Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I can’t help but ask these questions

Was it evil of us to have our family home evening this week on the subject of how to properly MST3k overly earnest church videos?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The most important morpheme

One last Xmas thought, and this time a completely serious one: Why do so many people worry so much about keeping the Christ in Christmas? Seems to me that it’s actually more important (and probably more difficult) to keep the mass in Christmas.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Keeping the X in Xmas

When people say we ought to put the Christ back in Christmas, i heartily concur. In fact, i think that that doesn’t go far enough. I say we ought to put the voiceless velar fricative back at the beginning of Chanukah, and the penultimate stress back at the end of Kwanzaa, and the…

No, it’s not original with me. Wish i’d been clever enough that it was, though.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The true meaning of Xmas

And today, of all days, let’s all remember the true meaning of Xmas: birthday cake for Daddy!

This message brought to you by the Committee to Remind Alaska’s Families that David B’s father was born on 24 December.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Wasting an afternoon

Scriptural thought: Lehi states that the Fall was necessary for Adam and Eve to have had children, but he doesn’t state that the Fall had to happen precisely the way it did. Think that one through next time you have an afternoon to waste on pure doctrinal speculation.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The prophets vs. the scriptures

A rather frequent Mormon meme that actually bothers me pretty intensely: The idea that if we had to choose between having the scriptures or having living prophets, we should choose the living prophets ’cause they can simply give us what’s already in the scriptures as well as anything else we need.

This, of course, is the reason that the prophet Lehi felt free to leave the brass plates behind in Jerusalem. Right?

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Law of Socialism…errm, Consecration

A serious note, because i think it’s something we need to be reminded of occasionally: The Law of Consecration≠the United Order. The United Order was a method of living the Law of Consecration, but we can live that law without the benefit of such an order being set up.

(Not that i’m doing it myself, of course, but it’s worth keeping in mind anyway.)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Defining “the minimal piercing of the ears”

So our oldest is about to get her ears pierced,* and it’s brought to mind the statement on tattoos and piercings that Gordon B. Hinckley offered in 2000:

The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve have declared that we discourage tattoos and also “the piercing of the body for other than medical purposes.” We do not, however, take any position “on the minimal piercing of the ears by women for one pair of earrings”—one pair.

I remember this well, because i was teaching at Brigham Young University at the time, and the dress and grooming standards were rapidly changed so that “excessive” ear piercing for women was defined as more than one per ear, rather than more than two per ear.

This leads to an intriguing question. We’ll take it as a given that current church policy allows only one piercing per ear—but i see no requirement for those piercings to be in the earlobe. Our kid’s going to get her ears pierced in her earlobes, but presumably a devout Mormon woman could have piercings through her ear cartilage, as long as she only had one per ear. Right? Let me know if i’m missing something here, ’cause that’s the way it reads to me (and to Jeanne, for what it’s worth).

* This has nothing to do with the fact that it’s nearing Xmas, despite the calendar—we’re actually a few months overdue on when we told her we’d let her get it done.

Monday, December 14, 2009

An extra-special special musical number

This entry comes courtesy of guest contributor Heather the Mama Duk, who writes that this is snarkworthy enough that it’s just begging to be posted here—and she’s right. So, in her words:

Today our special musical number was extra special. It was six women singing and was billed as a “double trio”.

A double trio you say?

But of course. Because the word “sextet” is not appropriate for church no matter that it is what a group of six people singing is called in the musical world.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Family home evening refreshments, part two

Another thought on the over-the-pulpit instruction i’ve received that family home evening doesn’t count as family home evening unless refreshments (specifically, sweets) are served. Jeanne’s reaction to that was to realize that we now have a church-approved definition of family home evening: A caloric bribing of children to sit still that begins and ends with a prayer.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Family home evening refreshments

Some months ago i was instructed, from over the pulpit in sacrament meeting, that family home evening doesn’t count as family home evening unless refreshments (specifically, sweets) are served. I’m glad to know that my church leaders are on the lookout for ways to promote unhealthy associations between wholesome family activities and the holy trinity of fat/​sugar/​jello—that’s the sort of thing that helps me sleep better at night.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The family’s under attack? When?

