Sunday, May 16, 2004

Temple sacredness as secrecy: Am I swine? 

by Unknown
The Manhattan temple opens imminently and has brought many things to mind. I have yet to be endowed. Not because of worthiness issues, but lack of desire. I'm not married and did not serve a mission, so I was never in a position to 'have to' get endowed. Because of this post on Kim Siever's blog, Our Thoughts, about the recent online publication of the Temple preparation manual and the ensuing comments, I have the following questions. Please do not misinterpret my questions as criticisms or doubts. I accept that the temple is a divine institution that is central to my religion, which religion I hold very dear. I seek more understanding on its importance and wonder why this isn't made more explicit in church education.

1. Most mormons get endowed because they are getting married or going on a mission. This seems such a common practice that it's assumed all active adult church members will go through the temple. So, teaching temple motivation is not a priority if it's even taught at all. (I may be wrong, I spend every Sunday in primary and not adult Sunday school so please correct me if I am.)

2. Temple ordinances and covenants are considered too sacred to discuss outside of the temple, because we don't want to "cast pearls before swine". So people usually explain things with broad expressions like, "make sacred covenants to receive greater blessings" and "learn more about the plan of salvation". Don't the scriptures contain all the knowledge we need? What motivation then does one have for taking endowments?

3. Getting endowed is a commandment required for exaltation. Marriage is also a commandment required for exaltation. Since I'm not married, I won't be exalted even if I get endowed. So does it make a difference in the end if I do?

This is the point where more knowledge would be helpful. I read the temple prep manual on-line. It quoted James E. Talmadge:“The ordinances of the endowment embody certain obligations on the part of the individual, such as covenant and promise to observe the law of strict virtue and chastity, to be charitable, benevolent, tolerant and pure; to devote both talent and material means to the spread of truth and the uplifting of the race; to maintain devotion to the cause of truth; and to seek in every way to contribute to the great preparation that the earth may be made ready to receive her King,—the Lord Jesus Christ. With the taking of each covenant and the assuming of each obligation a promised blessing is pronounced, contingent upon the faithful observance of the conditions” (The House of the Lord, rev. ed. [1976], 84).

Which leads me to ponder, how are these promises different from baptismal covenants? Don't we do the same thing when we take the name of Jesus Christ and promise to obey his laws? I take my baptismal covenants very seriously and all of the above fall under them even if not explicitly stated.

4. In the comments on Siever's blog, dp from Doctrinal:net posted this quote from Armaund L. Mauss' "Reflections on Mormon Temple Worship":
"there is no real reason that even devout Church members could not talk more about the temple ceremonies than they do, with appropriate discretion about time and place, since the oaths of secrecy attach only to the new names, signs, tokens, and penalties. Indeed, more open talk about the temple would not only facilitate understanding among both Mormons and non-Mormons in certain historical and scholarly respects, but would also infinitely improve the preparedness of initiates, almost all of whom now enter the temple with only the vaguest idea of what to expect or of the obligations they will be asked to assume."

However, the temple prep manual had this to say about the matter (I couldn't find a reference to the speaker):
“We do not discuss the temple ordinances outside the temples. It was never intended that knowledge of these temple ceremonies would be limited to a select few who would be obliged to ensure that others never learn of them. It is quite the opposite, in fact. With great effort we urge every soul to qualify and prepare for the temple experience. …
“The ordinances and ceremonies of the temple are simple. They are beautiful. They are sacred. They are kept confidential lest they be given to those who are unprepared"(Preparing to Enter the Holy Temple, 2).

If Mauss is correct, then why are we so silent about the temple ordinances?
What does being unprepared mean? I'm temple worthy and once had a recommend to take out endowments, but I didn't get around to it. What lacks in me as far as preparedness goes is the burning desire to be endowed and an understanding of the need for it. But that doesn't mean I'll defame them or trod them into the mud. Maybe I am a spiritually insensitive boar who has hardened my heart to the call of the temple, but how many people got endowed purely from desire or felt fully prepared? (If you did I'd like to hear how it happened for you.)

Do church members take the sacredness too far, turning it into uneccessary secrecy as Mauss suggests? And who is going to "great effort to urge every soul to qualify and prepare for the temple experience?" Is more effort and education needed to give people a greater understanding?

Jennifer J

More on Marriage 

by Dave
I think John's prior post on "the spouse problem" deserves another go-round, since it raised more interesting issues than one thread could address. The unusually personal responses in the comments suggest that mixing faith and marriage, which looks easy on paper, is often something of a challenge in Mormon marriage. I'll note as well that mixing faith and singleness in The Family Church has its own challenges, but that topic deserves a separate post. Here are some concepts I came up with reflecting on the prior post and comments:

Compromises. Most agree one of the secrets of a successful marriage is a mutual willingness to compromise. That works for some issues, such as what to rent for the Friday night movie. But when it comes to "gospel issues," compromise often feels like failure to at least one party (see John's original comments on moral absolutes). Tithing or church attendance, for example, are issues on which most active Mormons would view any compromise as an unacceptable moral compromise rather than a "win-win" marriage compromise. Compromise, after all, has two opposing meanings: in negotiations, compromise is generally desirable and productive; in morality, compromise is generally equated with a moral lapse or sin.

I Am Third. For those of you under 30, the quote comes from a football player whose motto was God is first, my friends are second, and I am third. But marriage is different--no spouse wants to be third on the list; even second feels like a snub. "The Church is first, my children are second, my spouse is third" won't work. Neither will "My job is first, golf is second, my spouse is third." Third just won't do.

Mismatched Devotion. One spouse "losing faith," as discussed in John's prior post, is the most visible example of mismatched devotion to the Church between spouses, but it is not the only case. What if a super-devoted spouse insists on going to the temple every Friday night, whereas partner is a once-per-monther or less? What if one partner dreams of a senior-couple mission but the other just isn't there emotionally or spiritually? I think the challenge of divergent levels of devotion crops up in a variety of LDS contexts.

I don't want to sound pessimistic--this isn't a marital doom and gloom post. Most couples find a way to muddle through their differences, even deep and personal ones. Hopefully reflecting on the subject makes the "muddling through process" easier and more likely to succeed.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

When a Spouse Loses the Faith 

by John H
One of Robert Kirby’s greatest newspaper articles tells the story of his friend Boone. Boone it seems, lost his faith--if only temporarily. At the very least, Boone was having some very serious doubts about the Church. His wife was, naturally, deeply troubled. She was so troubled in fact, that she was threatening divorce.

Mormonism complicates marriage because of our moral absolutes. For example, Glen Lambert, a marriage therapist, mentioned during a session of Sunstone that he’d met with a couple who was struggling. The husband had seen an R rated movie, and his wife was thoroughly appalled. He points out that because she was dealing and viewing the world with moral absolutes, there was no room for the compromise or negotiation that is so essential to marriage. What he had done was wrong, period. There could be no discussion, there could be no understanding – at least, no understanding beyond he had sinned.

How might couples navigate this tricky road, especially when faced with the loss of faith? If there’s one "moral absolute" in Mormonism, it’s that the Church is God’s kingdom and being a part of it is a pretty important step to the Celestial kingdom.

