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Wednesday, June 30, 2004

The Identity Crisis of Ulster Converts 

by Unknown
Mormons are neither Catholic nor Protestant, so what happens to a convert in Northern Ireland, when their class, their identity, their traditions and their politics are tied to one of these two religions? It's not easy for them as you can imagine. I went to church at the branch in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Asking around I found out most of the converts were protestants who lived in Waterside, the protestant side of the river. They told me there were a few Catholics in the branch and most of them were on the dole and having too many babies. (Yikes!) So even after conversion, the LDS here identify themselves with one side or the other. They are all converts and have to face great pressure from their families, neighbors, and friends. When they get baptized they are denying centuries of their heritage. The religious distinction is more about loyalties to the crown or a native Ireland. It's been that way since the 17th century when the British in power tried to convert the natives and started bringing over protestant English settlers to fill their plantations. One history book I've been reading said, "To be a protestant or catholic in 18th century Ireland indicated more than mere religious allegiance:it represented opposing political cultures, and conflicting views of history." (Foster, The Oxford History of Ireland) That distinction continues today.

One woman told me that in the 80s she went to the branch in Omagh where the members were evenly divided among Catholics and protestants. She said they sat on opposite sides of the church and didn't talk to each other. But now they mingle and don't divide themselves that way. She told me she doesn't know how they did it, how they overcame the prejudice. But I think after 20 years of going to church with people it'd be natural to get over it, I hope so anyway.

Maybe mormonism is the solution to the 'Troubles' of northern Ireland. It would take another century at least, but imagine if there were no longer Catholics nor protestants in the country. First, I suppose the wards have to learn to integrate themselves too. I didn't notice any separation, and I couldn't pick out the few Catholics there. But in conversation with the members I could see that they can't so easily slough off their political and cultural identities with baptism.
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Monday, June 28, 2004

Don't Believe Everything You Hear 

by Dave
What an odd piece of advice to hear over the pulpit, but hear it we did earlier this month, as explained (for late arrivers or early snoozers who missed the announcement) in this Salt Lake Trib article. And the Trib article gives "the rest of the story": the blunt advice appears to be a response to notes (apparently accurate) made of an apostle's Stake Conference remarks, subsequently circulated via email to various members, including (according to the article) CES employees. They can hardly put out a letter criticizing an apostle for what he said, so they put out a letter criticizing those who repeat what he said.

Okay--So what are the new ground rules for how to relate to a visiting GA's Stake Conference remarks? Don't make recordings. Don't take notes. It's probably best to simply forget what is said immediately at the conclusion of the talk, but if you do happen to remember what is said, do not repeat it to anyone. To really be on the safe side, consider just skipping out on Stake Conference entirely. A visit to your local cinema or sporting event would put you safely out of harm's way, as well as providing the whole family with alternate weekend conversation material.

If there's really anything important said, it would appear that an official written transcript of the remarks will be released. At least that seems to be the import of the announcement, according to what I recall. The memo was careful to distinguish reliable "official" sources from everything else. You would think they would at least post the memo in the Press Releases section at LDS.org, but no. Ironically, if you missed the announcement over the pulpit you have to get the news either via word of mouth, from the media, or right here.

[UPDATE: Here's the actual statement, also from the SL Trib--link from Frank's post on the same subject over at T&S.]
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Saturday, June 26, 2004

Bowling for Fahrenheit 

by Dave
Surfing for something to kick around the blog, I noticed Christianity Today's review of Michael Moore's latest film/documentary/satire/comedy (real name: Fahrenheit 9/11, whatever that is supposed to mean). CT calls it "heavily sarcastic, rather entertaining, and somewhat incoherent." The title he borrows from Ray Bradbury, and the poster borrows a picture of George Bush (putting just Moore on the poster would be . . . unappealing?).

I liked some of Moore's early stuff (such as Roger and Me) but he's kind of flying out of orbit lately. Why should we care? Because seeing is believing for most people. Americans increasingly get their news from what might be charitably termed "the alternative media," sources like talk radio, Drudge, and hyped books like the recent slew of "I hate Bush" books all being examples. These are all outlets on the fringes of journalism that hype controversy and are largely insulated from editorial review. Moore's success on the big screen seems to open a new niche for this alternative media. Ironically, the 9/11 Commission has released a bunch of good, accurate information lately (such as "Overview of the Enemy"), not by any means slanted in favor of the President, but with good facts, historical context, and reasoned analysis. I'm afraid people will watch Moore's movie and skip the Commission reports.

It's not the politics that's the issue, it's the genre. My concern is that Moore's approach can make any person or cause look foolish, stupid, or evil. What's his next target: The Boy Scouts? Religion? Mormons? Baseball? Apple pie? Lawyers? And will satirical documentaries displace Hollywood action flicks the way reality TV has displaced sitcoms and dramas?
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Wednesday, June 23, 2004

The Brain Drain or Where Have All the Women Gone?  

by Christina
My husband and I had dinner with our home teacher and his family this past Sunday. We enjoyed a lovely meal and after Sis. X and I had thoroughly exhausted the topic of the vagaries of a life spent wearing undergarments designed by a male who clearly had no design experience, we got into the good stuff.

Home teacher X is a good man, actually a great man, and I have no problem with him - in fact, I like him very much - except that he happens to be in the stake high council. Unfortunately for him, this quirk of his means that sooner or later, as in any conversation I have with anyone with administrative authority in the church (ward clerk, anyone?), I started to pepper him with interrogatories and accusations, attempting to elicit any enlightened response on church policy.