I’ve been thinking about it, and i’ve realized much of what it is that bothers me about claims that the family is “under attack” (whatever that actually means)—the evidences supporting that claim are nearly always purely anecdotal, and terribly subject to confirmation bias. For example (to present an anecdote i’ve actually heard), i’ve heard evidences such as someone criticizing a family’s size presented as proof that the family is under attack. Really? Has anyone ever told these people that they have a very nice family? Shouldn’t that be taken as evidence that the family is not under attack?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Naming practices

Jeanne and i only had female children, but if we’d had a male child i might have pushed for naming him Thyson (i could make a case that it was a variant of Tison, i suppose) so that everyone could bear testimony in his name along with Jesus’s.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Children and (pictures of) Jesus

I’ve started hearing, as proof of children’s spirituality, the fact that they’re so easily able to identify pictures of Jesus. Um, dude? First of all, we don’t know what Jesus looked like, and so there are a lot of different-looking representations of him around—find one that doesn’t match with what you’ve taught your children to identify, and you might be surprised at how unable children are to identify pictures of Jesus.* Also, take a child growing up in one of the completely non-Xian parts of the world, and i bet that child won’t be able to pass your spirituality test. You’re saying that those kids aren’t as spiritual as the ones who live near you?** How, um, lucky of your kids to live where they do.

* Yes, i realize the sort of person who makes such claims will cite that as proof that those aren’t what Jesus really looks like. I’m not even going to try to argue with that sort of twisted illogic, though.
** I do realize that there are some people who hold such positions. The technical term for such people, of course, is “idiots”.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Feeling Christ’s presence

I keep hearing people in church say that the Book of Mormon is really cool ’cause they feel Christ’s presence so clearly in it, more so than in any other book. It makes me wonder: Am i the only person in the church who finds Christ’s presence most clearly felt in the New Testament, followed by the book of Doctrine and Covenants, followed by the Old Testament, then the Pearl of Great Price, and least of all in the Book of Mormon?

Yeah, probably. Oh well.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Wherein David B claims to have read Obadiah

Serious thought: I read the entire standard works in 2½ weeks of (mostly) 9a–9p days while my missionary companion was sick and effectively bedridden. It’s cool what you notice in, say, the book of Doctrine and Covenants when Obadiah is still in medium-term memory.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Silencing Brigham Young

Every once in a while you get a sacrament meeting address or class discussion where we hear the meme about how it’s the calling of women to be good mothers. Odd how you don’t hear a lot about Brigham Young’s declaration about it being the calling of women to use their talents in whatever way uses those talents best, including in a number of occupations that can only be done outside the home.*

Quite seriously, i wonder why.

* For those of you who might not know it, here’s my favorite Brigham Young quote on the subject:
We think the sisters ought to have the privilege to study various branches of knowledge that they may develop the powers with which they are endowed. Women are useful, not only to sweep houses, wash dishes, make beds, and raise babies, but they may also stand behind the counter, study law and physic, or become good bookkeepers, and all this to enlarge their sphere or usefulness for the benefit of society at large. In following these things they but answer the design of their creation.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

For those of you in the US, a happy Thanksgiving. For those of you outside the US, happy Thanksgiving anyway—just feel free to pretend i posted this on the appropriate day for your locality (4 October in Germany, 12 October in Canada, and so on).

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Missionaries who don’t want to be there

A thought resulting from going through some old papers of mine: When i was a full-time missionary, i had a number of companions who didn’t want to actually do missionary work. That didn’t bother me, really,* but it did bother me that they all (without exception among my own small sample) rather obviously hadn’t thought the reasons for their decisions and attitudes through.

* I mean, to be honest, i’m not temperamentally well-suited to missionary work, myself, i just forced myself to do it, and to do it well as i could.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Just one quick question

So what is the point of ward conferences, anyway?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Movie theatres aren’t my thing, anyway

Heard in a sacrament meeting address: “There are few movies that Latter-day Saints can go to these days without being embarrassed by the language used.”

