Category: Life in the Church

Mormon Life – Family – Personal Reflections

Six Funerals and the idea of Legacy

While I was at BYU years ago one of my best friends asked me to go with him and his wife to Cedar City to the Utah Shakespearean Festival. His wife’s father had served a mission with the founder, Fred Adams, and her family had gone frequently over the years since Adams founded the festival. Thirty-four years later, I still go to the festival each summer with the same group of friends. So when I learned that Fred Adams passed away February 5th at the age of 89, I mourned because of his influence on my life. I was particularly impressed by the human Fred Adams portrayed at his funeral. Fred’s passing is just the most recent of six that have had an impact on me over the past year. I have long admired Fred’s vision and persistence in creating an institution that benefits the lives of hundreds of thousands. Part of me has a longing to create something as significant as the Utah Shakespeare Festival. His death followed close on the passing of Clayton Christensen. He too was someone lauded as much for how he treated the individual as his accomplishments. [I found this podcast tribute notable for pointing out that Christensen practiced what he preached at work as well as at Church.] Like Adams, I admired Christensen for his accomplishments and for his integrity. These losses were significantly less personal than others I experienced. Last year a neighbor,…

The Gospel According to “A Christmas Carol” II

As I mentioned in my last post, I read Dickens’ novella, A Christmas Carol each year at this time. As a result of reading it and re-reading it, for me this story has passed from mere entertainment to something much more. In the story Dickens introduces us to Ebenezer Scrooge, who is visited on Christmas Eve by the ghost of his business partner, Jacob Marley. Scrooge hears his approach as chains and weights rattling over the floor and on the stairs and sees Marley weighed down by chains when he appears. During their visit, Scrooge asks Marley where his chains comes from, and Marley replies: “I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?” “would you know the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have laboured on it, since. It is a ponderous chain!” The symbol of chains here is fascinating. What exactly is the chain Scouge wears? How is he laboring on it? We might assume that the chain is made up of sin. But I’m not sure that fits exactly. Dickens never suggests that Scrooge is actively doing anything wrong or illegal. The firm Scrooge & Marley seems…

The Gospel According to “A Christmas Carol” I

At Christmas time, one of my holiday customs is to read Dickens’ novella, A Christmas Carol. I may be a little obsessed with the story — I have three different audio versions on my phone, including one produced by members of my home ward. As a result of reading it and re-reading it, for me this story has passed from mere entertainment to something much more1. First, in this post, lets look at what A Christmas Carol says about charity and relationships. In a second post I will address what it says about sin and burdens and relationships. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the story. Dickens introduces us to Ebenezer Scrooge and his attitude to Christmas. When he is approached by fellow businessmen raising funds for charity, Scrooge rejects them saying, “Are there no prisons?” “Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again. “And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?” “They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.” … Scrooge concludes, “I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned—they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.” “Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.” “If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.  While…

The Standard Christmas Sacrament Meeting

My sister recently sent the planned text for the sacrament meeting program in her ward (she is involved in the planning) to me and the rest of our siblings for our suggestions. It was fine, lovely even. It was full of Christmas hymns with brief introductory and concluding texts. Sound familiar? Other than this type of sacrament meeting dominated by Christmas hymns, the only other format I’ve seen is one or two Christmas talks supported by a few hymns — basically a normal Sacrament Meeting where the content is focused on Christmas. Is there room for something else?

Taking President Hinckley Seriously

In the April 1997 General Conference Pres. Hinckley said everyone deserves “three things: a friend, a responsibility, and nurturing with ‘the good word of God’”1. If local leaders take this seriously, then: What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who doesn’t think they are worthy? What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who hasn’t resolved a serious sin? What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who doesn’t wear garments? What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who doesn’t pay their child support? What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who smokes or drinks? What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who doesn’t pay their tithing? What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who doesn’t keep the sabbath day holy? What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who supports teachings contrary to those of the Church? What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who doesn’t follow the teachings of the Church with their family and others? What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who don’t obey the law of chastity? What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who are living in a same-sex relationship? What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who don’t sustain the General Authorities? What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who don’t have a testimony of the restoration? What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who don’t have a testimony of Christ? What responsibilities/callings can be given to someone who is an atheist? Please repeat the above…