This is my issue: why does the church so forthrightly and singlemindedly waste its greatest resource- the women?!!! In particular, let's talk about administrative leadership. I happened to go to law school in NYC along with others of you. Even during law school, a number of my male compatriots in the law school were tapped, rightly so, I'm sure, to share the burden of the administrative functioning of the stake. They were/are stake clerks, members of bishoprics, members of the high council, etc. This trend has only increased in the years since graduation. In fact, I would say we have a definite bias towards lawyers in the stake, perhaps because our great stake president is himself, one of the chosen. I, on the other hand, being of the female, if not feminine, persuasion, hold callings like primary teacher and compassionate service committee member. So, that is all well and good. I certainly don't aspire to be a bishop; I can rarely stay awake through sacrament meeting, and it would be mighty embarrassing to have to do my snoring on the stand.

I also recognize that we do have leadership roles for women: a woman can be a leader in the auxiliaries, as Primary or RS Pres. However, these roles tend to be reserved by age and experience in the church, unlike the leadership roles chosen for men around these parts. Furthermore, they are certainly off-limits for women who choose or are unable to work outside the home in a professional capacity. Finally, those roles deal exclusively with women and children. If a woman has a position of leadership in that or another capacity and needs to deal with men, her authority is always subject to the authority of a man.

So, what's up with the sexist treatment? Let's take as a given that the priesthood for men is a divinely inspired dictate and necessary for the preservation of order in the church and that hierarchy itself is a good (not that I don't, ahem, question that). What does priesthood service have to do with administrative function? If the men who come to NYC to go to law school and business school (sorry, MDs, I know you've got Yamada, but there just aren't as many of you) possess certain leadership/organizational skills, and the church chooses to call upon them to use that skill set, why not use women with those same skills that way?

The way I see it, priesthood function is organized to keep men interested in church. Excuse the generalizations, but the majority of men respond to hierarchy, responsibility, concrete accomplishment and power. So, the organization of the church does an effective job appealing to a certain kind of man, if not all men.

This isn't just a personal vendetta for me, because I happen to enjoy my callings, but rather a pattern of abuse we can track throughout the church. The bigger problem, aside from hurt feelings, is wasted resources. More educated women are not just excluded from serving most effectively in the church, they are squashed when attempts are made. Women, even those with certain carved-out leadership administration, still have to answer to (typically) socially-conditioned sexist males for approval of projects. Ultimately, I think many women just opt out. Why try to set up service projects at church when we can go outside the church and serve more effectively? I could be an attorney at Human Rights Watch and effect change, but if I wanted to set up a program to help at-risk youth in the church, I would have to clear it with fifteen people at the top of the stake, assuming I could even get them to answer my phone calls.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2004

H.O.F.R.S. 

by NA
HOFRS is one of the greatest acronyms the Church has ever come up with: Helping Others Feel and Recognize the Spirit, a great way to systematize something that is utterly unsystematic.

In any event, for purposes of my post I'm tweaking HOFRS, because I'm curious about Helping Ourselves Feel and Recognize the Spirit. As to helping ourselves feel the Spirit: Christ says in John, "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit." How can we force the wind to blow our way? Admittedly, Sunday School Answers spring to mind, but I'm not sure that reading the Scriptures, or any other activity, is going to always do the trick for us as some sort of totemic invocation. What works for me is seizing random opportunities -- I have the idea that by praying, or reading scriptures, etc. whenever I get the chance, I have as much likelihood of feeling the Spirit as I would at any other time. Unfortunately, this leads me to believe that on some level, getting a piece of the Spirit seems a matter of happenstance. Can this be right?

As to helping ourselves recognize the Spirit: this one is a mess. I don't think we do a fantastic job in this Church of helping people realize when they've felt the Spirit, or helping them distinguish between the Spirit and "good feelings," or for that matter helping people understand exactly what "the Spirit" is. For example, take the doctrinal notions of "Light of Christ," "Gift of the Holy Ghost", and "feeling inspired." No one can explain what these mean, at least not in any definitive sense -- and to be sure, all of our doctrinal explanations will overlap and at times conflict. Don't get me going about the H.G. during Christ's earthly ministry!

In my mind however, a doctrinal definition of roles for the Holy Ghost/Spirit isn't as immediately important as trying to discern when you are feeling the Spirit, compared to when you've just watched "Beaches" or "Saving Private Ryan" and feel a catharsis brought on by good drama or melodrama. Can we feel the Spirit when it is artificially invoked through drama or film (that certainly seems the premise of LDS films)? How can we tell exactly what's going on? It would seem to be an important distinction since everyday emotions don't have the power to lead us to salvation the way the Spirit is supposed to. Equally difficult is the notion that the Spirit speaks through our own thoughts and emotions, thereby completely obscuring its nature as an external influence.

So, to sum up:
1. I don't know how, exactly, to get myself feeling the Spirit; and
2. I wouldn't really know it, exactly, if I were feeling the Spirit.

This can't be as hopeless a scenario as it sounds -- thousands feel the Spirit, and bear testimony to that effect. But I'd like to hear it from some of you.
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Saturday, June 19, 2004

"Orthodox Intellectualism" and the "Anti-Contention" Tradition 

by Aaron B
The latest issue of Sunstone magazine contains the most interesting article to grace its pages in some time. Entitled "Defending the Kingdom, Rethinking the Faith: How Apologetics is Reshaping Mormon Orthodoxy," its author, John-Charles Duffy, argues that the "orthodox intellectuals" of Mormonism, while defending the faith and sparring with its critics, are simultaneously expanding the scope of Mormon orthodoxy in beneficial ways. Duffy contrasts "orthodox intellectuals" such as Stephen Robinson and the FARMS authors with "hard-liners" (orthodox non-intellectuals?) like Joseph Fielding McConkie. Orthodox intellectuals sometimes accommodate the wisdom of the world into their religious views and strive to square LDS understandings with secular knowledge, all the while maintaining certain boundaries so as not to become "liberal" Mormons or "revisionists." Hard-liners reject such a project, believing it to be misguided, and perhaps even harmful. Duffy concludes:

"I do not anticipate that orthodox intellectuals will persuade mainstream academics to take LDS faith claims seriously, nor do I anticiate that they will convince mainline Christians to stop challenging LDS claims to the Christian label. However, orthodox intellecuals have been remarkably successful at promoting their progressive orthodoxy within the Church."