Well, i don’t know if that’s true, but apparently there are few movies that Latter-day Saints can go to these days without being embarrassed by being seen by all the other Latter-day Saints there!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Nobody comes to Utah by chance

During my exile in Utah, i was at a sacrament meeting that was focused on increasing missionary activity in our town.* One of the things that was said, in an attempt to get us to feel that we would be successful in talking to our neighbors about the gospel, was “Remember, nobody comes to Utah by chance.”

Given my own experience, i can attest that this is true—some come well-prepared so that they can learn the gospel, some come so that they can help build the church up even stronger, and some come so ill-fitted to the local culture that they give the angels giggling fits. You get one and exactly one guess which group i fell into.

* This happened in a town where the population was more than 95% nominally Mormon, and where sacrament meeting attendance among those Mormons was higher than 80%. Think that through, and the whole subject becomes very, very different.

Monday, November 16, 2009

More thoughts on Family Home Evening

Holding family home evening on Monday nights seems weird to me, if it’s actually (as i’ve heard stated often enough) intended to reinforce the lessons learned on Sunday so that they don’t atrophy during the rest of the week. If this is really (part of) what it’s for, why don’t we hold family home evening on Wednesdays or Thursdays? I mean, if Sunday’s lessons are going to atrophy over six days, it seems to me they’ll atrophy over five days nearly as well.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

David B gingerly touches the third rail of Mormon blogging

I don’t entirely get why the whole same-sex marriage thing is such a big deal (for either side of the argument), but i get that it’s a big deal for a lot of people. However, when it gets mentioned in church meetings it often gets really weird at me—like statements that marriage has to be between one man and one woman and that history has shown that “alternative forms of family formation” are doomed to failure. Well, if anyone would know that, i guess it’d be us Mormons…

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Things being a parent teaches you

Anyone who believes that calmly, rationally discussing church meeting behavior with your children will lead to them behaving better needs to stop feeding their children so much Benadryl right before church.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Yet another phrase we could do without

Has there ever been a musical number in sacrament meeting that wasn’t very special?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

My family hasn’t been shot at, for one thing

I’ve heard a lot of people in church claim (mostly in gospel doctrine and priesthood classes, but occasionally in sacrament meeting speeches) that “the family is under attack”. Can someone explain to me exactly what in the world that phrase is supposed to mean?

And i mean that seriously—i really just don’t get it.

Friday, November 6, 2009


Our oldest child has reached the age where we need to decide whether she gets the Gardasil shot or not.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, it’s a shot that provides some immunity to a number of strains of HPV, which is probably the most widespread sexually transmitted disease out there. This is a big deal healthwise, because these strains of HPV are the main causes of cervical cancer.

A number of people out there—most of the voices out there are mainstream Xians, but there are some Mormons among them—are vehement in saying that girls shouldn’t be vaccinated against HPV. There are a number of arguments raised, and some of them are outside the scope of this blog (for example, the whole Vaccinations Are An Evil Communist Plot Against America nonsense), but one is clearly worth mentioning here: The idea that HPV (and, by extension, any cervical cancer that results) is a punishment for the sin of sexual promiscuity, and we shouldn’t be immunizing kids against the effects of sin. Also, there’s some worry that girls will be more likely to be sexually promiscuous if they know they’re not in danger of one of the possible drawbacks to such promiscuity.

A number of people have pointed out that kids don’t necessarily think of the drawbacks that go with having sex when they have sex, so that last argument has flaws. However, i’d like to take issue here with the other one, which i think is much more insidious.

Should we be preventing people from experiencing naturally-occurring punishments of their sins? It’s an interesting question. However, it doesn’t really work as an argument against vaccinating girls against HPV. Consider the following ways in which a woman may have contracted HPV, neither of which involve sin on her part:
  • She, as a virgin, marries a guy who isn’t a virgin and is a carrier of HPV.
  • She is the victim of a rape, and the rapist is a carrier of HPV.
In addition, arguments against Gardasil on the basis of HPV being a punishment for sin seem to make the claim that repentance really shouldn’t be allowed to be as complete as God promises, and they don’t deal with cases like, say, a woman who was never taught to limit her sexual activity, but then repents and is baptized and lives a sexually sinless life after that. She gets to be punished because she was raised in ignorance? Really nice thinking, folks.