For my part, I see both sides of this issue. For the one who loses faith, or questions, it’s an impossible situation. As Kirby mentions, you can lie to your spouse or be honest with yourself. Believe me, as one who’s been there, no one wants to question their faith. It isn’t fun and it isn’t done deliberately, or to be an apostate. On top of such a difficult dilemma, the one person who is supposed to be supportive, is supposed to understand, is perhaps the one most troubled by this lack of faith.

On the other side of the coin, the believing spouse is thoroughly convinced that their husband/wife is jeopardizing their families eternal togetherness. They married this person in the temple, made very serious promises and covenants with them, and now they’re backing out. Friends might not know how to act around you if your spouse left the Church. Your spouse might start drinking alcohol; they might stop wearing garments. Soon enough, the person you’re living with doesn’t resemble the person you married.

Is divorce too extreme in such a scenario? Should spouses be understanding of another’s doubts and perhaps even a total loss of faith? Is there anyway to compromise or negotiate what seems like opposite ends of the spectrum?


Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Two polls in one day - Yowza! 

by Kaimi
Your chance to sound off about the demigod of Mormon authors:


"You are of the tribe of Ephraim" 

by Aaron B
Last Sunday, I taught my Gospel Essentials class on "Priesthood Organization." One of the sub-themes of the lesson was the role of the "Patriarch." The Bishop plugged "patriarchal blessings" for the new members, and listed the duties of the patriarch, including that of "assigning lineage." A recent African-American convert approached me after the lesson, informed me that she had recently received her own patriarchal blessing, and asked: "Brother Brown, what exactly does it mean to "assign lineage"?"

What should I tell her?

Aaron B

New Poll! 

by NA


The e-Ward 

by NA
I love the way this piece about telecommuting opens: "Work is no longer a place but an activity." For most of the work I do, there is little reason for me to be in the office; only the occasional human interaction (i.e., a call to my boss' office) necessitates my presence. I find that I can communicate as meaningfully, and effectively, over electronic media as I can in person.

I think we should consider electronic worship, at least as an alternative forum for those without access to meetinghouses. What are the bars to members meeting on-line, worshipping together on-line, and teaching each other on-line? Are we really going to suggest that the Spirit can't work effectively over the Internet? Are we more concerned with human interactions? Because I can see how communication online would smooth our interpersonal relationships, not remove them. Let's ignore for the moment problems of economic disparity within the Church; in North America, at least, those problems are minimal. Certainly we're making strides towards minimizing the amount of time spent in needless meetings -- the e-council is something I've blogged about before. But what's to keep us from saying, "Church is no longer a place but an activity"?

On a side note, why are there no LDS televangelists?

Monday, May 10, 2004

The Lingering Legacy of Post-Manifesto Polygamy 

by John H
For the few that might not be familiar with post-Manifesto polygamy, a very brief overview might be in order. Today members of the Church look at the 1890 Manifesto as the revelation that ended polygamy. However, Wilford Woodruff and those around him, although they may have believed the Manifesto (or at least the idea of issuing the Manifesto) to be inspired, they definitely saw it as a political document meant to save the Church in the short-term. It was not issued to declare the conclusive end to polygamy. And in fact, polygamy continued to be sanctioned and practiced at the highest levels of the Church until at least 1904. Apostles such as George Teasdale, Abraham Cannon, John W. Taylor, and Matthias Cowley took additional wives during this period, while they and other apostles continued to seal men and women in plural unions.

I’ll only briefly say that this history of new plural marriages might at first look ominous, and as evidence of lies and deceit on the part of Church leaders. It is true leaders were not always as forthright, candid, or perhaps as honest as they could have been when it came to the subject of post-Manifesto polygamy. However, I believe a more sensitive, albeit complex, view is in order. The many facets of this view cannot be enumerated here, but suffice it to say, I believe it is possible to judge Church leaders as righteous, honest men, despite the dilemma of post-1890 plural marriages.

So with that all-too lengthy introduction, I come to the lingering legacy of post-Manifesto polygamy. I’ve only begun now to appreciate the huge, in fact, enormous impact these marriages have had on Mormonism and how we are today.

First and foremost, post-Manifesto polygamy forced an answer to the “Mormon problem” as it was called. It came in the form of the Smoot hearings – perhaps the most important recognition given to the Church that they could be considered a part of American culture and society. In fact, I would argue that the outcome of the Smoot hearings was more important than granting Utah statehood. Kathleen Flake, in her new book and in her dissertation, has argued quite convincingly that the Smoot hearings created the compromise between the Church and the government that allowed the Church to continue. As testimony in the trial quickly indicated, polygamy was still very much alive in Utah, much to the dismay of the rest of the country. The Church finally gave up polygamy, and even sacrificed two of its own, John W. Taylor and Matthias Cowley, as evidence of their willingness to obey the law. This, I believe, is the beginning of the respect and admiration the Church has grown to have in the 21st century.

Quite ironically, we are almost the exact opposite of what we were 100 years ago. Then we were fighting against a constitutional amendment defining marriage, now we support such an amendment. Then we were arguing for a broader approach to marriage, now we are perhaps the most representative group of the nuclear family. Then, we were separate, despised, and looked upon as a threat. Today, we are respected, and are seen as an important ally to those wanting to preserve the status quo. Then, we were hardly patriotic; we reviled the government and looked upon their treatment of us as injustice of the worst kind. Today, we are counted among the most patriotic; our Boy Scout troops proudly place flags on the lawns of Church members every holiday. We stand as one of the very few Churches to support war in Iraq, even as most others spoke out against it. I would argue the change began with the death of post-Manifesto polygamy.

Second, post-Manifesto polygamy single-handedly contributed to the many fundamentalist schisms that exist today and that still force the Church to confront its polygamous heritage. Polygamy after 1890 was practiced among knowing winks and nods, among double-speak and an environment where one thing was said to outsiders, another to insiders, and still another to those in leadership positions. Because of this environment, fundamentalists today still argue that the Church never intended to abandon polygamy, but that some leaders were simply not strong enough to resist the pressures of the world. The legacy of post-Manifesto polygamy gives them tremendous ammunition in their fight to convince us of the legitimacy of their claims.

These fundamentalists continue to be a thorn in the Church’s side to this day, causing embarrassment and reminding the world that Latter-day Saints practiced polygamy. They’ve forced us into a very uncomfortable position – one in which we have to say polygamy was inspired (otherwise there are some very unpleasant implications for Joseph Smith), yet we also have to confess our own lack of desire to practice it, and we are ambiguous about its future in the Church.

Third, although the practice of saying one thing to outsiders and another to insiders had been practiced in the Church before, it reached its height during the years following the Manifesto. Today, the Church continues to exhibit such a practice. President Hinckley has gone on national television and conducted interviews with high profile magazines, announcing to the world that the Latter-day Saints don’t believe in some of the doctrines that make us most unique. Then he returns and while speaking in General Conference, with a smile and while getting a big laugh, announces that he knows the doctrine of the Church just as well as anybody. From my perspective the message was clear: We’re going to tell them certain things to move the work of the Lord forward, but don’t you all worry about it.