How have they done this? Think of the debates about hemispheric vs. limited Book of Mormon geography, greater acceptance of evolutionary biology, modified LDS understandings of Biblical mistranscription ("it's really just about the canon"), etc. If this reminds anyone of Kaimi Wenger's "Elite Religion and Common Religion" thread at T&S, it should. Although the theses are different, many of the same themes and specific examples are present in both.

I really liked this article. It squared with many of my own observations about Mormon apologetics. Not that I wouldn't quibble with a few things: I don't share Duffy's a priori rejection of Book of Mormon historicity (not that this matters to his thesis). Also, I feel like overt psychoanalysis of academic motives belongs on Oprah Winfrey, rather than in a magazine article. Nevertheless, the broad claims of the article resonated with me. (Footnote 201 is one of my dead horses!)

This could serve as a springboard for a lot of issues, but here's the one for today: Duffy talks about the "anti-intellectual" tradition within Mormonism (which he rejects) and the "anti-contention" tradition (with which he sympathisizes). He thinks that on balance, the effect of orthodox intellectualism on Mormonism is positive, but in its vitriolic FARMS manifestation, it has had to "develop an apologia for apologetics itself." That is, the FARMS authors have needed to justify the scathing, sarcastic, polemical (insert lots of other adjectives here) quality of their rhetoric, in light of various scriptural, prophetic and apostolic admonitions ostensibly opposed to their project (but not universally so), and this hasn't been an easy row for them to how. Duffy thinks the scriptural grounds for jettisoning the anti-contention tradition in Mormonism are somewhat problematic, though perhaps not insurmountable.

I must confess that I personally am not as sympathetic to the anti-contention tradition as Duffy. I like rhetorical fireworks more than most people. I really enjoy reading the FARMS Review for this reason alone. I like to pick verbal fights. I don't necessarily wear that as a badge of honor; it is merely an empirical observation about myself (which other Bloggernaclites occasionally get to see on display). But at the same time, I think Duffy has a point; there is no denying the scriptural and prophetic injunction against "contention."

So what should we make of this? Is "contention" a bad thing that becomes a necessary evil only in certain contexts (be that a context of "defending the faith," or any other)? Or is "contention" sometimes bad, but sometimes an unqualified good? Or is the problem that "contention" lacks a precise definition, whose parameters haven't been thoroughly explored, and typical rhetoric about "avoiding contention" is therefore tired and simplistic?

You tell me.

Aaron B
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Friday, June 18, 2004

And the winners are.... 

by NA
Some of you may remember last week's Contest for the best blog ideas. After some long and arduous deliberations, we're pleased to announce our winners!

Winner, best blog post idea:
Ryan Bell, with his "Super Size Me" idea:

"First, the two inspirations for the idea. You may have heard of the movie "Supersize Me." For those that haven't, it's a documentary in which a man eats every meal, three times a day, at McDonalds, for an entire month. It documents his health and the changes his body makes throughout the month, as a sort of longitudinal experiment on what McDonald's food does in high doses, to the human body.

Second inspiration: Gary Cooper's post at Doctrinal:net on studying the scriptures intensely. Specifically, Gary writes that on his mission he was able (I do not know how) to read the scriptures for four to six hours a day, which resulted in an extremely heightened spirituality, including the receipt of many revelations.

So here's the idea: I'm going to mix the two. I'm going to go on a diet of pure Book of Mormon, allowing no other optional inputs in my life. Meaning: outside of work and encounters with actual people, I will not have anything put into my brain besides the Book of Mormon. For a month I won't watch TV, won't read anything else, won't do movies, music (except background sacred), or internet (besides blogs). Every spare moment when I don't need to be doing something else will be spent reading from the Book of Mormon. It will be a month of pure Book of Mormon.

During and after the diet, I will report on the experience."


And Winner, best blog tech update idea:
Dave Underhill, who submitted many great ideas, the best of which was:
"Consider giving each poster their own short link list, i.e. "Steve's Links" or "John's Links" where each can put their own favorite sites about absolutely anything. Encourages diversity, creates links, gives posters something to blog about."


Please join me in congratulating our winners and their fantastic ideas! I will contact them each today regarding their hard-won Gmail accounts, and implementing their ideas.
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Thursday, June 17, 2004

"We could've really freaked her out" 

by Unknown
For those of you experienced with budget travelling, the hostel culture should be familiar. Most dorm rooms have 4 + beds and the polite and friendly thing to do is introduce yourself to nearby bunk-mates. Introductions include obligatory answers to the following: where are you from, where have you been, where are you going, how long have you been here... and when things are really friendly bunkmates will often share tales of the things they've seen in town or good tours they went on.

My first night staying in an hostel last week, (I'm travelling) three boisterous dyed blond college girls checked themselves into my room. Usually I find these girls annoying. They tend to talk to much and be too loud in their vacuous blatherings. These girls did fit that stereotype and had a long discusssion on Britney Spears new boyfriend. BUT, they were sweet. When they told me they were all from Nevada, Reno or Las Vegas and then I looked at them with their sweet smiling blond selves, I thought, 'they could be mormon.' So I asked, 'You guys aren't mormon are you?' They laughed and said 'no', but told me they know lots of mormons.