We’re vaccinating our daughters against HPV—we actually trust our kids to make decent decisions, and if they don’t, we’re evil enough that we believe repentance should be allowed to actually work.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Spiritual communication

Why do Mormons get so into this whole “God speaks to us through our feelings” thing? Where’s the scriptural justification for claiming that that’s God’s primary means of communicating with us? (Hint: Galatians 5:22–23 doesn’t actually say that, so that one’s out.)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Who can pass the sacrament?

Here’s a puzzler: Technically, it’s a deacon’s responsibility (or at least the responsibility of priesthood holders) to pass the sacramental emblems to the congregation, but obviously even a nonmember can pass the bread and water down the row to someone who wants to partake. Does this mean that a woman could take the sacramental emblems into the mother’s lounge? More generally, what is the role of the priesthood holders in the process?

And this becomes more interesting when you look at the scriptures, where one reading limits the distribution of the sacramental emblems to the priests*—and there’s no scriptural reason for the deacons doing it (though, presumably, it could relate to their responsibility to assist the bishop as needed), nor for restricting the preparation of the sacramental table to the teachers and not the deacons.

When it comes down to it, i’ve often thought that these policies were actually instituted as a means of making early-teen boys feel important, but that’s probably overly cynical for even me.

* See Doctrine and Covenants 20:46,58, where we run into the problem of what precisely administer means.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Can i just say how happy i am that Mormon congregations pretty widely hold Halloween parties? (Generally limited to those parts of the world where Halloween is celebrated, of course.) There are too many mainstream-to-radically-conservative Xians out there who worry that Halloween is actually a tool of Satan, so as to normalize Satanic sorts of things. Well, Mormons may have their paranoias, but at least we don’t generally share that one!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sex and teens

One thing that really bothers me about discussions in Mormon contexts (like Gospel Doctrine classes) of dating and courtship is the underlying assumption that kids’ll have sex if we give them even half a chance—that’s not even generally presented as a possibility, but rather as a certainty. Mormons are required, i suppose, to ignore the fact that more half of all teens in the United States finish high school as virgins, and i’d argue that most of that more-than-half certainly had adequate opportunities to have sex there. So how’d they manage, even though many of them didn’t have Mormon guilt trips teaching to stop them?

Oh, wait! I’ve got it! It’s just Mormon teens who are certain to have sex when presented with the opportunity. Now it makes sense!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Drinking tea

The German-language missionary discussions, at least back in the 90s, specifically said that Schwartzentee ‘black tea’ was forbidden. Tee ‘tea’ wasn't the word used, since that would have forbidden Kräutertee ‘herbal tea’, which is a different linguistic category in German. Interestingly, though, so is Grünentee ‘green tea’.

Therefore, given what we were teaching German speakers and what i got taught as an English speaker as i was growing up, i’ve wondered for a good while whether it’s legit for German-speaking Mormons to drink green tea, but not for English-speaking Mormons.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

New tricks with terminology

I don’t like the term “family home evening”—it has all the worst hallmarks of a title developed by a committee. My family uses “family night” for it instead, which has led to my children telling their church leaders and teachers, quite honestly, that we don’t ever have family home evening (even though we actually hold it every week). This amuses me, further proving that i’m evil.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Talking about temples

Jeanne and i were both asked to speak in sacrament meeting during our first month in our current ward (though we spoke on different Sundays).

Nope, no pressure!

Anyway, just for the fun of it, here’s the text of my speech. One reason i wanted to post it—beyond the fact that this is a blog and therefore why not?—is that i got an interesting reaction to it.

After i spoke, a lot of people said that it was interesting (some even said it was good!) to hear such a deep sacrament meeting speech. Deep? And here i’d thought i’d kept it intensely surface, really.