Finally, I believe post-Manifesto polygamy has helped contribute to an environment of shared secrecy and of circling the wagons. Many, many Church members descend from such marriages. Yet they normally keep it quiet. For a Church that prides itself on ancestry and our rich past, those whose grandparents and great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents were part of post-Manifesto unions are normally silent. We keep our secrets in the Mormon Church – we don’t let the skeleton out of the closet. Post-Manifesto polygamy, ironically, is one of those great secrets.


A Question for Jeremy or D. Fletcher, or anyone 

by Kristine
Last night I played in a really fun concert--the Cambridge Institute Choir put together a pickup orchestra, borrowed itself a space with no rugs on the floor or burlap on the walls and a REAL organ and put on a concert of Mack Wilberg's hymn arrangements. The choir was very good, as were most of the musicians (there was that one 2nd violin who sounded like she hadn't really practiced since her first child was born 7 years ago :)). Anyway, it occurred to me that orchestral settings of hymns as a concert is a very strange sort of musical escapade, and possibly unique to Mormons. There are plenty of hymn tunes that show up in symphonies, lots of hymn anthems written for organ, choir, and some smallish group of instrumentalists and performed as part of a church service, and of course there are masses one would hardly hear in church (Verdi's Requiem, say). But I can't think of any setting other than BYU concert halls or the Tabernacle (Music & the Spoken Word) where one would hear hymns with full orchestra as a concert program.

Or am I entirely ignorant of a whole genre somewhere? (Isn't blogging great? One can actually *broadcast* one's ignorance to thousands of people...)

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Reformed Mormonism 

by Dave
Not a term you hear too often. The idea of "reform" of the Church is utterly alien to the orthodox LDS perspective, as if a "restored" church couldn't possibly ever be in need of reform. I just finished The Catholic Church: A Short History (Modern Library, 2001), by Hans Kung, the noted Catholic theologian. I'm surprised at the extent to which "reform" as a theme dominates modern Catholic history: it ignored 16th-century Reformers and lost half of Europe, then adopted some reforms in the Counter-Reformation, then successfully opposed accommodation to modernism in the 19th and half of the 20th century, then finally made some major reforms following the decrees of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

Catholicism has the institutional resources to accomplish reform: a tradition that recognizes Councils as an independent source of authority to the episcopal hierarchy and church bureaucrats (the Curia); and independent Bishops, Archbishops, and Cardinals who are capable (some of them, in their better moments, on some issues) of recognizing when reform is required and pressing for it.

Mormonism lacks these institutional resources: the tradition offers no countervailing source of authority to the GA hierarchy, whether concilar or otherwise, and the none of the local leaders, regional leaders, or GA quorums possess any real independence of outlook or authority from the senior leaders in the hierarchy. Anyone who attempts a serious dialogue attempting to identify doctrines or practices needing (in their opinion) reform is quickly marginalized and possibly expelled. So the Church is effectively insulated from any threat of reform. You may see that as a potential problem, a non-issue, or a blessing.

I won't make a list of potential reforms--that's not the point. Maybe the point relates to Nate's fine post about a centralized institutional structure, this being a consequence of such a structure. Or maybe it's a more general question of whether the Church is truly immune to earthly flaws and thus beyond any possible need of reform? If not, where institutionally does recognition of and motivation for reforming change come from?

Oh, The Fabulous Irony 

by Karen
Have you all been following this story in the SL Trib?


Apparently Warren Jeffs, prophet of the FLDS church has purchased a large ranch in West Texas, hoping to create an isolated compound for him and his closest followers. It's scaring the stuffing out of the local Texas residents, a situation not helped by the fact that the FLDS buyer lied about the purpose of the purchase to the previous owner. Now the FLDS hierarchy is trying to do damage control with the local residents and authorities.

And here is the titular fabulous irony: According to the caption in the picture accompanying the article, apparently the Steed family is among the upper echelons of FLDS culture. Now, although I'm sure you're all too sophisticated to be familiar with a certain blockbuster Mormon fiction publication--perhaps the name "Work and the Glory" rings a bell? For the uninitiated, the series follows the fictional, and amazingly righteous yet syrupy, Steed family through the restoration to the trek West in 1847. The story ends there.

Or does it? Perhaps the intrepid author needs to write a follow up, a sequel detailing the fall of the Steeds and their affiliation with apostate polygamous groups. Here, I'll get him started. "Able to weather the scandal of the fall of the Kirtland Safety Society, but unable to accept the manifesto....."

Articles of Faith: Commandments or Admonitions? 

by Unknown
My mother lectured me on the phone recently. It might've been cute in a nostalgic way if it hadn't annoyed me so much. What prompted this trip down childhood lane? I told her that I have no intention of ever paying my parking tickets. I now owe the city more than my car is worth. I'm basically waiting for the city to tow it so I don't have to move it for alternate side street parking anymore. My mother found this appalling. She told me I was raised in a law-abiding household and she didn't understand how I could just not pay my tickets. When I said that I live a very different life from hers she said, "Yes, but we both have the same beliefs, beliefs that include obeying the law. At least I hope we do." Yes, mother.

I have no qualms about not paying stupid parking tickets that I got because my car is dead and the street-sweeper comes too early in the morning for me to get up and beg for a jump-start. I've also had some bogus tickets, including one for "missing or impaired equipment." Someone ripped off my side-view mirror and I got a ticket for it. How is it a traffic violation to have a _parked_ car with a missing mirror?

I found it supremely annoying to have my mother question my religious conviction because I am not going to pay for my parking tickets. Where in the scriptures does it say I have to obey every stupid nit-picking law? OK, The Articles of Faith are in the Pearl of Great Price. But they are not presented as commandments. Joseph Smith wrote them as PR for people interested in our religion. Does the fact that they are in the Pearl of GP make them commandments? They sound more like admonitions, in the same way that article 13 says we believe in following the admonitions of Paul. Am I going to be judged for not following every law of the land? Do I need to repent for not moving my car every Tuesday and Friday between 9:30-11 am?

Are we commanded to obey the law of the land? Did I miss that somewhere?

Jennifer J.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Oh, Utah! How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways. 

by Aaron B
My wife and I are about to celebrate our 5th Wedding Anniversary. We wanted to go out of town to celebrate, but we've been invited to a wedding in Salt Lake City the weekend before the big day. Thus, we've decided to attend the wedding and celebrate our anniversary during the same weekend, effectively killing two birds with one stone. But what this means is we'll be celebrating our anniversary .... in Utah! Ugh! We don't really have any immediate family there, so it isn't an obvious destination for us. We haven't been back in years (O.K., we drove through once two years ago). We pride ourselves on not ever setting foot in that "cultural wasteland." Our sense of identity and self-worth is largely a product of our being able to make snide remarks about that place. How will we answer the question "What did you do for your 5-year Anniversary?" without hanging our heads in shame?

I jest, of course, but not completely. The truth is, my wife and I have been making jokes about this all week, and this has got me wondering: Why do I hate Utah so much? Or perhaps an even better question: Do I really hate Utah at all, or is it just something I've become so used to saying that I don't even think about it anymore? Is my Utah-bashing just a knee-jerk habit formed during my BYU sojourn all those years ago? Is it the product of any legitimate gripes, or is it just a tired, trendy "issue" that I have? (Remember in highschool when the only thing "trendier" than listening to Top 40 music was ... NOT listening to Top 40 music? Same kind of thing, perhaps?) Let's brainstorm together, folks:

1. Utah is very beautiful in parts, at least outdoors. I do have fond memories of camping at Arches and other assorted places. Nothing to hate about that.