Then, and this was my fault for asking the question in a negative way, one of the girls said "Hey, we could've really freaked her out by telling her yes!" Ha ha ha. That's when I knew it was time to share, so I said, "Oh, I am mormon, that's why I know there are so many in Nevada." They got quiet for 2 seconds then were over it. I felt the urge to say, 'don't worry, I'm not like the rest.' But I restrained myself, I'm glad I did. But why did I feel like saying that? I wondered what it is about us that makes girls like this think we are freaky, and that made me apologetic and almost shameful of my own kind? The whole episode disturbed me. I'm ashamed that I had that reaction. What is it about us that makes us so freaky? How sad. Here we were, on the other side of the Atlantic, and we both brought this negative view of mormons with us. Discuss.

(P.S. I'm having a fabulous time, it wasn't disturbing enough to tarnish my trip.)
Jennifer J
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Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Wanted: A Mormon Corporate Ethic 

by Mathew
A thread at Times and Seasons titled "LDS Need Not Apply" has sparked discussion of the Marriott Corporation's decision to make p0rnography available to their guests. Mormon's tend to see Marriott as a "Mormon corporation" and are quick to pass judgment on business practices that are perceived to be contradictory to church teachings. Of course Marriott is not the only corporation that is held to this unusual standard, but it is probably the most well known so it is the one I will use as an example.

Two camps generally emerge when discussion turns to whether Mormon owned or Mormon run corporations should be held to a different standard than the rest of their industry. The first camp puts out a "hypocrisy argument," expressing outrage or shock at the businessman's behavior. The second, what I think of as the "duty already owed" argument, says that a duty is owed to a constituency that requires a course of action that may be contrary to the church's teachings or the person's personal beliefs. Several times I have heard fellow church members condemn Marriott for trafficking in p0rn. Occasionally I hear in response that Marriott is a public corporation and the corporation owes a duty to shareholders to maximize profits.

Not maximizing shareholder return itself, however, does not violate any duties-at least in the state where it counts (and every other state that I am aware of). The Delaware courts have held that directors must maximize shareholder value only when the breakup of the corporation is certain or there is a change of control. Corporate directors are required to act in the best interests of their shareholders, but this does not require them to maximize profits without taking other constituencies into consideration. The legal doctrine known as the business judgment rule protects directors and officers from personal liability as long as they are acting in good faith-which amounts to having an articulable reason for pursuing a course of action.

While there is no real legal reason compelling a Mormon director or CEO to act against the teachings of the church, there may be competing moral reasons. I am sympathetic to the Mormon CEO who feels a certain way about an issue but believes that the shareholders to whom he owes a duty expect him to act differently. I'm not sure a CEO ought to feel comfortable imposing his moral values on a company if he doesn't believe it is in the best interests of the company-this is precisely the "imperial CEO" behavior that the business publications have spilt buckets of ink over for the last three years. On the other hand, it seems to me that a Mormon corporate leader is no different than any other corporate director or CEO in that he shouldn't check his ethical and moral convictions at the door.

What I'm interested in, then, is a corporate Mormon ethic that considers competing duties and interests that a Mormon corporate leader faces and thinks about how to approach them systematically.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Sophistication on the Cheap 

by Aaron B
You’re sitting in Gospel Doctrine class, and Brother So-and-So is going off on one of his weekly, mindless rants. As usual, his comments are sanctimonious, self-important and theologically intolerable. He must be destroyed! But alas, you can’t afford to respond with too much venom, lest your outburst be interpreted as over-sensitivity or as an awkward airing of your personal “issues.” That just won’t do. Better to offer a non-chalant, off-the-cuff rebuttal that seems polite and effortless, but that serves as a rhetorical bullet to the head.

To aid you in your efforts, it helps to have at your disposal an extensive repertoire of Mormon Intellectual Buzzwords (“MIBs”). Employment of one or more of these terms will shatter your opponent’s point because -- if for no other reason -- no one will have the slightest idea what you’re saying! But your indecipherable comments will ring with erudition, and that’s all that really matters! So on to my question…



Maybe I’ve left out some other choice contenders?

Aaron B

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How Does the Brethren's Worldview Influence Church Policy? 

by John H
I'll confess upfront I'm posting this for selfish reasons. I'm considering a paper for Sunstone and want to feel out some ideas. I'd even like to hear if people think I'm on to something or if I'm over-analyzing as usual.

This latest letter from the First Presidency announcing that garments can only be purchased with a temple recommend or a valid i.d. (to confirm one is an endowed member) seems to have added to a growing list of policy decisions that come from a very specific, narrow perspective. What I mean is, although the Church is a worldwide organization, many decisions are made based on the problems faced only in the Great Salt Lake valley. But those decisions are still imposed on the global Church.

For example, when President Hinckley announced changes to the missionary program, including the way farewells are handled, I was overjoyed. Growing up in Holladay (a suburb of Salt Lake), I felt like every other week we were hearing from weepy mothers telling stories about how their son or daughter drew all over the kitchen wall with markers when they were five and how they were going to miss them so much and so on and so on. But then I read an article by Peggy Stack in the Salt Lake Tribune that opened my eyes beyond my own Utah experience. A woman in a small branch in Wisconsin had recently had her home remodeled to host her son's farewell. He was the first missionary their tiny branch would have in some 25 years. She expressed disappointment at the policy but admitted she would obey. I can't explain how powerfully this story hit me. It felt like the whole Church was being affected because the east bench of Salt Lake City had more missionaries than the Sacrament meetings could handle.

This one example perhaps has the most negative ramifications. Others aren't necessarily negative or bad, but still seem to reflect the perspective of Utah Mormons, rather than a worldwide Church. Other examples include:

• Renewing Temple recommends every two years because bishops and stake presidents are spending so much time doing it, according to President Hinckley. Surely a branch president in Denmark (where the new temple has only 1,000 people in the entire district) isn't overburdened with requests for recommend interviews.