So i’m inviting readers to offer their takes on why this thing would have been perceived as deep by multiple listeners. So, then, on to the text (note that some names have been elided):


Before I fully begin, I should say that I’m also coming off the cold that’s been going around, and it really messed with my vocal cords. This affects this moment in two important ways: first of all, what you’re hearing isn’t my normal speaking voice, but rather something a bit lower-pitched than what normally emerges from my mouth; and second, I’ve been having moments where my voice cuts out and I have to regroup for a moment, though I’m hoping I don’t face that while I’m up here.

Anyway, with that as more information than you cared to get, I’ll introduce myself for those of you who don’t know me—and I’ve been in the ward less than a month, so that’s probably most of you. My name is David Bowie. Jeanne, my wife, spoke in sacrament meeting just three weeks ago, so y’all are seeing a lot of our family pretty quickly.

When Brother H… asked Jeanne and me to speak, he gave us two tasks: One was to speak on particular gospel-related topics, and the other was to introduce our family a bit. Jeanne introduced us pretty well when she spoke, so I’ll just offer a quick recap: I’m a linguist at the university here, Jeanne’s a transportation engineer, and we have four daughters ages two through ten. We plan to be up here for a while, too—the position I’ve got at the university is a permanent one.

So. My assigned topic comes from an address that David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave at the most recent general conference of the church. He spoke on the centrality of temples to the mission of the church, and so that will, naturally enough, be my general topic for today. However, my rhetorical training is traditional enough that I like to have a specific text that I use as a theme, and so I start with a verse from the Book of Mormon Elder Bednar used near the beginning of his address. It’s actually most often used in the context of missionary work—that makes sense, since it’s from the story cycle about the four sons of King Mosiah, who all turned down kingship in favor of preaching the gospel to the Lamanites, where they had quite a bit of success. The previous speaker mentioned the way the story begins, but in the 26th chapter of the Book of Alma the end of the story cycle approaches, and one of them sums up what they’ve done and says to his brothers, “Behold, the field was ripe, and blessed are ye, for ye did thrust in the sickle, and did reap with your might, yea, all the day long did ye labor; and behold the number of your sheaves! And they shall be gathered into the garners, that they are not wasted.”

The imagery there is fairly common in the scriptures—the ripe field ready to be harvested is the world, those wielding the sickle are those sent out to preach the word to the world, and the sheaves are those who accept the word. This is pretty straightforward missionary stuff, right? We who have accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ are commanded to go to the rest of the world and preach the word to those who have not yet accepted it.

Well, sure. Like I said, though, Elder Bednar spoke about service in the temples of the church, not missionary work. That’s kind of weird, really—I have to admit that when I read that part of his address, after it was clear that he was talking about temple work, I experienced a mild moment of mental whiplash.

Anyway—rather than beat the oddity of this into the ground, I’ll deliver a bit more setup, and then return to this seemingly misplaced scriptural text. So, then, here’s an abrupt shift in focus, introduced by a question: What is it that we do in our temples, anyway?

This is a useful question to ask, even for those of us with a great deal of experience in the church—and if I’m going to be standing up here talking about temple work for the next however-many minutes it’s worth explaining a bit. I haven’t lived here long enough to come even remotely close to knowing which of you out there are members of this church and which of you aren’t, or which of you may be relatively new to the church, but I figure that given the demographics of this church it’s likely that there are some out there who are visiting today and unfamiliar with this church and the concept of temple work, or those who may have experience with this church but not so much with the work that goes on in the temples. So here’s definitions.

First of all, I should point out a distinction between the temples of the church and its meetinghouses. Both are ecclesiastically dedicated spaces, and the purpose of both is focused on the performance of what most branches of Christianity call sacraments, but that in this church we generally call ordinances. There are lots of different ordinances performed in meetinghouses and temples, and there’s a lot of overlap between the two locations—things such as baptisms, confirmations, and marriages can be performed in both, for example. However, there’s are some important differences between those ordinances as performed in meetinghouses and in temples—and I’ll be talking about those differences in just a few minutes.

There are also church meetings held in both sorts of buildings, though the meetings held in the meetinghouses are held more regularly and with a wider audience than those held in the temples (and that’s reflected in the actual term meetinghouse, I suppose).