2. Back when I pretended I could snow-ski, I couldn't get enough of Alta and Sundance. Fond memories for sure. I don't ski anymore, and while that's partially because I was never any good, it surely has something to do with the relative let-down that Snow Summit or even Mammoth would be. You gotta love Utah for its snow sports.

3. On the other hand, the urban landscape in virtually all of Utah is a boil on the face of God's green earth. Flying into Salt Lake City, I used to think "this is what Mel Gibson's "Road Warrior" world would have looked like from the air, if it were a bit more populated." O.K., some of the temples are nice architectural specimens, but let's not pretend they make up for the rest of the urban blight.

4. Despite all my bitching and moaning about various aspects of BYU, it's not like I had a bad time of it there in general. Day to day, I actually enjoyed myself most of the time. Do I just like to dwell on the negative?

5. The "people." Ahh, now maybe I'm on to something. Are they really just a bunch of close-minded, insulated, naive simpletons who pronounce "wards" funny and who need to get out of town more often? Does every other Mormon housewife really look and act like an extra from "The Stepford Wives"? Or is this a problem everywhere in the American Church, and it just seems worse in Utah because of the heavier concentration of Mormons there? (Or is the real problem that I'm just a pompous, pretentious, self-righteous pseudo-intellectual with a faux-culturally snobby affectation?)

6. I am a Southern California Mormon from a wealthy L.A. suburb who was raised in a culture that took for granted our "cultural superiority" to those not living on the coasts. (You know the type). So maybe I'm the close-minded one?

7. In all seriousness, is there something about being a member of a majority religion that makes one insensitive, ignorant or just plain "weird" when it comes to one's religious views and interactions with outsiders?

A few days ago, I spoke with a cousin's husband in Provo and let him know that we'd be passing through. I casually made reference to the horror of spending my anniversary there, and then promptly realized that I was talking to a Utah native and resident. He graciously acknowledged that "Utah is for some people and not for others," and I fumbled a "clarification" of my views so as to pull my foot out of my mouth (I don't think it worked). Perhaps I just need some free therapy from all you readers to help me get over my bigotry and appreciate Utah in all its splendor.

Aaron B


Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Efficient Blogging 

by Dave
Our Fearless Leader recently encouraged The Twelve Bloggers of Bcc to step up and blog a bit more. So I'll pitch in by sharing my patented "3 Paragraph System" for pasting together a friendly blog post in ten minutes or less. Para. 1: "There's a short article over at Site X talking about this interesting new idea blah blah blah." Para. 2: "Which makes me think of this clever idea, blah blah blah." Para. 3: "So there you have it: Might work, might not. What do you think?" Let's give it a whirl on the story of the week.

[1] There's a nice group of articles over at the LDS.org Newsroom on the new Manhattan temple, with some nice photos too. Early stories I read made it sound like several floors of an existing building would be refurbished and dedicated as a temple; this story and photos make it clear that the new temple is a free-standing six-story building. It even has an address: 125 Columbus Avenue, New York, NY, 10023. I suppose they all have addresses, but New York is the only place you would actually need an address to find it.

[2] Now that the Church is broadening the idea of "sacred space," new possibilities beckon. How about a floating temple? Remodel a cruise ship (and paint it white) to bring a temple to all those island-bound Saints in the Pacific. And senior citizens could book temple cruises--an AM session, shuffleboard, body massage, PM session, then dinner with the captain. Make the tickets affordable and this might be the most popular temple in the Church! And, come to think of it, those Disney cruise ships are chronically underbooked. It doesn't take Mitt Romney to see the possibilities here.

[3] So there you are: From landmark temples to mini-temples to urban temples to . . . mobile temples? Or maybe you have a better idea for the next cycle of temple innovation.

A Visit to Mountain Meadows 

by Dave
Last month, I took the family on a mountain biking trip to Southern Utah, and took in a few Church History sites along the way (chatty first installments in this series here and here). To round out the Church History tour, on Friday afternoon DW and I pointed the SUV northwest and drove the thirty miles to the Mountain Meadows site. About five miles out of St. George a really nasty hailstorm slammed into us (a sign or just a hailstorm?) and we got off the road for two minutes, but it blew through and we continued on.

At Mountain Meadows, there are two small sites commemorating the awful events of September 1857. For details, go here or read this short review article by writer Sally Denton. I'm only going to describe what I saw on my visit. At the crest of a small hill overlooking a broad, sparse valley is a small site established by the State of Utah, with explanatory tableaus, some viewing tubes that identify locations in the valley below, and a twenty-foot long granite wall that bears the names of roughly 120 men, women, and children who perished there. It's disturbing to note the number of children, listed by family, name, and age (although the youngest were spared and evenutally repatriated to relatives in the East). The following statement is etched in the granite wall: "In the valley below, between September 7 and 11, 1857, a company of more than 120 Arkansas emigrants led by Capt. John T. Baker and Capt. Alexander Fancher was attacked while en route to California."

About a mile below, in the valley but not too far from the foot of the hill, is a rebuilt rock cairn gravesite surrounded by a cement walkway with explanatory plaques. This is the site owned by the Church; it was refurbished and rededicated in 1999. Several plaques give general information. One reads in part (photo here): "Complex animosities and political issues intertwined with religious beliefs motivated the Mormons, but the exact causes and circumstances fostering the sad events that ensued over the next five days at Mountain Meadows still defy any clear or simple explanation." As corporate apologies go, that's about as good as you get.

I'll keep my usual editorializing to a minimum, and just note that a visitor is likely to find a 30-minute self-tour of the two sites to be rather sombre and reflective. I think it's worth the effort to make the drive on your next trek through St. George.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Consecrating Your Eyeballs 

by Grimshizzle
Gordon's recent thread at Times and Seasons on corporate social responsibility and institutional philanthropy got me thinking about a charity for which I feel a strange combination of enthusiasm and suspicion: the Hunger Site. In case you've not familiar with the site, here's how it works. Arriving at the main page, you click on a button that says "Give Free Food. Click Here." Once you click through, another screen appears featuring ads for a number of sponsors. By simply allowing yourself to be exposed to a screen full of advertisements, you donate the equivalent of 1.1 cups of staple food for hunger relief (through Mercy Corps and America's Second Harvest).

On the one hand, something seems wrong with this--or at least, this seems on the initial gut-reaction level to manifest something wrong with society. I mean, if the sheer abstract possibility that I might buy something can be exchanged for the equivalent of one meal for a starving person, the world is an obscenely inequitable place. (Incidentally, though I have probably visited the site nearly 1000 times, I have only clicked through to a sponsor's site perhaps on a dozen occasions, and I've never made a purchase.) Also, it's apparently a for-profit site; so, it's my eyeballs for three seconds minus overhead and profit margin that equals 1.1 cups of food.