• The recent letter stating members should not quote from notes or statements made by Church leaders at regional or local conferences. This seems like a direct reaction to Elder Perry's comments in the Kuna, Idaho Stake conference, that spread over email and the Internet. Granted, the Internet is global, but I find it hard to believe it would have been seen as a pressing issue if the Brethren lived in Peru. Most of the emails and discussion seem to have been localized in Utah, Idaho, Arizona, and California.

• The above mentioned letter on garments. Would this be an issue if the Deseret News weren't running stories on garments for sale on eBay, or if Lonnie Persifull weren't waving garments in front of General Conference-goers? I suspect members in Japan haven't heard anything about these issues that likely prompted the policy change.

• Rhetoric surrounding the media. Many times (including recent conference addresses by Elder Ballard and President Hinckley) Church leaders address movies, TV shows, concerts, etc. that are only available in Utah or the United States. Members in South Africa will be entirely unaware that there is a controversy surrounding these issues.

• Just as with above, the same is true surrounding the intense rhetoric about gay marriage.

What think ye? Are policies that are only necessary for the Great Basin unfairly being imposed on the whole Church? Is this an absolute non-issue? In what ways is the Church doing better in recognizing local customs and culture?
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Saturday, June 12, 2004

Zion and the Uses of Patriotism 

by Kristine
The orgies of lugubrious praise of Ronald Reagan in the press and even at other Mormon-themed blogs this week has me asking some questions (besides the obvious, snarky one of when obsequious adulation crosses the line into something nearly blasphemous).

What is patriotism for? The most common refrain to the eulogies of President Reagan is that "he made us feel good about America.". Why is that so important? I'm not saying that it isn't important; I think there may well be profound lessons to be learned from a deep love of one's country. Patriotism has inspired loyalty, devotion, self-sacrifice, even real heroism. Still, it seems to me that patriotism is an inconstant schoolmaster: patriotism that becomes blind to the foibles of the beloved nation or indifferent to the hopes and dreams of denizens of other nations can quickly become hideous. Patriotism seems risky to me because it is so easily distorted.

When I was younger and knew everything, my smug and self-satisfied explanation of why patriotism might be commendable went like this: like the love of family, love of country can expand our circle of caring out from ourselves. God bids us draw ever wider circles around the people and things that we love, until eventually our love, like His, can encompass all of creation. Getting stuck at caring for our families or our tribe or our country is better than remaining in a state of infantile self-love, but it is still far from the "telos" God has in mind for us. But this is far too easy an explanation, and fails to account for the many people who are much wiser than I who are deeply moved by patriotic feelings.

I think part of what has given me the willies about all the Reagan-worship in the last few days is that it is centered on one man, rather than on the principles underlying the nation's founding or some other more palatable abstraction. It's easy for me to think that loving humane ideals like freedom, justice, equality can move us to the kind of devotion to a community of "one mind" that will bring us to Zion, but I get lost when one (moderately to severely, depending on your persuasion) flawed man is enshrined as the embodiment of all those virtues. Still, to draw the Mormon parallel, it seems clear that the Saints who have come closest to making something like Zion were motivated both by love of the gospel in the abstract, and by love and loyalty to living, breathing, (and therefore flawed) leaders. I confess that I understand this kind of loyalty as little as I understand the emotion behind tributes to President Reagan.

So, help me out. Can patriotism be a tool for teaching us how to approach Zion? If so, what would such patriotism look like? Does it require us to turn a blind eye to the faults and sins of our leaders? Or, is patriotism a trap that closes our hearts to our brothers and sisters in other countries? Do the Jehovah's Witnesses have it right when they claim to reserve their allegiance for God? Should we be waiting for "a better country, that is, an heavenly"?
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Thursday, June 10, 2004

My brain hurts 

by Christina
We love to talk about immortality and eternal life in this church, particularly in conjunction with our temple worship. But does anyone ever actually try to contemplate immortality? It makes me ache mentally when I try to wrap my mind around the concept. My husband thinks I'm strange -(for more reasons than this, let me assure you) - when other people get goosebumps talking about living with their families and God forever, I more often feel like I am suddenly being slurped into an endless pit. Now, don't get me wrong, I like the ideas of Progress, Truth, Love and everything else that is supposed to go along with living with God forever. I just don't understand it. Am I the only one who feels like the bottom drops out when I try to actually THINK about all these things we talk about in the church all the time?
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Tuesday, June 08, 2004

BCC Contest! Enter now, and win! 

by NA
At long last, our first contest. It was only a matter of time before we gathered enough intellectual and spiritual capital to unveil such a rich opportunity.

Without further ado, here is the contest!

The Prize: A Google Email account, courtesy of yours truly. Think of it: 1 GB of free email, cutting-edge technology and 10 MB max attachment size. Never empty your inbox again! See here for more information on how Gmail could change your life forever.

The Challenge: Come up with a good idea for BCC, whether a suggestion for a post, an idea for added functionality, or a different and new approach to LDS blogging. Post your ideas below.

The Rules: Anyone can apply, including BCC staff members, random people from the bloggernacle, even visitors from T&S. Suggestions for posts should be at least somewhat LDS-related, and the person winning with a post suggestion must write the post and reply to comments. Suggestions for added functionality must be Blogger-compatible, and the person suggesting the functionality must show us how to do it (unless it's something lame like, "uh, the sidebar doesn't show up in Netscape"). Judgments will be made by a group of BCC posters after we've received some good ideas (which, based on the number of comments lately, could take awhile).

