15 years later? On one level, not a whole lot. I don’t think about it a whole lot; my days are much more likely spent occupied by the Internal Revenue Code. Or my kids. My wife. My calling. Blogging. But although its explicit significance has diminished in my life, I still feel fallout from my mission’s underlying repercussions. (Fallout in a good way, naturally.) Principal among these is that my commitment to the Church and the gospel solidified over those two years. This is not to say that, without a mission, I wouldn’t be active and involved in the Church. It is to say that those two years allowed me to build a foundation I could attach to. The subsequent 15 have allowed me to continue building that foundation, to the point where I won’t be surprised or shocked out of the Church. I’m invested in it, I believe its truth-claims, and I’m happy that way. My mission provided me with a shared experience common to many Mormons. Which is to say, even…
Book of Mormon Word Cloud [updated]
I’ve been curious what a word cloud of the Book of Mormon would look like, so , just for fun on a Friday, I finally made one. I don’t have a lot to say about it, other than that “unto” seems to be a very popular word (which doesn’t really surprise me, but I didn’t expect, either). “Lamanite” shows up more than “Nephite,” though the usage of both is dwarfed by “people.” I took the text from the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, and I copied it from here, and I made the cloud using WordItOut. (Note that I actually prefer the look of the Wordle cloud, but I couldn’t get it in the post at a decent size. That said, I’ve included it below.) Update: Ardis pointed out that, in many ways, the word cloud would be more useful if some of the dull words came out (really, other than an interesting look at word choice, having “unto” as the biggest word doesn’t tell us anything interesting about the themes of the Book of Mormon). So, in the interest of a more telling word cloud, I’ve run it again, taking 11 words out. And, thematically, I think it is a better representation of the Book of Mormon. So below is the Book of Mormon word cloud without unto, ye, came, pass, yea, even, thou, thy, saith, said, or thee:
About six months ago, I got an email asking (a) if I knew anything about low-profit limited liability companies (“L3Cs”) and private foundations, and (b) if I’d be willing to be a guest lecturer in a class, explaining what they were and how they function. I did know something (though at the time not much) about them, so I said I’d do it, then spent several weeks immersing myself in the theory and practice behind L3Cs.[fn1] It turns out that Loyola’s business school offers an elective class in Social Entrepreneurship. The point of the class, from what I can gather, is to teach business students about how to create profit-making businesses that make the world a better place. *** I’ve sensed some skepticism recently, both within and without the bloggernacle, about the propriety of charitable institutions making a profit (or, sometimes, about whether profit-making transforms a charitable institution into a non-charitable one). And I find that skepticism odd. Because of course a charity can (and, I would argue, in most cases should) earn a profit, at least some of the time. Why? A couple reasons. First, money that’s just sitting around is actually losing value. And that’s the case for everybody (including you and me and for-profit businesses—some companies will use “sweep accounts,” which allow them to invest excesss cash overnight). I assume that charitable institutions don’t have steady revenue, revenue the timing and amount of which match exactly their administrative…
Taxing Churches: A Response
Oh no—somebody on the Internet is wrong while I’m on vacation! But duty calls. Recently, Ryan Cragun, a sociology professor, along with students Stephanie Yeager and Desmond Vega, argued that the government subsidizes religion by about $71 billion a year. He thinks this is wrong, and that religions should pay their fair share. I have no problem with his making this argument—tax exemption costs the government significant revenue (though his $71 billion is based on really, really poor assumptions—more on that later), and should be examined carefully and critically. But Prof. Cragun’s analysis is not the careful and critical examination that the tax treatment of churches deserves. His piece has a number of significant problems. I’m not going to address all of the problems, including the fact that he appears unaware that there is an extensive academic literature that explores the place of a tax exemption for churches,[fn1] but I am going to address a handful of his assertions. In the end, though, what bothers me most about Cragun’s piece is that he’s taken an important topic and made it into a polemic. Those who agree with him now have “facts” to bandy about, while those opposed have a specious argument they can treat as an easily-dismissed straw man, and can ignore engaging in a valuable tax policy discussion. Before I get into my specific criticisms, though, I want to make a couple points upfront. First, although I find lots…
As the sacrament was passed in the rural ward we attended today, my younger daughter looked at the deacons passing the sacrament and asked, “Why are those kids doing that?”[fn1] (My wife tells me that my older daughter noticed the same thing.) — [fn1] Just in case it’s not clear what my daughters are talking about, there is one teenage boy in our ward (but another turns 12 in a month or so!). And that’s not a significant outlier in my perhaps limited experience. So my daughters have rarely seen a bunch of 12- and 13-year-olds get up after the sacrament is blessed.