Toward a Universal Thanksgiving

This coming Sunday our neighborhood will hold its 6th annual Interfaith Thanksgiving celebration. As many as 500 members of Jewish, Protestant, Catholic and Mormon congregations will join together for a program giving thanks and blessing children, followed by a communal thanksgiving dinner1. As I’ve participated in the planning for the celebration each year, I’ve been pleased that our congregations are able to agree on so much. The nature of the holiday helps, I think, because Thanksgiving is nearly a universal holiday

Fan Culture and General Conference

Elder Holland’s talk at the conclusion of the Saturday Afternoon session of the April 2019 General Conference, Behold the Lamb of God, is one of the most powerful talks I’ve ever heard or read. I challenge anyone to read or listen or watch the talk and think that Elder Holland was anything other than deadly serious in his chastisement of the Saints for our failure to fully appreciate and honor the solemn significance of the sacrament.  We are to remember in as personal a way as possible that Christ died from a heart broken by shouldering entirely alone the sins and sorrows of the whole human family. Inasmuch as we contributed to that fatal burden, such a moment demands our respect. These are loving words, but also stern and passionate. This is a sacred topic–the most sacred of topics–and Elder Holland was plainly telling us that we’re not doing as well as we could be.  This makes the laughter the follows all the more jarring. (Start watching around 9:00 into this video to see what I mean.) Elder Holland is talking about arriving for this sacred event on time, and he expresses gentle accommodation for mothers of young children who have a lot to struggle with in terms of getting their families to church at all. He also says that it’s understandable for any of us to be late from time to time, but he insists that ongoing tardiness is…

Mormon Life on the Moon

I’m old enough to remember the moon landing, 50 years ago today. And I’m old enough to admit that I thought humanity would be much farther along in exploring our nearest neighbor than we are. But I’m encouraged by recent activity — it feels like we are close to going back and going back permanently. If I’m right, then it won’t be too long before members of the church are on the moon, eventually on a permanent basis. So, I’ve been wondering, in a somewhat lighthearted vein, what will life be like for church members who are on the surface of the moon?

If this goes on—

If we wanted to hazard a guess at what the upcoming years and decades hold in store for the church in the United States, the decisive factors will likely be to what extent the country as a whole becomes more secular (or more religious), and how the church correspondingly arrives at a place of higher or lower tension with the rest of society.

Ethics and Mormon missionary work: what memoirs tell us

They are still teenagers, 18 or 19, and are sent out to change the lives of adults. The boys dress up like CIA-agents, the girls like old-school women. They typically have no clue about the national, regional, social, cultural, religious, or familial identities of the people they try to interest in their alien sect. They pretend they are only adding to the truth people already have but have no idea which truths these people have. They work within a compelling frame of rules, goals, figures, and reports. Therefore they would do anything to drag a non-member to church on Sunday, even a drunk on the bus or a weirdo met on the way to church. If need be, they break up families to reach their goal, flippantly calling it getting wet, getting white, dunking, plunging, splashing, or putting on the Elvis suit—even if they know in their heart the candidate is not ready. They call their targets “investigators”—often loners or messed up people who let the missionaries in and who loosely acquiesce to lessons they vaguely understand. These targets are precious souls, ailing, but no patients for inexperienced teenagers. When genuine seekers or religious enquirers are eager to chat with the missionaries, the dissonance is awkward. The teenagers use testimony to dodge reasonable questions and objections. They repel the more thoughtful investigators by prematurely requiring commitments to baptism. They see Satan in the critic. It’s “us versus them.” They have…

Why I Wrote a Sex Manual for Mormons

Earthly Parents is the pen name of the author of And It Was Very Good: A Latter-day Saint’s Guide to Lovemaking. He agreed to share some of the book’s background here. * * * On the top of my parent’s bookshelf, far above the white-spined World Book Encyclopedias I read as a child, sat a thick, black book. That book wasn’t the World Book Encyclopedia. That book was called Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex but Were Afraid to Ask.