That's it! Put your faculties to work, brethren and sisters, and win the sweetest email account around. These email accounts have been going for crazy prices on Ebay, but it's yours for the taking. Email me with any questions.
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Skepticism amongst the psychotic 

by NA
Browsing through Google News for bits on mormons has taught me that you never know what crazy stuff is going on out there. This morning, I came across this little tidbit about a renegade plot to raise up assassins to kill the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. Perhaps the plotters were frustrated with the institutional framework for overthrow that Nate Oman discusses elsewhere.

The thing that struck me about these poor creatures is the way they've been interrogated by the government and put on the stand to testify against their prophet. Their responses show the shattered mind of people that have been reprogrammed. At the same time, I wonder how mormons would have testified on the stand during the days of polygamy prosecutions -- or for that matter, how would we testify on the stand about the church we currently belong to? Think of this interchange, from the article:

[plot witness Dawn] Godman said that, long after her arrest, she believed that Glenn Taylor Helzer, "working with the angels," would free her to continue God's work.

"My breaking away from Taylor Helzer has been a continuous process for the last four years," she said. "It's gone back and forth. It's been a struggle."

Prosecutor Harold Jewett asked Godman if she still thought Glenn Taylor Helzer was a prophet.

"You're still not sure, are you?" he said.

She responded, "At times, no."

I believe quite firmly that Gordon B. Hinckley is a prophet; were I to bear my testimony, I'd say that I know he is a prophet. But what would I say were I not bearing testimony, but giving it in court? Objective standards of witnessing and proof seem inapplicable to a church-based 'testimony.' What would you say on the stand?
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Monday, June 07, 2004

From the Mouth of Babes Shall Ye Be Taught 

by Dave
Sounds vaguely scriptural (see maybe Matt. 21:16 or 3 Nephi 26:16), but I'm actually thinking of my Elder's Quorum meeting on Sunday, where an 18-year-old, newly-minted, recently graduated (I think he graduated) elder taught the lesson. The disorientating effect was heightened for me because I can recall when he was ordained a deacon, and have observed this young man on scout hikes/campouts and at various other activities for the last six years. He would not have received my "most likely to teach Elder's Quorum" vote. Simply surviving childhood was probably an accomplishment (although maybe one could say this about most teenagers).

So here's the miracle: he actually taught an okay lesson. It was on having good gospel books around the home. Sure, he got lots of supportive comments from the class (I noted how nice it is to have Deseret Book bookstores in many cities outside Utah these days, and my nose didn't grow so I must believe it). Sure, I might offer a few pointers here or there about the lesson or his style. But he wasn't nervous. He did a quite adequate job, even a fine job for his first lesson. I've seen worse, much worse.

Somehow, the Church teaches its youth to be passable teachers and to be comfortable teaching a class. Not just the natural teachers or the outgoing loves-a-crowd future salespersons--even the lower-half-of-the-curve types are able to manage it. Even an 18-year-old to a room full of adults all of whom are older and probably better informed about the lesson material. I confess I'm a little stumped as to how it happens. What's the secret?
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Friday, June 04, 2004

Worst Uber-Mormon Children's Names 

by Kaimi
We've all seen it: The family you've just met introduces you to their sons Moroni, Mosiah, and Brigham. Not only are they goofy names, they're names that scream out "look at my Mormon-ness!" And kids with uber-Mormon names almost always end up being the abnormal ones -- either rebellious, socially maladjusted, or just plain clueless.

So here's the poll: What is the worst uber-Mormon children's name? Which name is the most deadly kiss of death? Which name do you hear your cousin say "I just named my child ___" and you say to yourself, "wow, that kid is just not going to be normal"?


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Thursday, June 03, 2004

I Like Scouting, Except for All the Scouty Stuff 

by Grimshizzle
It probably wasn’t a good time for me to encounter this review, in the most recent Atlantic Monthly, of Oxford University Press’s recent reissue of the original Boy Scout Handbook from 1911. While Baden-Powell’s original ink drawings are charming, and many of his instructions and observations have a distinctive timelessness, certain aspects of the original book are quite alarming. Baden-Powell, for example, disgusted with the indiscipline and general “softness” of British boys, reportedly spoke admiringly of the youth-indoctrination programs sponsored by the governments of Japan, Italy, and Germany in the 1930s. (He died too early to early to witness the whole of WWII and/or retract his endorsement.) And how about this disturbing aside in the section on beekeeping: "[Beehives] are quite a model community, for they respect their queen and kill their unemployed." Pink Floyd’s brick in “The Wall” even apparently derived from one of the Scout Handbook’s distasteful metaphors about social order: "Some bricks may be high up and others low down in the wall; but all must make the best of it and play in their place for the good of the whole."

Of course, we’ve come a long way since 1911, and aside from the occasional John Bircher who might end up scoutmaster, I don’t think the uglier parts of Baden-Powell’s character live on in scouting, while many of the more valorous elements of his legacy live on. Still, the article stirred up certain misgivings I’ve been having about scouting lately.

I was never much of a scout. I liked going to camp, and a few merit badges left an impression on me. I have trouble remembering the details of CPR, for example, but for some reason I recall exactly what to do if I happen upon an abdominal wound victim with slightly protruded entrails; also, I feel I watch Olympic archery with a bit more appreciation and insight than most people. And, for what it's worth, I still occasionally accessorize with kerchiefs. Beyond that, though, there wasn’t enough interest to nudge me past the rank of Star Scout. Besides, my parents involved me early on in activities more befitting a child of my pastey constitution and small stature: I took piano, participated in band, and played a Winthrop Paroo in the local college’s production of Music Man that made little Ronny Howard look like a friggin’ amateur.

(Reading over the previous paragraph, I feel compelled at this point to assert my staunch record of heterosexuality. Former drama geek, to be sure, but I was kidding about the kerchiefs, for hellsakes!)