Not Ready for Naptime
Tomorrow, the Chicago Tribune is hosting the Printers Row Lit Fest.[fn1] If you like books, there are all sorts of cool things to do. What am I going to do at the festival? Two words: Justin Roberts. In my opinion, he’s the best kids’ musician out there.[fn2] This will be the third Justin Roberts and the Not Ready For Naptime Players concert that my family has seen. Plus, we’ve been to WBEZ’s So Many Ways to Tell a Story twice, and he wrote songs with the kids at both of them. But wait, you say, this is a Mormon blog. Is Justin Roberts somehow Mormon? No.[fn3] But lots (though not all) of us have kids, and our kids should listen to music, and there is a lot of really cool kids’ music out there these days. I know, if you grew up when I did, you’re mostly aware of the backlash against Barney’s repetitive and simplistic songs, or the over-synthesized Wee Sing Silly Songs, or other cloying and annoying music. Or maybe you’re of the school of thought (which I’ve heard a number of times) that asks, Why not just play the Beatles? To which I answer, sure, play the Beatles. My kids hear Miles Davis and the Beatles and Beethoven and Bruce Springsteen and the Beach Boys. They think Regina Specktor’s “Fidelity” video is the funniest thing in the world. But adult musicians are rarely silly (“Yellow Bus” is…
The Approaching Zion Project: Index
Because Nibley’s Approaching Zion has 18 chapters, the Approaching Zion Project will eventually include at least 19 posts. You can find a link to the full text of Approaching Zion here, and links to all of the installments of the Approaching Zion Project below: Prologue 1. Our Glory or Our Condemnation 2. What Is Zion? A Distant View 3. Zeal Without Knowledge 4. Gifts 5. Deny Not the Gifts of God 6. How Firm a Foundation! What Makes It So 7. How to Get Rich 8. Work We Must, but the Lunch Is Free 9. But What Kind of Work? 10. Funeral Address 11. Three Degrees of Righteousness from the Old Testament 12. We Will Still Weep for Zion 13. Breakthroughs I Would Like to See 14. Change Out of Control 15. Law of Consecration 16. The Utopians 17. Goods of First and Second Intent 18.The Meaning of the Atonement
Internet Radio and the Church
I recently bought a couple wireless speakers so that I could listen to my music collection away from my computer, without earphones. It turns out that these speakers not only play music off my computer, though: they’ll also allow me to listen to, among other things, podcasts, Pandora, and any number of radio stations, as long as the radio station broadcasts online.