On the other hand, this past Saturday visitors to the Hunger Site and its sister sites, the Breast Cancer Site, the Child Health Site, the Rainforest Site, and the Animal Rescue Site, respectively, supplied 85,779 cups of staple food for the hungry; funded 2.3 mammograms for underprivileged women; helped 834.3 children (720.8 doses of vitamin A for disease prevention, 103.4 infant emergency oral rehydration kits, 9.2 maternal AIDS tests, 0.8 eye surgeries or prostheses); protected 547,040 square feet of endangered rainforest; and bought food for 52,194 animals in shelters--all at no cost to any of the visitors to their site.

It seems odd to be leveraging my status as a glassy-eyed, internet surfin', DSL-usin', credit-card-havin' consumer to help the needy. And it certainly doesn't give me the kind of satisfaction that would make me less inclined than I otherwise would be to take advantage of any subsequent opportunity to perform an act of charity-- one requiring some discernible effort or sacrifice on my part. But at the same time I can't figure out how the results above could be construed as anything other than praiseworthy and of good report. So, I continue clicking daily.


Knocking Doors in the Afterlife 

by NA
I've been thinking about this passage from D&C 137: "All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God."

This scripture is a hallmark of what mormonism offers to the world: a reasonable Deity, who affords to all the chance to listen and choose the Gospel. It sets us apart from religions that cannot offer anything to those who die without a knowledge of God, or who damn those who could not receive God's sacraments. It's also a challenge to members, I think, in that it suggests an afterlife of teaching and proselytizing that is very unconventional. But the scripture leaves me with a couple of questions, which maybe you can help me answer:

1. What constitutes "a knowledge of this gospel"? It seems to refer to some common-sense notion of a turn at bat, but it's fairly ambiguous. If I knocked on someone's door in France, and they slammed it in my face, did they reject the gospel? Alternatively, if someone has received the missionary discussions but dies uncertain in their convictions, have their had their chance? At what point do we have the knowledge requisite to damn or save us?

2. What's the purpose of this life's "probationary period" if we can get multiple bites at the gospel apple? Doesn't this idea of the unrighteous dead getting saved devalue the efforts of the people who have had to endure to the end?

I realize we know very little about what happens when we die, and this is largely speculative stuff. But I'd appreciate your insights.


Thursday, April 29, 2004

I know we already hit on polygamy, BUT 

by Christina
When I was in law school, I took a course on the history of women in the law (what history, you might ask!), and I got very interested in divorce in the church ranks during the height of polygamy 1860's - 1880's. It turns out that divorce was not only pretty high in Utah during this time, in fact, Utah became the Las Vegas of its time because of the ease with which one could obtain a divorce. Interestingly, divorce was not exactly frowned upon as a solution to unhappiness in those days in the church.

I propose that one reason for this acceptance of divorce stems from our earliest church history. As you may all recall, part of Joseph Smith's introduction of the conception of celestial marriage was that members of the church who were unhappily living in existing marriages at that time could consider themselves "unbound" from each other because marriages sanctioned only by earthly authorities were null in the eyes of God.

I don't recall how much divorce took place in those first years when only JS and a few others were practicing polygamy, but I do know that the figures rose astronomically as more and more members of the church took part in polygamous marriages. And I think part of the reason for this rise is fundamental to the way that at least Joseph Smith seemed to have taught (viewed?) marriage that was peformed outside the covenant.

I'm not going to get into the progression from polygamy to monogamy, I think we are all familiar with it, but I think the divorce phenomenon highlights yet another way in which our church views on marriage and the primacy of it to the practice of our religion, have changed over time.

Is there a way to reconcile these things besides invoking the idea that revelation is only fitting for each epoch (divorce and polygamy good for Eliza R. Snow and her counterparts but not for us)? And then it just all begs that other question of why marriage itself is so darn important to our current theology.

Laundry, Lizards, and the Sisters of Lazarus 

by Kristine
It's finally spring in Massachusetts--time to start checking my children's pockets for pebbles, moss, shells, worms, and lizards before doing the laundry. (If you've never found a lizard in your dryer, well...just remember to add that to your list of blessings next time you're counting!). This, of course, has me thinking about the story of Mary and Martha.

My husband, you see, does not check pockets. He also does not pre-treat stains, use different temperature water for different kinds of loads, remember not to put wool sweaters in the dryer, etc. He also does not carry in his head a list of which child needs which new clothes, what clothes need to be sent off to cousins; he often can't distinguish which clothes belong to which child. In other words, though he is willing to throw in a load now and then (pretty often, actually), he is not "careful and troubled" about the laundry, or much of anything else in the household. Even my friends who have less traditional, more egalitarian divisions of labor in their households often lament that they carry the "psychic burden" of homekeeping and childrearing.

Part of what I love about the story of Jesus with Mary and Martha is that it neatly subverts the traditional gendered lines of these roles. And, of course, I've always loved that Mary is praised for sitting and listening, conversing, THINKING about the gospel. But now that I am a mother, and a provider of meals, clean clothes, repaired toilets, etc. for a household, I am more troubled than I used to be by Christ's gentle rebuke of Martha. After all, he was planning to eat the meal she cooked, wasn't he? (We can, of course, soften the story by imagining that Martha was doing something more elaborate than necessary, but that is ultimately unsatisfying to me: even making a simple meal requires a good deal of care and labor--this would have been even more true in a time and place that lacked running water and food processors!)

It seems to me that "choosing that good part" almost inevitably requires having someone else to do the less good part--the Relief Society makes dinner for the leadership meeting, mom and a daughter or son are stuck in the kitchen Thanksgiving morning while everyone else plays football. Or, on a larger scale, I am freed to do academic work while someone else is paid minimum wage to care for my children and my household (this, btw, is a big chunk of the reason I'm NOT doing academic work right now). It's the dilemma that animates _Howard's End_ and floats around the edges of Forster's work (and others'): leisure for a contemplative life is often purchased at the cost of someone else's freedom to indulge in such pursuits.

So what is the lesson (if there is one) for us in the story of Lazarus' sisters? Is there more to the story? I confess that I have a recurring fantasy of someone finding a scroll in which Jesus says, "Come on, Mary, let's go chop vegetables while we talk..." But the scriptures deny that easy ending, and leave us with the questions.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

True Confessions 

by Karen
I have a confession to make. I voted for Bill Clinton. Twice. Actually, to be accurate I supported and voted for Paul Tsongas in the primary in 1992, but when he was defeated, I stepped onto the Clinton bandwagon and helped to defeat George Bush. (Again, let's be accurate, I was voting in Utah, and so my actual vote was translated into Republican electoral votes, so I did not technically help to defeat George Bush, but, my friends, it was a psychic victory, so I claim a part in it.) This is somewhat of a sore point for my conservative family. My dad growls that I'm cancelling his votes, my mom tries not to think about it too much. My extended family thinks I'm a little bit crazy...probably because I've been single for just too darn long.

But I digress, here's the point. Let me tell you what happened on election night 1992. I was sitting in the basement of T-Hall in Deseret Towers--BYU freshman dorms--full of zeal and excitement at the democratic process leading to a Democratic victory. Incidentally, I was the only one in the room that was feeling particularly excited. Doomsday predictions were coming at me from every corner, and being younger and more salty, I was 'fessing up to my political beliefs and answering with support for the Democratic platform. I'd like to think I was being polite and calm, but frankly I can't remember. I went back up to my dorm room when the election had been called, and found a picture of steaming dog crap on my door.