So, anyway, fast forward 18 years, and here I am in the Young Men’s organization, having a great time working with a great set of kids, but finding it difficult to maintain my (and foster their) enthusiasm for certain aspects of the Scouting program. Attending a court of honor recently, for the first time since my own lackluster scouting days, I found the clumsy ceremoniousness even harder to take seriously (and also a bit unsettling, as it seemed to demand of me a solemnity toward ritual that I normally reserve for priesthood and temple ordinances).

What’s more, the valuable life skills that scouting seeks to teach kids seem to be covered quite comprehensively in the church’s new Duty to God program, for which I have a great deal of enthusiasm. It includes lots of scout-ish stuff—-camping, wilderness survival, first aid, etc.—-but integrates it more fully with personal, family, and spiritual matters. And it presents all of these as straightforward values and goals with real, inherent, and immediate value, uncluttered by all the patches and pomp. It frustrates me that some parents lose countless nights of sleep over whether or not their kid will get his Eagle, when they often don’t even know about the revised Duty to God program. To be sure, the Duty to God pamphlets stress that the program is to be pursued in tandem with Scouts, but it seems to me that it renders the most important aspects of scouting redundant. (And there’s ubiquitous speculation that the new program was designed in part to be able to replace Scouts as the official Young Men’s program if necessary, had recent lawsuits forced the scouting program to change its policies towards homosexuality). Also, I find the Duty to God program more appealing in that it falls into obvious parallel with the Young Womanhood Recognition program.

Is there something to the ceremoniality and ritual of scouts that I just don’t appreciate? Are there crucial things boys will miss out on if they pursue the Duty to God award but neglect scouting? Will my own three little boys be worse off if, when they’re of that age, they do all the Scouty things—hiking, camping, rendering service, setting goals, developing skills—without all the Scouty accoutrements?

(I tell you this much: no boy a mine gonna' wear no friggin' kerchief.)
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Compassion Fatigue 

by Kristine
A little blip in the radio news caught my attention today. Seems there is renewed fighting in Congo. A year ago, I would have sighed, tried to remember where Congo is, remembered (dimly) little bits of history from a long ago reading of _King Leopold's Ghost_, and wondered (idly) whether Africa could ever be peaceful and prosperous.

Now it's different. For the last little while, we've had a lovely woman named Bibiane living with us. Her parents were killed the last time there was violence in Congo (violence serious enough to rate coverage in the U.S. media, that is). Her mother was Rwandan, her father was a government minister. She was a journalist, and the combination of mixed-ethnic parentage, a prominent family, and her profession made her a high-profile target. She packed a small bag, thinking she would go away for a month and return to her husband and daughters (then 5 and 11) when the "little uprising" had been put down. Of course, the uprising was not put down, the rebels became the new government, and she hasn't seen her family for more than 3 years.

So today, when I heard that there was trouble in Congo, I listened carefully to find out where; I hurried in to see if Bibiane had been able to talk to her family, if they were safe. I prayed with her for their safety. In short, I cared. It occurs to me (more forcefully than usual)that I *should* have cared before, that somehow, I have to learn to care broadly for people beyond my acquaintance, that just being vaguely and passingly sad for the tragedies I hear about every day is an inadequately Christian response. But *how* should I care? What should that caring look like? I can't care about the whole world in the way that I care about my children, or even the way that I care about my cousins or the members of my ward. Can the response King Benjamin suggests be expanded to cover this situation--can I say "I would care more if I had a deeper well of compassion, but I don't give (right now) because I don't have anything meaningful to give"? How does one go about increasing one's resources of compassion, especially compassion in the abstract or from a distance?
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Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Why I Don't Blog Much Lately 

by Kristine
I had a clever thought this morning while I was driving my "big kids" (Kindergarten, 1st grade) to school, and thought I'd blog about it before I forgot. However, in the time it took me to turn on my computer and remember my login name and password, this is what my 3-year-old dumped onto the kitchen floor:

1 large container of oatmeal
1 family-size canister of Swiss Miss Cocoa (that's 132 servings, in case you're wondering)
2 sticks of butter
2 lbs. of corn chips
3 priceless modeling clay figurines made by big brother

"Mommy, I'm making the floor slippery so I can ice skate!"

This is why they still teach Lamaze breathing. Everyone knows it's useless during labor, but it can prevent you from killing your preschoolers!

Anyway, sorry--I forgot what I was going to say...
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Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Dancing with the Devil 

by Aaron B
This weekend I finally rented “The Devil’s Playground,” which I’d been meaning to see for several months. The film is a documentary about Amish teenagers going through “rumspringa.” For those who don’t know (I didn’t), “rumspringa” is a rite of passage all Amish youth pass through once they turn 16, when they are allowed to opt out of the rules and restrictions of Amish life and “go English.” In short, they are allowed to experience the joys of television, MTV, automobiles, drugs, sex and porn. The phase lasts from several months to several years, as the young people contemplate whether they want to devote themselves to Christ, get baptized, commit to the Amish lifestyle, and re-join the community … or instead leave the community permanently and remain “in the world,” so to speak. (Like good Mormons, they talk about the “age of accountability,” except they don’t view the magic number as “8”.)

The movie follows several Amish teenagers through this fascinating period of their lives, as they experiment with the amenities of modern life, as well as its many vices. The real star of the film is Faron, an 18-year old crystal meth addict who idolizes Tupac Shakur and revels in his freedoms, while simultaneously claiming to want to return to the Amish community (but not quite yet) and become a preacher like his father.

The film was so interesting to me for so many reasons. My previous impression of the Amish had been limited to one of butter-churning, barn-raising, fashion victims, who deplored modern conveniences as evil, and for whom the only excitement in life was Harrison Ford beating the crap out of the occasional tourist. :) The film helped me better appreciate the purpose behind the restrictions of Amish life (“boundary maintenance” from the world). And although I have no desire to become Amish myself, I think I understand better the appeal of a community that is so dead set on eliminating outside, worldly influences for the sake of maintaining community, family and tradition.