Mother’s Day, 1996
I sit, waiting for the phone to ring. I haven’t spoken to my parents since December and, though I love what I’m doing, I love them, too. But I’ve been sitting here for almost an hour. I’m not 100% sure of the time zone difference between eastern Brazil and the western United States, but I’m pretty sure they’re late. In this area, none of our members have phones. One of our member’s father has a phone, but, in order to call, I’ve promised that it won’t cost him anything. It’s a party line, something I’d heard about in the U.S. but never actually experienced. (The way it works is, 10 households share a line. Calls come to the first house in the group. That person directs the call to whomever it’s for.) I told the person at number 1 that, when she got a call she didn’t understand to put them through to me. But, after the hour, I decide to call my parents to give them a phonetic way to ask for me. It takes some doing to figure out how to call the U.S., but eventually I succeed and, 15 minutes later, I am talking to my parents. I ended up paying about $15 for the instructional call home, but it was worth it. I got to talk to my parents, then return to the missionary work I was in Brazil to do. — I spoke today with…
Adventures in Family History, part 2
One Sunday evening, several months ago, I was playing around on FamilySearch, clicking back through my father, his father, his mother (or something like that), etc. After twists and turns—twists and turns I recorded so that I could get back there again—I discovered that I have ancestors from Jersey.[fn1] No, not that Jersey, the one famous for Bruce and the MTV show. Its namesake, the one in the English Channel. Through my clicking, I learned that my great-great-great-grandmother was born in Jersey in 1838 and died in West Bountiful in 1912. For most, this probably wouldn’t be remarkably meaningful. I didn’t do the work to get back these generations, and I have absolutely no knowledge of these ancestors’ lives.[fn2] But . . . . . . but Jersey is a tax haven.[fn3] And I’m a professor of tax law, a researcher of tax law, and, frankly, pretty darn interested in most things tax. And so, learning that I’m descended from residents of what has now become a tax haven is just cool. Way cooler than pretend being descended from royalty. And now I’m curious. I’m curious about when and how the Church moved into Jersey. I’m curious what life was like in Jersey (which, I assume, wasn’t a tax haven in the 19th century). And I’m curious what the Church was like in Jersey. My relationship to Jersey is more attenuated than the relationship that Ardis suggests careful family history research…
By 1908, Elder Heber J. Grant had begun to lead LDS lobbying on behalf of Prohibition. By 1917, Utah had joined the ranks of the “dry” states, and on January 16, 1919, Utah became the 35th state to ratify the 18th Amendment. In October of that year, the Volstead Act implemented the Amendment, and alcohol was banned in the U.S.
The hot cross buns in the kitchen are on their final rise; meanwhile, the kitchen smells of cinnamon and allspice and lemon and orange zest.
Taxing(?) City Creek Reserve, Inc.
The other day, Nate responded to many of Jana Riess’s criticisms of the City Creek mall in Salt Lake. As I read her piece, one sentence jumped out at me.
Just Say No?
We have had horrible luck while traveling with finding church services through Mormon.org. On one trip, the address it gave didn’t exist. (How do I know? After nearly an hour of looking, asking people in the shops nearby, meeting up with friends who were also looking, well, we never found it.) On another, church started an hour after Mormon.org claimed it did. So I’m gun-shy about trusting Mormon.org when I’m looking for church services. Which is why, last summer, on vacation, when my wife saw an older couple wearing missionary name-tags, we decided to confirm when and where the church met. Turns out that they weren’t assigned to that particular area.[fn1] Still, we started talking. At one point, the husband mentioned something he’d been asked to do, and said, “You don’t say no to a Seventy.” Let me interrupt myself right here to emphasize that it was a throw-away line. They had been asked to report on establishing some program or committee or something. He was not implying that, if a Seventy asked him to do something immoral or illegal or even questionable, he would mindlessly obey. I assume that, if pressed, he would admit that he would say no in that situation, except that he couldn’t imagine that situation actually happening. But we were in a pleasant social situation, he was a pleasant missionary, and there was no point in pressing him on a laugh-line. I’d been thinking about…
Adventures in Family History, part 1
Sunday night, I was at a meeting, the intent of which was to help us each get a name to take through the temple. Bandwidth problems significantly detracted from our ability to do so, but, as I was playing on FamilySearch, I discovered something incredible: I’m descended from royalty! Don’t believe me? Check it out: See? Proof irrefutable. Mrs. Joan Brownson, my great-great-great-etc.-grandmother was the daughter of the King and Queen of England.[fn1] Except that it didn’t feel quite right. So I dug a little deeper. Under “Parents and Siblings,” I saw this: So it turns out I’m doubly awesome. Not only am I descended from Edward III King of England and Philippa Queen of England, but my particular ancestor was born almost 200 years after her mother died![fn2] — [fn1] It does, however, bring up a skeleton in my ancestral closet. It appears, based on somebody’s genealogical work, that Richard Bronson married his mother. Because his wife and mother not only have the same name, but the same dates of birth and death. So maybe that kind of relationship undoes the coolness of being descended from royalty.[fn1.1] …..[fn1.1] Yes, I’m being sarcastic; I know[fn1.1.1] that he didn’t marry his mother. ……….[fn1.1.1] Okay, because I only discovered these names tonight, I guess I don’t technically know he didn’t. But I’m pretty confidant he didn’t, at any rate. [fn2] I’m going to put the only serious part of this post in a…
Mormons, Increase, and Gifts
An unscientific poll: [polldaddy poll=6036362] (Poll inspiration here.)
