Category: Life in the Church

Mormon Life – Family – Personal Reflections

The Ever-So-Slightly Endangered BYU Man

A recent leak revealed what appears to be an old scale for evaluating potential BYU students. Basically, you take 10*GPA + ACT and then add points for stuff, like being from outside the West or taking AP classes. The most one could possibly get is 100 points, but this would require being… rather unique. There was some excitement because, although this no longer is true, at the time BYU gave 1 point for being male, presumably to try and bring the gender balance closer to equality.

What the LDS Can Learn From the NFL

It has been a tough year for the NFL. Football is a sport; the NFL is a brand. After years of growing viewership, energetic fan support, spiking television revenue, and multiplying sponsorships, a series of largely self-inflicted mishaps has tarnished the NFL brand. There is the national anthem protest controversy, initiated by Colin Kaepernick and carried on by a handful of other players and teams, stoked by comments from President Trump, and now sort of fading into the background — but leaving many fans feeling somewhat alienated from the game. There is the Ezekiel Elliott suspension, which turned into the Ezekiel Elliot court case (a court ruling yesterday reinstated his six-game suspension). This has somehow morphed into an ugly public feud between Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, and Roger Goodell, NFL Commissioner. And of course there is the mounting evidence that the regular jarring contact between NFL players causes long-term brain injury, whether or not concussions are sustained. Attendance is down. TV ratings are down. Quarterbacks are dropping like flies. Here’s what passes for good news for the NFL in 2017: Teddy Bridgewater of the Vikings got his leg back (he is back on the active roster as of this week) and Zach Miller of the Bears didn’t lose his (but it was a close call).

The Brigham Option: Living in a Post-Christian Nation

I have heard a lot about Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (2017), so I finally got a copy and read it. Short summary: Christian writer figures out Protestants no longer enjoy the benefits of informal religious establishment in the USA and goes into panic mode. Maybe that’s a little unfair, but I doubt that Catholics or Mormons or Buddhists reading the book have much sympathy for the plight of Evangelicals and mainline Protestants who now have to deal with the same church-state and citizenship issues that we have had to deal with for hundreds of years.

Fiction and Culture: Mette Ivie Harrison’s The Bishop’s Wife

A good Mormon mystery Novels — particularly good ones — convey a sense of place. This is absolutely true of mystery novels, from Kwei Quartey’s police detective in Ghana to Alexander McCall Smith’s private detective in Botswana. But how much do we really about a place or a culture from a work of fiction? I recently listened to the audiobook of Mette Ivie Harrison’s first mystery novel, The Bishop’s Wife. (There are currently three mysteries in the series.) Here’s the quick: I couldn’t stop listening. Harrison has crafted a page-turner. Early one morning, a man turns up at the home of the bishop, reporting that his wife has gone missing. The bishop’s wife, Linda Wallheim, uses her neighborly kindness to get to the bottom of the case. Linda is a rich, complicated character, with faith and doubt and caring and curiosity all boiled into one. I look forward to reading of her further adventures. I had a few critiques — a few plot twists towards the end struck me as implausible and Harrison really doubles down on a theme — but the other virtues make up for them. If you enjoy mysteries, then I recommend this one.

The Cult of Happiness

I attended a local Tedx evening earlier this week. One talk critiqued the “cult of happiness” that is fostered by social media posts. Everyone posts the great or good things about their life, complete with carefully cropped photos (the trip to Italy, the great new job, lost 10 pounds) but almost everyone conveniently edits out the bad things (can’t pay the bills, relationship problems, actually gained 15 pounds). So most readers think everyone else is doing great and they, knowing all their own bad stuff even if they don’t post it, feel like a loser. The suggestion seems to be that if you avoid social media, you’ll be happier. If only it were so simple.

Practical Apologetics: What’s Wrong With You?

How do you talk to an Ex-Mormon? Or a less-active Mormon who you bump into at church or a ward activity or the grocery store? Here are some examples of what *not* to say: What’s wrong with you? Why don’t your religious beliefs agree with mine anymore? What serious sin have you committed that explains your change in belief? This general problem is the topic of a post at Flunking Sainthood titled “An open letter to my Mormon family and friends.” The author of the post, an LDS author of some repute, has apparently been on the receiving end of these sorts of intrusive questions. Somehow, despite the best of intentions, Mormons sometimes end up being rude and nosy instead of friendly and supportive. Maybe we just need better conversational skills.