However, there was one aspect of the film that was by far the most fascinating and disturbing. To put it bluntly, the Amish appear to have institutionalized sin. “Rumspringa” isn’t just a time when it’s O.K. to drive cars and wear jeans, but Oh-we-hope-Peter-and-Molly-choose-to-remember-who-they-are-and-obey-the-Law-of-Chastity. On the contrary, it is expected that Amish teens will experiment with alcohol, throw huge parties and “fool around.” There is actually a scene where Faron spends the night with his girlfriend. An adult member of the community then explains that spending the night in the same bed with one’s significant other is encouraged (just once, I believe), and that some intimate interaction is expected. It wasn’t completely clear from the film exactly which sinful activities were encouraged vs. expected vs. reluctantly tolerated, but it was clear that Amish parents knew what was going on and rationalized it as a necessary stage – the same stage they had gone through themselves years earlier.

What to make of this? As members of the Church, we also believe in living standards that set us apart from the world. We are all subject to the same temptations as everyone, and if we succumb to these temptations, we believe we can repent of our sins and recommit to being a part of God’s community and living His standards. But we certainly don’t view the sinful phases of our lives as “good experiences” designed to help us solidify our commitments to living the Gospel. Rather, we see them as extremely risky to our eternal salvation; after all, sin can be addicting and why play with fire and run the risk that you’ll find it so enticing that you never return to the fold? Granted, many look back on their sinful pasts and decide that their experiences taught them something important, and until the recent tightening of mission standards, lots of LDS prospective elders had their own, unofficial, pre-mission “rumspringa,” if you know what I mean, but we clearly don’t institutionalize this sort of thing in the Church. The Amish have, however, and there is a certain logic to their thinking. Let the young people really know what they’re missing, and once they experience everything first-hand, they can really make informed choices as to the kind of lifestyle they want to lead, and the types of commitments they want to take on.

Finally, one of the “deleted scenes” on the DVD answered a pressing question for me: Given the austerity and restriction of Amish life, and given that “rumspringa” exposes the youth to everything “fun” under the sun, how successful are the Amish in retaining their young people as Church members? Answer: The rate of return to the community after “rumspringa” is over 90%. Pretty impressive.

So what’s the moral of the story here? By experiencing sin in all its splendor and despair, are we more likely to become committed Church members? Or does this work only for the Amish? If so, why? Is there something about being Amish that is so enticing that even exposure to the world won’t drive the youth away? The Amish youth I saw sure seemed to be enjoying their respite from Amish-ness. Do we just need to figure out what the Amish are doing right, and co-opt it? (Maybe make 100% abstinence from television a part of the new and improved Word of Wisdom?). Is there something about the Amish way of life that is more powerful than the long-term temptation of sin, even when it is intentionally indulged? If so, might it be useful to find out what it is?

Aaron B

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A Curriculum Experiment 

by Dave
I here report the results of an experiment performed Sunday in a soft, comfy chair in the pleasantly air-conditioned foyer of a chapel in the great state of Southern California. The materials used were a copy of the current Heber J. Grant lesson manual and a ball point pen (blue ink, fine point Papermate Flexi-grip model).

Methods. I reviewed the 24 lessons printed in the lesson manual's table of contents and classified each under one of the following three categories: Organizational Maintenance, Self-Improvement, and Gospel of Jesus Christ. Close calls were resolved by consulting my inner voice and making my best guess after flipping through the pages of that lesson. I was investigating the hypothesis that the majority of lessons in the lesson manual preach the gospel of health, wealth, and education rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Results. About 42% (10 of 24) of the lessons were directed at Organizational Maintenance (e.g., member recruitment through missionary work, obeying organizational leaders, improving the public image of the Church by being loyal and patriotic citizens, supporting temple and geneaological work). Exactly 25% (6 of 24) of the lessons concerned Self-Improvement (e.g., persistence, being a good example, attaining financial security, maintaining good health by observing Mormon dietary laws). About 33% (8 of 24) concerned the Gospel of Jesus Christ as one might hear it preached by missionaries (e.g., the straight and narrow path, priesthood, forgiving others, prayer, Jesus Christ). The example topics given with each category are adapted from the titles of lessons in the sample assigned to that category. I believe the results are robust and will be observed in other curriculum materials.

Discussion. The results confirm my a priori expectations based on earlier, informal inquiries along the same lines in earlier editions of similar lesson manuals. The rule of thumb is one-third for each category. I suspect Sacrament Meeting talks follow a similar distribution, although with youth speakers added in it probably pushes the percentage more in favor of true gospel topics. On the other hand, if high council speakers are included the other two categories would almost certainly get a boost.

Conclusions. Early to bed, early to rise, makes a person healthy, wealthy, wise, and a good Mormon. Punctuality is optional but cleanliness is highly encouraged.
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The Scariest Thing I Have Ever Read 

by NA
Many of you have already seen this article from the NY Times Magazine (registration required, etc., etc.) this weekend. Having spent the last few days in North Carolina, I hadn't read it until this morning. I was amazed at the casual promiscuity and lack of coherent social structure by the teenagers in the article. Am I just getting old, and this is typical curmudgeon behavior towards rabble-rousing youths? Or have things really changed since my day?

More to the point, what hope is there for Church youths in a modern world of sexuality? Can a "Strength of Youth" pamphlet have the impact it needs to protect teens? The Church's sexual education program is lackluster to say the least, passing the responsibility over to parents without giving them enough information on how to proceed. What can/should we be doing for our youth that we're not doing already?
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