Category: Latter-day Saint Publications

Why My Children Will Be Reading Jesus the Christ

  It has become popular in some circles to disparage Jesus the Christ by James E. Talmage because it’s too simplistic when it comes to its gospel harmonization approach, and the scholarship is very out of date. These things may be true, but it still holds up in ways that matter. Synthesizing the devotional with the intellectual can be difficult, and I do feel like a lot of the material in the Latter-day Saint market lands either on the side of being purely devotional or primarily intellectual with a patina of devotion. This isn’t surprising, as the latter are written by people who have received training in being objective academic writers, and all of sudden they have to get into touch with their internal seminary teacher. Consequently, it feels like a lot of the more academic Latter-day Saint biblical commentary that gets published isn’t that different from standard biblical commentary, but with a few Book of Mormon references thrown in for good measure. (One relatively unknown gem of an exception I have enjoyed, at the risk of being syncopathic, is President Holland’s book on the Psalms).  Of course there is a place for both of these genres. None of this is to say that I’m opposed to reading non-devotional scholarship like Bart Ehrman or Alter. We love them; we have their books at our house. Still, before my children deconstruct scriptures I want them to read them with commentary that…

Idiosyncratic ranking of the “Let’s Talk About” series from Deseret Book

This is, I think, the best thing to come out of Deseret Book in a long while. I somewhat wish these books had existed when I was much, much younger, but the expertise (and, frankly, spiritual maturity of many members) likely didn’t really exist in the right forms until recently. What follows is my totally idiosyncratic, personal ranking of the series. Every book is excellent (how often can you say that about a book series like this?), so this is not “best to worst” but more “what Ivan enjoyed or found most useful”  This may or may not help you. Also, some volumes have either not been released or I haven’t read them, so they are absent from the list:

John Sillito’s B. H. Roberts: A Life in the Public Arena (book review)

In traditional Christianity, there are significant figures known as the Early Church Fathers who are noted as influential Christian theologians and writers who established the intellectual and doctrinal foundations of Christianity as we know it today.  While the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is still a form of Christianity and is indebted to these early Christian thinkers, Mormonism is its own movement and I’ve often pondered on who we would consider to be the Church Fathers (or Parents) of the Latter-day Saints.  Certainly many of the presidents of the Church fall in this category—all three Joseph Smiths, Brigham Young, and Wilford Woodruff among them.  Beyond that, however, who would be considered a part of that category?  Certainly Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt, Eliza R. Snow, James E. Talmage, and Bruce R. McConkie stand out as candidates.  Emmaline B. Wells and John A. Widtsoe come to mind as well.  It’s probably no surprise to anyone who has been reading my writing for a bit, however, that the first candidate I would suggest is B. H. Roberts. Over the course of the almost 90 years that have passed since his death, Elder Brigham Henry Roberts (1857-1933) has received the high praise of being called Mormonism’s most eminent intellectual,[1] the best officially accepted theologian that Mormonism has known,[2] one of our most important historians,[3] and the most prolific and most effective defender of the Church.[4]  Imagine my delight, then, to find…

First Vision Special Edition

Before I move on from discussing the First Vision, I wanted to share something that I find exciting.  Once in a while in Mormon studies journals, special volumes focus on the First Vision—such as the Spring 1969 issue of BYU Studies and a 1980 volume of the Journal of Mormon History.  These volumes, along with a few other essays, books, and articles published from time to time form the backbone of the academic discussion about Joseph Smith’s earliest visionary experience.  The latest volume of BYU Studies, as it turns out, is the next volume to focus on the topic of the First Vision, featuring papers presented at the conference “The First Vision of Joseph Smith, Jr.: 200 Years On”, held at the Huntington Library earlier this year and a few other notable articles as well.  It’s a stellar issue with authors that run the gamut from general authorities to notable Latter-day Saint scholars to academic Evangelical Christians, etc., and builds upon previous scholarship to flesh out the context and our understanding of the First Vision in some interesting and satisfying ways. Many of the papers featured in the journal focus on the context of the culture in which the First Vision occurred.  For example, Richard L. Bushman wrote about how Joseph Smith’s words reveal his reaction to modernism and skepticism in the cultural milieu of his time.  George M. Marsden wrote about how Joseph Smith’s understanding of the Millennium fit within the various premillennial, postmillennial,…

Where are the women artists in the Come, Follow Me manual?