A Restored Gospel Christian Calendar

We sometimes speak of the idea of a holy envy—meaning something that we admire in another a religion. For years, while remaining active in my ward, I spent a considerable amount of time at a Presbyterian Church ringing English handbells. Over time, one feature of their worship that I developed a bit of a holy envy for is their use of a liturgical calendar. The liturgical calendar is an approach to remembering Christ’s life throughout the year. In Christian traditions that follow a calendar, the year is divided into a series of seasons with specific moods, theological emphases, and modes of prayer. Important holidays like Christmas and Easter are proceeded by periods of penitence, reflection, and preparation (Advent and Lent, respectively) and followed by several weeks of talking about the stories of Christ and Christianity that happened because of the events that the holidays focus on. Scripture readings and sermon subjects used in church are often based on the calendar, making the calendar the foundation of their worship services. The reason I have holy envy for the calendar is because it helps people focus on Christ throughout the year—particularly around Christmas and Easter. I wanted to try it out in my personal life, so I have been developing my own version of the calendar that incorporates readings from all of our scriptural cannon to use in Sunday evening scripture study or family home evenings. Strictly speaking, of course, it’s not…

Does serving a mission in a low-income country change your commitment to the poor?

In a recent research paper, economist Lee Crawfurd seeks to answer this question by comparing missionaries who served in a predominantly high-income region – Europe – with those who served in low- and middle-income areas – Africa, Asia, or Latin America. The missionaries assigned to these different region look very similar on a range of relevant characteristics, such as the number of languages they speak or the number of countries they’d visited. Here is what he finds: We find that returned missionaries who were assigned to a low-income region are more interested in global development, years after their assignment. They are also more likely to continue to volunteer. But we see no difference in support for government aid or immigration, and no difference in personal donations. Here’s a bit more detail: We find the largest effects on interest in development for those assigned to Africa. We also see a positive effect on attitudes towards official aid for those assigned to Africa (but not Asia or Latin America). Third, those assigned to Africa are more likely to donate to international charities, more likely to volunteer for international causes, more likely to have a career in global development, but less likely to support a political campaign. There are limitations in this work, of course. Foremost, the stated objective of missionary service is not to increase commitment to the poor, beyond its role of increasing commitment to the gospel which includes a central…

Moving on up

So the announcement that youth would rotate up in each January came as a surprise to a lot of people. Here are my first thoughts on the matter: I have heard more concern expressed recently that children in Senior Primary needed to be getting more attention than they were. This pushes the eldest part of that group into the youth organization and under the eyes of the Bishopric and mutual leaders.

The New LDS Hymnbook: Changes and Possibilities

Recently, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that they were going to prepare a new hymnbook and children’s songbook for use in the worldwide Church. Specifically, the goal is to create unity in hymn numbers and selections that reflect the needs of a global organization. This is the first time in over thirty years that the official hymnbook for the Church has changed, and it is a matter of no small excitement for Mormon musicians and general membership. The current hymnbook is wonderful, but change can always bring new opportunities and improvements. Part of the excitement is that there is an unprecedented amount of involvement of general membership being made possible through online surveys and song submission opportunities. Based on trends within the Church, the history of hymnbooks in Mormonism, and the statements that have been made about the forthcoming books, what might the new hymn and song books look like? There are a number of faucets to examine in considering this question, including continuity with past hymnals, new LDS music available for use, what might be removed and changed, and the hymnbook and songbook’s relationships to the general Christian tradition of music, and the tunes being used. Let’s look at each of these in turn. Continuity During the latter half of the twentieth century, hymnbooks in the LDS tradition have been kept around the same physical size. The major consideration has been the size of hymnbook…

The Bread of Life, with Chocolate Chips

Today I am pleased to present a guest post from a good friend of the blog, Samuel Morris Brown.  I learned to cook when my wife was recovering from cancer surgery. There’s a hollowness, kindred to cancer, hungry to swallow you up when a beloved’s life is threatened. I still remember, with a soul-deep ache, that time when her body was a battleground for scalpeling surgeons and monstrously deformed cells. Those harrowing days are a distant memory now, but that fulminant awareness of her mortality still haunts me. I’ve seen a lot of death in my short life; nothing disoriented me like her cancer. The wild upheaval of unexpected illness unearthed more than a surgical specimen for the pathologist’s microscope. She and I discovered in the cancer’s aftermath my longstanding failure as a husband to be her full partner. This spousal dereliction had insinuated itself into the infrastructure of our marriage. I realized that my soul needed a surgery of its own. A spiritual death had wrapped its malignant fingers around my internal organs, a nefarious mimic of the tumor that had lifted the retina off the back of her eye. The simultaneous, stark revelation of her mortality and my personal failure left me wanting to sit alone in a room and cry my way through the smothering chaos rather than accept the painful transformation that beckoned. But there was no time to stare, heartbroken, at my pitiful soul, dithering…