Reviving Our “A Mormon Image” Photo Series

We’ve decided to revive our long dormant photo series “A Mormon Image,” which features photos and other images that carry meaning for us because they resonate with our “Mormonness.”  As part of this, we’d like to issue a renewed call for photographs to be considered for inclusion in the series. What qualifies as a Mormon image? It should be a photograph or other image which relates to your own Mormon experience. It can be an image explicitly tied to religious ritual, such as a picture from before a baptism. It can be a family photo outside the temple, or a picture of the temple at sunset. It can be a picture from your mission. It can be a picture of nature — sunrise, flowers, birds — but if so, these should have some expressed link to a theme within Mormon life, broadly construed. Your image should have a title as well, and should have accompanying caption. The text can be simple description — “my son before his baptism.” It can tie the image to a Mormon theme — “this sunset reminds me of the glory of creation.” It can be a line from a hymn, or a scripture text. It should be related in some way to the image, but again we’re willing to read that requirement broadly. We hope that this series will allow us to showcase images that illustrate beauty in Mormon life, from the variety of perspectives of…

Guest Post: What Can LGBT Mormons Hope For?

A year and a half ago, I invited John Gustav-Wrathall, president of the support group Affirmation: LGBT Mormons, Families & Friends, to share his thoughts on the Church’s new policy affecting LGBT members and their children (see All Flesh from December 2015). Diverging responses to this post gave rise to the idea of hosting a conversation on the blog about what it is reasonable for LGBT members of the Church to hope for and why. To facilitate such a back-and-forth, Gustav-Wrathall offered to share his thoughts on his experience as a gay man raised in the Church, his “abundance” of hope, and the sources of his religious optimism. These reflections constitute the first part of a conversation exploring the question: “What can LGBT members of the Church hope for?” Jonathan Green’s response to Gustav-Wrathall, which includes Gustav-Wrathall’s subsequent reply, represents the second part of the conversation. Readers are invited to comment below or contribute to the conversation in the comments to Jonathan Green’s forthcoming post, but should ensure that any comments posted mirror the graciousness and respect shown by each author and are in line with our comment policy. What Can LGBT Mormons Hope For? John Gustav-Wrathall I have frequently been accused of optimism, both by people who think that’s a bad thing, and by people who think it’s a good thing. Some, both in and out of the Church, say my optimism amounts to false hope, that it’s wrong, maybe even a sin to encourage false hope. Others, also both in and out of the…

Children at the Pulpit?

Yesterday was testimony meeting (for some of you, fast and testimony meeting). By good fortune, I have never had much anxiety about the “ward crazies” who say such interesting things on open mic Sunday — by good fortune, the wards I have attended have not had this challenge. But I do see the standard mix of young children, probably three or four per testimony meeting, some who manage on their own, some who manage with parental prompts, some who require a word-for-word script whispered into their ear. It’s cute if it’s your own kid; it’s not a big deal if it’s someone else’s; it must be a bizarre experience for non-LDS visitors. Why do we do this?

Being subject to Voldemort

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Donald Trump is likely to destroy American democracy while leaving the nation in ruins and the world in flames, and let’s further assume that all of these are bad things. (I don’ t think the situation is quite as hopeful as that, but I’m not particularly interested in arguing about any of these assumptions in this post.) What should the Church do about it? What should you do about it?

The Primary Program: Reflections and lessons learned

And now for something a little different on T&S… This past Sunday our ward Primary presented its annual program. As I was writing the program last month, I appreciated seeing sample scripts and reading other Primary leaders’ reflections online, so I thought I’d make our script available here together with a few older-and-wiser observations. This was my first rodeo, at least as far as writing the script and directing the thing, and overall I’m pleased with how it went. The Primary theme this year is “I Know the Scriptures Are True,” so I knew I wanted most of the program to focus on retelling scripture stories rather than presenting bite-sized bits of doctrine. I wanted to try group recitation for the youngest classes, something that has worked well for my kids’ preschool performances. It was important to me to strive for gender parity in the program content. I decided with my music director to keep the music portion very straightforward, without instrumental or small-group flourishes. And to keep it fun for me and, I hoped, the kids and audience, I decided to write the whole thing in rhyme. Here’s what worked well: The music was strong, and the overall flow of the program was easy to manage (with one exception below). I think the audience and children enjoyed the focus on stories. The kids were adorable and well-behaved during the performance, despite a very rough rehearsal the week before. Here’s what didn’t…

Accidental Institutional Skills, Like Genealogy

Strange thing: Simply by working to accomplish their primary mission, large institutions develop skills and capacities somewhat or even entirely unrelated to that primary mission. So, for example, the US Army is very good at education, because it has to teach thousands of average (or less) students how to do complicated tasks like repairing a tank or hitting the right sequence of buttons to fire an advanced weapons system. Now the LDS Church is a very large and well-funded organization that has developed a number of institutional skills or capacities largely unrelated to its primary religious mission. The more you think about that, the longer the list becomes. But first, some background.