As I started preparing family lessons using the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’s new Come, Follow Me manual, I was struck by the quantity of art. In addition to photos and screenshots from Church-produced videos, the manual includes 78 reproductions of paintings or stained-glass windows. Many lessons – particularly in the first half of the year – include two or three paintings. But as I started going through the art, noting the artists, I saw a pattern: Brent Borup, Del Parson, Walter Rane, Dana Mario Wood, Walter Rane, Tom Holdman, Greg K. Olsen, Robert T. Barrett, Jorge Cocco, Simon Dewey. They’re all men. It’s not until the 20th painting that we get to a woman artist: Liz Lemon Swindle’s Against the Wind, showing the Savior lifting Peter out of the water in Matthew 14. Out of 76 paintings for which I could identify the artist and the artist’s gender, only 9 were by women artists – that’s just under 12 percent.* What’s more, 5 of those 9 were by just one artist, Liz Lemon Swindle. Even though Walter Rane has 12 paintings and Del Parson has 6, those only make up a quarter of all the paintings by men, leaving room for a wide array of lesser known artists to be featured. Why does this matter? We want to be involved in organizations where we can see ourselves (or see what we’d like to be). In India, adolescent…

Saints, Volume 1: A Review

About a week ago, the first volume of the new official history of the Church was published. I finished reading through it this weekend, and I have to say that it is fantastic. The style of prose reads like a novel (many creative authors were employed as the writers or consultants for the book), but it is very much rooted in some of our best understandings of the events and people who lived in the early period of the Church. The combination of the two results in a very readable, but accurate history. The time frame that this volume covers is the early 1800s through 1846—the year the Latter-day Saints left Nauvoo to move west. There are a lot of controversial issues related to that period, but the book tackled most of them head on. Polygamy (including Joseph Smith’s relationship with Fanny Alger and a small amount about polyandry), seer stones, treasure seeking, Book of Mormon translation, Latter-day Saint pillaging and fighting during the Missouri Mormon War, Danites, the Council of Fifty, Joseph Smith defending himself with a gun in Carthage Jail, and teachings of theosis and a Mother in Heaven are all addressed. Joseph Smith’s character was shown in a more three-dimensional way than most official Church representations of him—his temper and his sense of humor are both shown, as are some of his struggles and missteps. Yet, the history is not one that focuses entirely on the men…

Changing of the Guard at Dialogue

Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought gets a new editor every five or six years, and that time is now upon us. As a subscriber and supporter, I wanted to get a sense of where the incoming editor, Boyd Jay Petersen, is going to take the journal, so I bought a copy of his Dead Wood and Rushing Water: Essays on Mormon Faith, Culture, and Family (Greg Kofford Books, 2013) to get the lowdown. After all, Kristine is a hard act to follow. After reading the book, I am optimistic. To offer a few comments, I will highlight one essay from each of the three sections in the book.

Mauss on Dialogue

I am almost done with the recently published memoir by Armand Mauss, Shifting Borders and a Tattered Passport: Intellectual Journeys of a Mormon Academic (U of U Press, 2012; publisher’s page). Like Leonard Arrington’s earlier memoir, Adventures of a Church Historian, the book is something of a insider’s guided tour of fifty years of Mormon Studies, including the two important books on Mormonism authored by Mauss, The Angel and the Beehive (1994) and All Abraham’s Children (2003). Anyone who reads T&S or the other blog will certainly enjoy the tour.

Book of Mormon Comics

I love stories. A narrative strikes me as the most fundamental way of ideas with other people. And by ideas, I mean not only the bare events of the narrative, but also abstract concepts, morals, and emotional truths. It makes sense to me that our basic scriptural texts have strong narratives. The Old Testament is a collection of stories, with the consequences of one generation’s choices setting the stage for the actions of the next. The Book of Mormon also has very strong narratives. Other classic stories that we are familiar with, we feel free to reimagine. We update fairy tales, retell myths in modern settings. Even the stories of Genesis are recognized as archetypes that we re-present and reinterpret. But too often Mormons tend to shy away from this type of creative engagement with the text and narratives of the Book of Mormon, perhaps from a kind of self-censorship that fears corrupting in some way the most true book on the face of the earth. Unfortunately, that means that while we regard the book as wholly inspired (or just holy), it often remains dry and emotionally opaque to us. Although we are counseled to apply the scriptures to ourselves, we often don’t actually take the obvious first step of sympathizing with the people of the Book of Mormon as though they were real, feeling men (or women, for the few that are explicitly mentioned in the text). The unfamiliar…