Policing Submissions for Baptisms for the Dead
And it’s in the news again. We have Elie Wiesel’s name slated for baptism, baptisms performed for Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal’s parents, baptism performed for Anne Frank (for the ninth time!), baptism performed for Daniel Pearl (who was killed in part, at least, because he was Jewish), and baptism performed for Gandhi. This in spite of the Church’s agreement (in 1995!) to remove Holocaust victims from the database.[fn1] And, apparently, the Church has now sent out a strongly-worded letter to be read in Sacrament meetings.[fn2] In the letter, the Church (strongly) reiterates the prohibition on submitting celebrity and Holocaust victim names, with potential penalties to follow for improper submissions. Will this work? Hopefully.[fn3] But I’ve been thinking about possible ways to police the submissions as a backstop.[fn4] Note that I’m perfectly aware that there is debate over whether we should, as a normative matter, care about others’ perception of baptisms for the dead.[fn5] And there’s debate among those not of our faith about whether proxy baptisms are, in fact, offensive. I have no interest in rehashing those arguments, though. Let’s assume that the Church is serious about its policy statement (which I believe it is), and, just for fun, let’s brainstorm how it can implement the policy. A couple ground rules:[fn6] Any solution needs to be administratively feasible. Having a bureaucratic level that looks at every name submission is not administratively feasible. The solution shouldn’t unreasonably burden people who are submitting…
My Cri de Coeur to Randy Bott [Updated][Update 2]
[Update 2:] The Church has responded, both with respect to Dr. Bott’s statement and with a statement on the Church and race. I’m adding the text of each to the bottom of the post, but I want to highlight these two excerpts: We condemn racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church. The origins of priesthood availability are not entirely clear. Some explanations with respect to this matter were made in the absence of direct revelation and references to these explanations are sometimes cited in publications. These previous personal statements do not represent Church doctrine. (In both, emphasis mine.) The first excerpt is wonderful, not pulling punches against our own. And the second, although it’s phrased in the passive voice, is pretty much as explicit a renunciation of previous thought as I’ve seen in the Church, and I know that I’ll be pulling these statements out when (or, I hope, if) I hear these repeated again. — Aaargh!!! I thought we were past this. I really did; I’d heard rumors on the internet for years of people teaching offensive racist folklore about the long-repealed priesthood ban. But I had never actually experienced anybody seriously making those arguments—I had only heard them in the context of, This is what some people claim. And I know that anecdote is not evidence, but I’ll put forward my anecdote anyway: Once, while I was in high school,…
Taxing the United Order
The United Order appears (for now, at least) to be a relic of the 19th century; since them, the mainstream Mormon church hasn’t attempted to institute any large-scale communal economic structure based on Acts 2. And, frankly, I don’t have any reason to think that it will in the 21st century; the Law of Consecration seems to be something different than economic communalism (though economic communalism fits within the Law of Consecration).