In addition, there are some ordinances that are only performed in temples. Of these, the one that gets the most attention is the one called the endowment, which was described by John A. Widtsoe, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles early in the twentieth century, as a “survey and expounding of the gospel plan…one of the most effective methods of refreshing the memory concerning the entire structure of the gospel”. As part of this ordinance one makes promises to—here quoting James E. Talmage, another apostle of about a century ago—one makes promises “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 [human] 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…Jesus Christ.”

As an aside, that’s really the purpose of this whole religion thing anyway, isn’t it?—trying to do good so as to further the designs that God has for this world. It’s just kind of cool to have that formalized in some way.

Anyway. Another difference between temples and meetinghouses would be the requirements for entrance. To enter one of the church’s meetinghouses and be present at the meetings and ordinances that are held there, the only requirement is desire—that is, if you desire to enter, you can find a meetinghouse and enter it to observe or participate as applicable. (One is requested to be polite while there, as well, but I chalk that up to simply being a reasonable human being, rather than being a formal requirement for entry.)

With temples, though, it’s different—along with the desire to enter the temple, there are a number of other requirements for entry, in partial fulfillment of the command in the book of Doctrine and Covenants to “not suffer any unclean thing to come into it, that it be not defiled”. Some of these requirements for entry relate to religious belief, and others relate to religious practice. So, to offer just two examples, to enter the temple one must profess belief in the role of Jesus Christ as Savior and Redeemer, and one must also practice honesty in one’s dealings with others.

Of course, the line between belief and practice is a fuzzy one, but I’ve long thought that it’s interesting that for temple attendance it’s not enough to simply profess belief, nor is it enough to simply act in a way that’s consonant with ecclesiastical law. Many people profess to find some sort of irreconcilable difference between the content of the epistles of James and Paul that we have in the New Testament, where James tells us that faith without works is dead while Paul tells us we can only be justified by faith and not by works. If the requirements for temple attendance are divinely inspired and are intended to teach us somewhat of how we should be ordering our lives—and I do believe that that’s the case—then we’re being taught that any argument over whether faith or works is primary is missing the mark, since they’re actually interconnected in one great whole, and we shouldn’t be focusing on one while we minimize the other.

If all of these requirements for entry are met, though, one can be issued what’s called a temple recommend, which allows entry into the church’s temples for a period of time. This means that it takes time and effort to enter into a temple, and this sort of barrier—for lack of a better word—this sort of barrier to entrance into the temples of the church has one obvious effect, in that fewer people are qualified to enter temples than to enter meetinghouses. However, this doesn’t mean that holding a temple recommend and entering the temples of the church is intended to be limited to some sort of elite club—as Howard W. Hunter said many times during his brief tenure as the ordained prophet and president of the church, “It would please the Lord for every adult member to be worthy of—and to carry—a current temple recommend, even if proximity to a temple does not allow immediate or frequent use of it.”

Keep that quote in mind—I’ll return to it in a bit.

So what is it about the temples of the church and what happens there that requires not just desire but correct belief and practice for entry, while at the same time all are encouraged to meet those requirements so that they can enter?

There are, actually, many different correct answers to this question. The one i’d offer here, though, is that the ordinances that are performed in the temples of the church are qualitatively different than those performed outside of the temple, and they are different in ways that it seems reasonable that God can require some degree of devoutness on the part of those who participate in them. In particular, the ordinances performed in the temple allow service to others to be rendered in ways that can’t be done elsewhere, because God has designated temples as places where we can perform ordinances on the behalf of those who have died, and who therefore don’t have the power to participate in those ordinances directly themselves. As I said earlier, ordinances such as baptism, confirmation, and marriage can all occur in a meetinghouse like the one we’re in as well as in a temple, but these ordinances are of a different sort in the temple.

Any of you can receive baptism and confirmation in a meetinghouse (or anywhere else that is authorized by someone having the authority to do so, in fact). However, there are a huge number of people who died without ever having the opportunity to accept baptism or confirmation—and those who enter the temple have the opportunity to stand in the place of those people who have died, so that even the the dead can receive the blessings God has promised that are attendant upon receiving baptism and confirmation.