That pretty much sums up my impression of being a Democrat at BYU. Taking a lot of crap. What is it about politics that makes people resort to "discourse" that they would never otherwise engage in? What is it about being a part of an overwhelming political majority that makes it seem okay to rudely invalidate someone else's minority-political opinion? (And I know this happens the other way around on other campuses. Some of my conservative friends really took a lot of hypocritical abuse from liberals on the Harvard Law School campus. That intolerance angers me just as much as my treatment at BYU.) Why, when we are celebrating the learning potential that free speech fosters, do we feel that silencing others is an appropriate response? Finally, someone please tell me that things are changing at BYU....

Now if only they'd correct our false notions about socks with sandals... 

by NA
Been to lds.org lately? The newsroom has added a highly amusing section, called "Mistakes in the News", where the Church p.r. department provides rebuttals and corrections to news articles it considers erroneous. Some hot-button issues in there -- MMM, Utah Theocracy, DNA evidence of the Book of Mormon... makes for a fun read! The level of aggressiveness in some of the replies is surprising to those who associate the public persona of the Church with a demure and passive quality. Check out this reply to an article in that anchor of newsmaking, The Scotsman: "Another religious leader was charged with sedition and blasphemy and portrayed as a drunkard and troublemaker. His name was Jesus Christ. These assertions were no better founded than your accusations against Joseph Smith." Wowza.

Incidentally, does anybody know what the threshold popularity level is for generating this kind of response? I doubt they'd put up anything to correct the occasional heresy in the Bloggernacle.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Not just your garden-variety anti anymore (or, "A Conspirator Speaks") 

by Kaimi
I was just on CNN and the sidebar (the place that carries ads) was showing an ad for a book called "The Mormon Conspiracy." I'm always eager to learn what I've been conspiring about lately. So, I surfed over to the website, mormonconspiracy.com . And I have to say-- wow, where do these people come from?

Apparently, the church is part of a conspiracy to take over and "Mormonize" the United States. (So that's why we've been training with rocket-propelled grenades during Sunday School lately). Some of the scary bullet points on the web page:

"Over sixty thousand fully-trained, adequately financed and prepared Mormon missionaries are serving in all parts of the United States and in over 124 countries around the world." [Hah! This guy has clearly never met any actual misisonaries. I'm trying to think of anyone on my mission who I would call "fully-trained and prepared" . . . hmm, drawing a blank. Of course, it sounds lot less frightening to say, "They send out a legion of frightened nineteen-year-olds who have seven weeks of Spanish training and a vague idea that they're supposed to 'build relationships of trust.'"]

"Just as the United States Army has its military academy, and the United States Air Force has the Air Force academy, the Mormon Church has Brigham Young University for training its future leaders." [Dang it, I guess I'm excluded from being a future leader. I wonder if the future leaders include students who had beards or did the funky chicken.]

"There are at least 100,000 leadership positions for Mormon priesthood holders to assume, including bishops, stake presidents, mission, district and branch presidents and the General Authorities." [Yep, we've got Deacon's Quorum President -- "You guys want to go out for donuts after Sunday School?" -- Teacher's Quorum President -- "So, let's discuss who the cutest Mia Maids are" -- Priests Quorum President -- "I just got my license, guys, let's go spin out in the parking lot." Also, there's the Elders Quorum Presidency, which largely consists of entering zeros on home teaching reports.]

"Spirits waiting to enter mortal existence was another one of Joseph Smith’s creations arising from his remarkable imagination. The idea, no doubt, had the ulterior motive of increasing membership in his church by encouraging members to have large families." [No doubt. We suckered Wordsworth into it too -- all that "trailing clouds of glory" stuff. But I can't believe he forgot to mention the worst, most despicable indoctrination of all in this area -- Saturday's Warrior!].

Anyway, the list goes on, and on, and on. It makes for somewhat interesting reading, if you're willing to apply your own Mystery Science filter and have some fun. And hey, being accused of conspiracy puts us in good company -- Jews have been accused of such stuff for millenia.

Secular Arguments on Polygamy 

by Dave
Two recent weblog articles discuss polygamy from a purely secular scientific and legal perspective. First, Polygamy, the Naturalistic Fallacy, and Gay Marriage at jonrowe argues that even a cursory review of human cultures shows that polygamy is quite natural, but to argue that it is thereby established as good is an example of the naturalistic fallacy. He sees monogamy as socially preferable for reasons detailed in the post. He is interested, I think, in distinguishing secular arguments supporting polygamy from other secular arguments supporting gay marriage.

In response, Sex and Nature at Freespace argues that one shouldn't dismiss an argument from nature as a "naturalistic fallacy" without properly understanding what the term "nature" refers to in ethical discussions about human behavior. Given the roughly equal proportion of males and females in human populations, he sees "patriarchal polygamy" as an unlikely outcome if women are given a fair say in choosing forms of marriage, and everyone having a fair choice rather than being subject to coercion by the state or social institutions is his concept of "human nature." Briefly, he thinks most women would choose one husband over, say, 1/10th of a husband, so if women are unconstrained polygamy will not persist.

Since neither of those two weblogs offers comments, this seems like a nice forum for discussing the ideas they raised in these posts. And polygamy does come up here from time to time, doesn't it?

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Ecumenicalism run amok? 

by Aaron B
The Vatican is upset. Apparently, large numbers of American Catholic congregations are allowing unordained lay people to participate in Mass in semi-official capacities. Thus, too many non-priests and non-deacons are delivering sermons and preaching the gospel, when these important tasks should be left to the proper authorities. You can read about it here. This whole episode has me wondering ... What would Pope John Paul think of my good friend Father Hans?

Father Hans is a "Catholic" priest whose congregation meets in Hollywood. I use the scare-quotes because Hans is an adherent of "Old Catholicism," a schismatic movement that broke with the Roman church in 17th Century Holland. The Old Catholics retain the traditional, elaborate Latin liturgy, with all its bells and whistles, but seem more evangelically Protestant than Roman Catholic in theology. To cite its own sources, Old Catholicism values "collegial episcopacy, flexibility, moderate discipline, placing more responsibility on the individual to elicit a mature and free response from the individual," rather than Roman Catholicism's "exaggerated papacy, monarchical pyramid structure, with a burgeoning bureaucracy, legalistic mentality resulting in a multiplication of canon laws." Hans rejects "Mary-olatry," papal infallibility and Saint worship. He really likes Jesus, baptism by immersion and personal scripture study.

What makes Hans REALLY interesting, however, is his love for Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and Gordon B. Hinkley. (He's less fond of some of Brigham Young's teachings, the Book of Abraham and King Follet -- you understand). He's been studying Mormonism for years, and he's a better missionary for the Restoration than me or you. He hands out Books of Mormon at his work (yes, he has a job outstide of Church). He refers religious seekers to the Mormon missionaries rather than inviting them to his own services. When I introduced him to Blomberg and Robinson's _How Wide the Divide_, he practically had a heart attack he loved it so much. Hans is a "Dry Mormon" par excellence. The fact that he ministers to his own congregation every Sunday, AFTER attending "his" own LDS ward, makes him all the more fascinating.