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…

Books of Interest to the LDS Nerd

A few of these are forthcoming, a few have appeared recently. I am compelled to read them all, as soon as I can get to them. Now Available Charles Harrel,“This Is My Doctrine”: The Development of Mormon Theology (Kofford Books) “In this first-of-its-kind comprehensive treatment of the development of Mormon theology, Charles Harrell traces the history of Latter-day Saint doctrines from the times of the Old Testament to the present.” I have my doubts that someone who does not equally control original Biblical sources and LDS history, as well as the vast amounts of secondary literature on historiography, exegesis, etc. can give LDS doctrine a truly comprehensive diachronic treatment, and compress it into 597 pages. Nevertheless, I’m grateful to Harrel, an engineering professor, for making the attempt and I look forward to reading it. Too many LDS labor under the assumption that the status quo sprang fully formed from Joseph Smith. I don’t recall which of my friends said, but it’s in my Evernote file, “If there’s one thing Mormons excel at, it’s enshrining the status quo and assuming that if we do anything, there must be a good reason for it, and if there’s a good reason, it must have been revealed as the only way to do it, and if so, then it must have always been that way in all dispensations. And a lot of people’s faith can be shaken when it turns out not to always…

Confessions of a Shopping Mall Santa

Christmas Season, 1989. I was a freshman at the University of Utah, my first year away from home. As a poor student I was looking for extra holiday cash, and the Help Wanted ad for a shopping mall Santa seemed like just the thing. Despite my 18-year-oldness, the manager was desperate to fill the big chair, so I walked out of my short interview with a prosthetic belly, a red suit, a wig, and some bells. [quote] Christmas had lost its luster a decade before, the day I had gone searching for my swimming mask and snorkel in our travel trailer. It turned out that my parents had thought the travel trailer an ideal hiding place for Santa’s loot. It had been, actually, until their young son decided that he needed a mask and snorkel in the dead of winter. I spent several years playing along, afraid to reveal that I knew the big secret, afraid that the loot would vanish. Life as an 18-year-old Santa wasn’t very glamorous. I would lug a large suitcase to the mall and make my way upstairs, beyond the food court, into an access hallway, and finally to my “dressing room.” A janitor’s closet. Yes, literally. Complete with mops, buckets, vacuums, and the acrid smell of cleaning agents. In this little room I would transform into a fat, jolly elf. I’d put on my belly, don my red velvet suit, deftly apply the makeup…

Liveblogging Symposium – Stay-at-home Moms: On the Record

EDIT: Emily Jensen has a great article on this at Mormon Times, and offers a much better (and more readable) synopsis. See it at Approximately 30 people in attendance, an engaging and personable panel: Moderator/ CAMILLE AAGARD, former account executive at a public relations agency; cleaned out her desk two days before giving birth to her first child in 1998 and began a new career at home rearing five children, ages one to 11

Tired-blogging from Sunstone, Day 3

It’s early, and I’m still recovering from karaoke, but I’m at the Sonia Johnson panel. I’m sad to miss Kristine singing this morning, but this panel has a distinct advantage — I can sit with a laptop and write my talk for next time. I’ll try to type up some notes on this session (and not get them mixed up with my talk).

Liveblogging Sunstone, Day 1

I’m going to be live(ish) blogging Sunstone, at least some. The level of effectiveness will depend on a lot of factors, including access to wireless (which seems to be a little spotty). If you’re here (or just here in spirit), please weigh in in comments with your own thoughts.

Rainy Day Panels # 12 & 35

Oh, they’ll stone you when you speak about the blogs They’ll stone you over feminists and God They’ll stone you when you say “September Seven” Or if you talk about Mother in Heaven But, I would not feel so all alone Everybody must Sun Stone. Which panels are you looking forward to at Sunstone next month?

Misguided faith?

There was a lot that I liked about this month’s Ensign; but one of the short articles bothered me.  It was the tithing article where the writer, a single mother of six, compared utility and mortgage bills to tithing, and then stated that: I would rather lose the water source to my house than lose the living water offered by the Savior. I would rather have no food on our table than be without the Bread of Life. I would prefer to endure the darkness and discomfort of no electricity than to forfeit the Light of Christ in my life. I would rather abide with my children in a tent than relinquish my privilege of entering the house of the Lord. Is anyone else uncomfortable with the idea that it’s more important to pay tithing than to put a roof over one’s children’s heads?