The ordinance of marriage is slightly more nuanced, but the basic framework is the same: A couple can be married in a meetinghouse or anywhere else a suitable authority permits, but a marriage can only be ratified as valid for eternity in a temple. However, a large number of people have died without having the opportunity to have their marriages sealed for eternity, so those who enter the temple have the opportunity to stand in the place of those who have died so that even the dead can receive the blessings that God has promised that are attendant upon receiving a sealing of their marriage for eternity.

And what are these blessings that God has promised? There are several, but among them is a pretty big one: Accepting these ordinances opens the door to salvation and exaltation in the kingdom of God, “which is the greatest of all the gifts of God”. Rather amazing, really.

And it is at this point that the scriptural text I started with suddenly makes sense: “Behold, the field was ripe, and blessed are ye, for ye did thrust in the sickle, and did reap with your might, yea, all the day long did ye labor; and behold the number of your sheaves! And they shall be gathered into the garners, that they are not wasted.”

Yes, this applies to those who share the gospel with those around them—but it also applies to those who serve in the temples so that others can receive salvation. By serving on behalf of those who can’t participate in the ordinances of salvation themselves, we are laboring to gather sheaves—that is, souls—into the kingdom of God.

This is—and this is probably obvious—this is a good thing to be a part of. And this is why we have been encouraged to give ourselves the opportunity to serve in the temple. Once again quoting Howard W. Hunter: “It would please the Lord for every adult member to be worthy of—and to carry—a current temple recommend, even if proximity to a temple does not allow immediate or frequent use of it.”

Up to this point I’ve tried to keep my remarks fairly general, so that they could inform anyone who might be out there, regardless of their background (or lack of background) in the church. However, since President Hunter addressed these remarks to the adult members of the church, I think it’s worth stressing their importance to that group.

I don’t know how many of the adult members of the church out there today have ever attended the temple, nor do I know how many continue to carry current temple recommends, or who regularly make use of them to attend the temple that the church has here in Anchorage, or any of the temples elsewhere. For all I know, every adult in this ward holds a current temple recommend and uses it regularly. However, I also know enough of the statistics on those statuses and behaviors churchwide, as well as enough about human nature, to know that that’s unlikely.

Near the close of the address that I’ve used as a springboard for my speaking to you all here today, Elder Bednar addresses four groups directly. One of these is the children and youth of the church, and he encouraged them to continue to grow in the gospel and serve in the temple when they have the opportunity. Another group he addressed was those who hold temple recommends and use them by regularly serving in the temple, and he commended their service.

The other two groups, though, are more interesting. One is those adult members of the church who, for whatever reason, have not yet gone to the temple to serve there. With Elder Bednar, I urge those of you in this situation to move toward receiving a temple recommend so that you can receive the joy that comes with service in the temple. Some of the things you need to do may take time, but it is worth it.

Finally, Elder Bednar addressed those who have attended the temple previously, and who have held or even currently hold a temple recommend, but for whatever reason have not served in the temple for a while, even though they have the means and opportunity. For this group, the prescription is the same as it is for the preceding group: Find what it is in your own belief or practice that is holding you back from assisting in the work of God that service in the temple is part of, and make the changes that are necessary for your situation.

And normally one would expect some sort of pat wrap-up at this point, but I think that calls to action are actually a good place to stop—so I’ll close here, as is traditional, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Why serve in Utah?

I’ve heard people say that full-time missionaries from countries where the church is emerging often get called to missions in Utah so that “they can see the way the church should be”. (And yes, i’ve heard that multiple times from multiple people, and not all of them from Utah, even.)

I tend to think that that’s not the reason at all, but that it’s rather for the psychological boost—they get to see that it’s possible for church membership to make up a sizable chunk of the general population, which is a nice thing to be reminded of every once in a while.