About a year ago, Father Hans approached me with an unusual request. Convinced that LDS missionaries are "angels," and that they obviously love and follow Christ more than anyone in his congregation could ever hope to, Hans wanted to organize a Catholic-Mormon "hybrid" Mass. He proposed that my four full-time missionaries and I (the Ward Mission Leader) play an active role in his services. He would conduct as usual, waving the incense, reciting the liturgy and preaching a short sermon (complete with occasional Book of Mormon or D&C quotations - without attribution). We would stand on the stage with him as representatives of Christ, read excerpts from the Bible at key junctures and offer the closing prayer. I talked this idea over with my Bishop, and he agreed it would be an interesting idea. We have now held three of these ecumenical worship services. The Los Angeles Mission President was invited to the last one. He came, gave the sermon in place of Father Hans, and seemed to enjoy the afternoon enormously.

Needless to say, these were very unusual experiences. They were both spiritual and awkward, simultaneously moving but bizarre. A thousand questions were occurring to me that I would never otherwise have occasion to think about. Do we recite the ritual language, along with everyone else? Or do we stay silent? Or do we merely omit the theologically-incorrect phrases? Do we lightly bow to the Crucifix as we approach our seats, just as Father Hans just did? How do we refuse the chalice of sacramental wine when it is offered to us? (One naive elder almost took a swig, until I stopped him). What will the parishoners think if we do? Or if we don't? What do they make of Mormon missionaries co-officiating in their services to begin with?

But there are even deeper questions to ponder. Is it appropriate for priesthood holders of God's "true church" to be co-officiating in a Catholic Mass, complete with sacrament service? Even though we didn't bless or pass the sacrament, we appeared to be endorsing an "apostate" ordinance. Were we using our priesthood inappropriately to jointly preside over the service? (Hans was adamant that we were "conducting" with him). Or were we, by definition, not really exercising our "priesthood" at all (which is how we saw things)? Then again, if we were introduced as representatives of Christ by Hans to his followers, does it even make conceptual sense to divorce our "priesthood" role from our "representative of Christ" role? I actually discussed some of these questions at length with Hans prior to the first Mass. He insisted that he saw us as his equals in our capacities to represent the Lord. I told him that we could not reciprocate the compliment, given our views on priesthood authority. He understood, and said he didn't care.

So what does everyone make of all this? Maybe it's time for President Hinkley to issue an encyclical and help me out.

Aaron B

Saturday, April 24, 2004

When families aren't forever 

by Unknown
Steve has asked me to guest blog for a bit. I think I'm supposed to be the voice of young single women in the church. I don't think I can speak for all of them, but I have a voice. By way of introduction, my name is Jennifer, I don't do anything special like run a magazine. I'm just trying to finish my graduate degree and I work in the primary presidency of my branch.

For my first post, I'd like to discuss the way we teach our children about families. There is an absence of material in the primary manuals for the many children who come from broken homes. This silence translates into insensitivity. My family had a lot of problems when I was growing up. My parents lived at opposite ends of the house and there was constant contention. I hated the primary song, "Families Can be Together Forever". Some Sundays it made me cry. I didn't want my family to be forever, not the way we were. I probably knew instinctually that our family would break up before we all died.

Almost twenty years have passed since my tenure in primary. I've worked in the primary of every ward I've attended for the past eight years. The lessons about families have not changed. The songs have not changed. At least now we have pictures of children and families that aren't white americans, finally. This year the primary theme is on eternal families. I looked for something in the materials that addresses our children who don't have two parents, or who live with extended family. There is nothing.

How does it feel to be a child who hears how wonderful heaven is because we'll have our families, but she has never met her father? Or, what must it be like for the child whose parents aren't members so they don't have a temple marriage? We teach them that they don't have an eternal family. They lose their families when they die. How many children have divorced parents? What about the children with one excommunicated parent? What do we teach them about their families? Nothing. Not one word. My parents finally divorced and I still don't know where that leaves me in terms of my eternal family. They broke their temple seal, so does that mean I'm not sealed to either of them? And what about my grandparents? Am I sealed to them? I can't answer their questions about non-traditional families because I don't know the answers. It shouldn't be this hard.

When it's my turn to do sharing time I try to be sensitive to the feelings of those from non-traditional-nuclear homes. But, I wish I had some help from the primary leaders in Salt Lake. I still find it hard to teach these "happy-happy-joy-joy" eternal family lessons. When will the church education catch up to the reality of what 'family' means to more and more children the whole world over?

I'm not sure what that would entail. At least we should have answers to questions about non-eternal families and what qualifies as such. I'm not suggesting the church stop teaching family principles. I just wish we could recognize that some lessons are insensitive. We should include something for the other children, those without eternal families. I still remember how sad those family lessons made me feel. I don't want to do the same thing to another child.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

A Christian View of Gender Formation 

by Dave
A recent Albert Mohler editorial gives a straightforward summary of the conservative Christian view of gender formation. He aims to "tell the truth about what God has revealed concerning human sexuality, gender, and marriage," which any LDS commentator would follow with a quote from the Proclamation. Instead, Mohler derives his equally conservative view from God's intention as expressed in Creation. He cites Genesis 1:27 ("male and female created he them") showing that God's "intention was clearly to create and establish two distinct but complementary genders or sexes." Heterosexuality is part of the created scheme, he continues, so homosexuality is a transgression against God's will (expressed in Creation).

By contrast, the LDS view is that "[g]ender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose." So our earthly gender is "natural" in the sense that it existed before our spirits were incarnated sometime between conception and birth. God's will is expressed in the matter only insofar as He matches spirits to bodies. The "matching spirits to bodies" process is problematic whether God makes the assignment or not, as was noted here recently. The Christian view avoids the problem by avoiding Preexistence; spirits are created somewhere between conception and birth.

Of course, the Christian view raises a different problem: if God does the creating, He seems to bear some responsibility for the plight of those who are physically or mentally disabled (also discussed here recently). And a liberal Christian might argue that if He created genders, He also created the psychological makeup that sometimes develops into homosexual attraction so it isn't necessarily against God's will. So the Christian view, rooted in creation, encounters difficult questions as quickly as the LDS view rooted in the gendered preexistence of spirits. But isn't it interesting to see conservative Christians, starting from an entirely different theological view of spirits and Creation, nevertheless end up with the same doctrinal view of homosexuality?

By What Name Ye Shall Be Called 

by NA
When I married Sumer Thurston, she shifted her last name to her empty middle name slot, and took my last name as her last name. Or so I (and the Social Security Administration) thought. A couple of years after we were married, she put "Sumer Thurston Evans" on her business cards; soon she started answering the phone at work, "Sumer Thurston Evans speaking." Finally, about a year ago, she made one little typographical shift: "Sumer Thurston-Evans." I can only imagine what the future of Sumer's nomenclature may be, but it doesn't look good for the Evanses.