“Come Back” — with some thoughts on why they left in the first place

A couple of weeks ago I taught Lesson #12 in the Howard W. Hunter manual, titled Come Back and Feast at the Table of the Lord. The title comes from Pres. Hunter’s remarks at the press conference given the day after he became President of the Church in 1994. I want to point out that he was well ahead of his time. He gave these remarks years before “faith crisis” became a thing in the Church and years before Pres. Monson’s theme of The Rescue became emphasized. As he is quoted in the manual: To those who have transgressed or been offended, we say, come back. To those who are hurt and struggling and afraid, we say, let us stand with you and dry your tears. To those who are confused and assailed by error on every side, we say, come to the God of all truth and the Church of continuing revelation. Come back. Stand with us. Carry on. Be believing. All is well, and all will be well. Feast at the table laid before you in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and strive to follow the Good Shepherd who has provided it. Have hope, exert faith, receive—and give—charity, the pure love of Christ.

Going All Sorts of Gentile

It’s almost Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost went wild, which brings to fiery minds the thought of not only that particular world-turned-upside-down event but assorted others a whole lot like unto it, which other events alas never got their own red-letter day on the calendar, even though they probably deserved to, and so it occurred to me, why not just piggyback them all onto Pentecost, given their decidedly Pentecost-like qualities, and commemorate them all together, and not just as something dead and done and so last year, but as something with very possibly bone-shaking and world-rocking consequences right here and now? Especially my two very favorite Pentecost-like events: Peter’s dream, and Paul’s vision.

Converts per Missionary

A few years ago in October 2012 the Church dropped the age for missionaries from 19 to 18 for men and 21 to 19 for women. There are various speculations of why the Church did this although I don’t think anyone knows for sure. (A popular explanation is that it cuts down on young men leaving the church when they go to college for their Freshman year) Regardless of why the Brethren did this, at the time I was concerned that it would lead to less effective missionaries. We now have a few years worth of data so we can examine the effect, In my view the most recent Church data in particular tells a story of a drop in missionary effectiveness.

Calling All Millennials

The most interesting talk at UVU’s just-completed Mormonism and the Art of Boundary Maintenance Conference was by Jana Riess: “Mormon Millennials: Assimilation or Retrenchment?” Jana gave a preliminary report of research she is doing for a new book on the subject. She defined the Millennial generation as those born in the 80s or 90s. Others define it as those born between 1982 and 2004. Are you a Millennial? Glad you’re here. Hope you stay.

“A Supreme Act of Love”

This past Sunday, we covered chapter 6 of the Howard W. Hunter manual titled “The Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.” The lesson quotes President Hunter as saying that the Atonement “was an act of love by our Heavenly Father to permit his Only Begotten to make an atoning sacrifice. And it was a supreme act of love by his beloved Son to carry out the Atonement.” We lingered on this section for a while, which prompted me to comment. I recalled how I had been asked before, “What does the Atonement mean to you personally?” (Or something along those lines.) This is obviously a deep and rather broad question, but for me, the Atonement sends at least one major message: I’m worth something. I rest this largely on the evangelical favorite John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” In an ancient world full of mischievous, flawed, and often indifferent gods, the idea of deity sacrificing on behalf of mortals (not the other way around) could be seen as somewhat jarring. As New Testament scholar Craig Keener explains, Although John’s portrait of divine love expressed self-sacrificially is a distinctly Christian concept, it would not have been completely unintelligible to his non-Christian contemporaries. Traditional Platonism associated love with desire, hence would not associate it with deity. Most Greek religion was based more on barter and obligation…

Utah Transcends Political Tribalism

This might be the last place you would expect to see it: a state where Republicans already prefer the inclusive message of Marco Rubio over the divisive messages of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz,* even before Rubio’s strong finish in South Carolina.** That is, if you didn’t know much about Utah. Utah is the reddest state in the Union, with a 36-point gap in party affiliation. Rubio is often called a moderate, so he should be the favorite in a place where the Republicans are tinted purple, like Massachusetts or Vermont, right? Nope! They prefer Trump, by 34 percentage points in Massachusetts and 15 in Vermont! Trump is leading nationally by around 14 points, and in nearly every state. Just look at the polls. Cruz won the Iowa caucus and leads in his home state of Texas and neighboring New Mexico. Otherwise, it is all about Trump right now—except in Utah. How is the reddest state in the Union coming out in favor of a so-called moderate rather than a hard-liner like Cruz or Trump? Utah has a different brand of Republicans, much less likely to see the world in tribal terms, especially not ethnic tribes. For most of us in this country today, national politics is driven more by what we hate and fear than by what we love. Most voters’ negative feelings toward the opposition party are stronger than their positive feelings for their own. This is called…

Faith, Hope, and Charity in an Age of Doubt

Once upon a time, the topic of inoculation was all the rage in the Bloggernacle. Too late for that now; the epidemic is upon us and its primary symptom, doubt, has become a standard feature of LDS discourse. The latest discussion is Patrick Mason’s new book Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt, co-published by the Maxwell Institute and Deseret Book. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, so instead I’m going to point you to Boyd Peterson’s post “What To Do If Someone You Know Is Going Through A Faith Crisis.”