A recent article in Slate encapsulated as a trend what I'd already experienced personally: the ever-changing maiden name. Mormons, being about 20 years behind the times, now keep maiden names and hyphenate last names like the rest of America. Even more interesting, mormon women have discovered the idea of different names for different social contexts: for example, Sumer Evans at Church (for simplicity's sake), Sumer Thurston-Evans at work, and Sumer Thurston at singles bars.

Some in our ward have taken things a step further: the husband takes the wife's name as his new last name. An avant-garde trend, but interesting. Why not take this approach? Let me advance to you a reason, albeit flimsy: think of what this does to genealogists! How can you trace family trees? What family are you then a part of? How important is it to "carry on the family name," and what does that really mean?

To all you enlightened people who see this as a non-issue, where the couple should feel free to take whatever name they choose, let me ask what to do if one spouse has a historically or politically important name -- would that sway you? I think if my last name were Brahe, Schrödinger, or Eyring, maybe Thurston wouldn't figure so strongly. I'm coming off a bit flippant here, and I apologize for the tone. I guess I have never felt (until recently) the pressure that women must feel on this issue. A part of me is just trying to figure out the best road for establishing a family identity, and I'm welcome to all suggestions.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

A Statement from the First Presidency: 

by Aaron B
"August 17, 1949

The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time. The prophets of the Lord have made several statements as to the operation of the principle. President Brigham Young said: "Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the holy priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the holy priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to."

President Wilford Woodruff made the following statement: "The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have."

The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintain their first estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes.

The First Presidency"



One Thing I Like 

by Dave
Hi gang. I'm delighted to accept Steve's invitation to come blog with Bcc's talented crew. I think I'm the only West Coast blogger on board, so for those of you sitting in the Eastern time zone I'll be the late night PJ (post jockey), spinning out Top 40 posts after midnight. When I first started blogging (here's my first post way back in August 2003) it was fun just to publish something Mormonish to the web and the world, but with the emergence of the Mo-Blog I have really enjoyed trading comments and ideas with fellow bloggers. And if I ever said anything too blunt or even a little ugly to any of you in times past, I swear it was my evil twin.

To get started on a pleasant note, I'd like to take up Richard Bushman's recent challenge "to name one concrete, personal thing [I] like about the church." I have noticed that Church members extend full fellowship and friendship to those individuals who are physically or developmentally disabled. In classes, in choirs, in sacrament meetings, if these folks don't quite fit right in, adjustments are made rather seamlessly and no one bats an eye. It's not even a case of "making special arrangements," which can take on a condescending tone sometimes, it's more like just recognizing them as equal members of the group.

By contrast, I was sitting in a Berkeley bookstore one evening a few years ago as one of the 20th century's finer philosophers was starting to share some selections from his latest book with a few dozen assembled fans before a book signing. A young man with Down Syndrome was browsing at an adjoining bookshelf and began calling loudly across the bookstore to an attendant, asking a question three or four times, oblivious to the fact that he was distracting the group. The philosopher, not quite sure how to handle the interruption, directed a couple of comments at the young man. Not mean, but not kind either, kind of "hey, can't you see we're busy here?" I recall feeling troubled, more than just uncomfortable. Not to judge, but I think this was a "kindness and decency" test that the speaker failed on that day (perhaps he did better on other days). Funny, I can't think of ever hearing similar remarks in an LDS setting, even for one who was rather distracting or who missed all the notes or even who missed easy grounders or layups. On this score, at least, Mormon culture hits all the right notes.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Pride Goeth and Thank Goodness for the Fall 

by Karen
I had one of those spiritual epiphanies last night--one of those "I'm so grateful this happened--but I wouldn't wish for it again" moments. See, I'm going through what I like to call "Drama Queen" time--when not just one dramatic hard thing happens, but multiple dramas happen simultaneously...infusing life with rich irony.

Last night I started really examining my life, and looking at it I realize that I've sort of forcibly been stripped of pride. Without going into details, in addition to currently experiencing some professional "upheavals," last night I was able to put some closure onto a personal "upheaval." Earlier, I had been joking to some friends that I feel a sort of reckless abandon and unusual feistiness these days--I don't care what people think of me, because I'm the gal with no pride. But sitting alone in the car, I realized that was true in a way. None of my feelings of worth are being superimposed on me by the world right now. But somehow, there is this quiet peace underlying my feistiness. I think I caught a glimpse of gospel Truth. Absent the selfish clamoring, absent praise from the world, absent the trappings that denote success, our spirits are eternal, the price of our sins has been paid, and we are loved.

For perhaps the first time I understood the potential damaging power of pride. It clouds our vision, preventing an eternal perspective. It interferes with our relationship with God, because it prevents us from understanding the magnitude of the gift of life, and the gift of potential eternal life. We can overlook the importance of the people in our lives, and of the gospel in our lives, if we are focused on the achievements in our lives.

I've read the Book of Mormon enough to know that I will probably experience this cycle again--and it's a lesson that I'll need to be reminded of my entire life. However, glimpsing some Truth and remembering that peace comes from God is the blessing I need right now--and I'm incredibly grateful for it.

Why You Should Live the Scout Motto 

by Mathew
Our ward meets in the building on 65th and Broadway that will soon have a temple on the top two floors. The rest of the building is also being renovated, the result of which is that, as Steve noted in a recent sacrament talk, we meet in a place that resembles a home depot. Perhaps it is because of our long suffering that this past Sunday Elder Eyring of the Council of the Twelve attended our ward--although he said he was merely in town to give interviews to the Economist and the Wall Street Journal (happy day--I already subscribe to both of them so I won't have to pay newsstand prices to see what he said :). He came to church apparently unannounced--a conclusion that I draw from the fact that I walked to church with two members who expected to be speaking in sacrament. In any case, I didn't know he was going to be there, but as Steve and I walked into opening exercises five minutes late, it was pretty obvious that there was someone new on the stand (we met in the chapel due to work being done in the usual room).

I would have been more excited than worried if I wasn't teaching. My hopes that I would not be leading a lesson in which an apostle would sit in were quickly dashed when the bishop announced that the high priests and the elders would be meeting jointly. Steve quickly, and with apparent glee, informed me that the high priests instructor was absent and I would be the man up front. The lesson topic, as you church attendees may recall, was sustaining those whom God has called to preside.

The rest of the story is largely anti-climactic. The discussion was unusually vigorous and thoughtful--several times I was reminded of the scene in Tom Sawyer when the judge attends Sunday school and everyone in the church is showing off. But that isn't really fair either, because I don't think that people were trying to make points, but were rather just inspired by having an apostle with us. I delivered my lesson as I had planned it--not without, I admit, some trepidation. If Elder Eyring thought I was teaching false doctrine, he was gracious enough not to correct me. In fact he didn't say anything the entire lesson until the quorum president invited him to say a few words at the close of the meeting.

My general impressions of Elder Eyring as an intelligent, humble person were confirmed. The experience was slightly stressful, but entirely delightful and one I will no doubt remember for a long time.

Monday, April 19, 2004

New webpoll! 

by NA
This one goes out to all my iron-rodder homies out there.

Update: I've since heard complaints that my options aren't any good, that the poll doesn't describe reality, etc., etc. All I can say is, if you want a job done right...

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