Friday, October 16, 2009

An immovable feast

In much of the Bible Belt, there’s no school activities on Wednesday nights, ’cause that’s the night that churches traditionally hold Bible study. Monday nights, on the other hand, are fair game for school activities. This can be a problem for Mormon students who are effectively shut out of school extracurriculars if they can’t participate Monday nights due to family home evening. However, this seems to me like it could be a nice luxury for the church in those areas—they’ve been handed a free night (Wednesday) for family home evening. Rather than do that, though, wards in those areas fight to hold youth activity nights on Wednesdays, and reserve Mondays for family home evenings.

This leads to a weird situation, though—sabbath observances can be moved from Sunday to another day in those areas of the world where it makes sense to do so (like in Israel, where sabbath services are held on Saturday), but moving family home evening to a night other than Monday just isn’t done. Why?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Women’s work

I’ve actually heard people (multiple people!) claim in sacrament meeting addresses that women aren’t supposed to work outside the home in part because women working outside the home is a modern innovation that changes the way things had been done throughout history.

Um, dude? Women working outside the home was the norm since the time of Adam and Eve (according to the opening of Moses ch. 5, at least)—the fact that it wasn’t the norm for the middle classes in the 30s and from the late 40s to the early 50s doesn’t really lend historical validity to the argument.

Monday, October 12, 2009


I continue to dislike the common sacrament meeting meme that a sense of guilt automatically means that you’re violating the commandments. I mean, if you’re gonna make that claim, could you at least get into how to tell the difference between real conscience-based guilt as opposed to simple stress about violating social norms?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Red legs

Random walk down memory lane, only Mormon-related because of the context: After my first full day of bike-riding as a full-time missionary, not only did my legs hurt, they were bright red. It was actually rather scary.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

No preaching for the non-ideal

Mormon culture (at least as i’ve experienced it in lots of places in the US the past several years) is, i think, really hung up on familial roles right now, which leads to a lot of “This won’t work for everyone, but we won’t even mention the possibility of alternatives” sorts of statements in church meetings. This bothers me—why not at least occasionally deign to preach directly to those that don’t fit your particular ideal?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Teaching my children well

It may just be me, but every single time i hear someone in church meetings advise us to “teach your children well” i immediately start hearing Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young singing in my head. I mean, i like that particular song and all, so i don’t find it annoying, but it does seem a little weirdly out of place at times.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Sunday afternoon

Thomas S. Monson
→Not much time to say anything with huge content—mostly a pep talk. I wonder what would happen with these conference-closing addresses if general conferences weren’t constrained by satellite bandwidth sessions.

D. Todd Christofferson
→I vote that the best moral for the opening story should be: Being passive-aggressive goes against gospel principles. (Might be an unpopular interpretation in Utah County, though.)
→So is he saying that small government would be best, but given current situations paternalistic governmental regulation is needed? I don’t think that’s his intended point, but it sure sounds like it.
→Is the claim that moral discipline must come from faith in God, or merely that moral discipline best comes from faith in God? The rhetorical structure seems to point toward the former, but i don’t know that that’s actually a defensible position—and the actual text of the address seems to be ambiguous between those possibilities.

Joseph W. Sitati
→I have to look up the quote from Joseph Smith he gave—did it say, basically, that some nations haven’t had the gospel preached to them ’cause they don’t have enough of a clue? Harsh, if it does. I’ll check up on it once the transcript comes out.
→Interesting discussion of ways the church is helping to bring social stability to its members in areas with rapid urbanization and de-agriculturalization (like Elder Sitati’s Kenya).

Michael T. Ringwood
→So an “easiness to believe” is good—fine. But how do we develop that? The answer: Do the things believers do. However, if someone doesn’t believe, they’re unlikely to do all the stuff one who believes would do. I’m sensing a Catch–22 here.

Dale G. Renlund
→I don’t think that i’m getting the moral from his story that i’m supposed to be getting. (What am i getting, you may ask? Simply this: Avoid swing shift work at all costs.)

Now, the choir and congregation sing together
→They cut it off after one (short) verse? Ooh, somebody went past their time limit!

Brent H. Neilson
→A member of the Seventy focusing laser-sharp on missionary work and nothing else—makes me feel like i’m in the 1950s!
→So is it that we’re doing well, or that we’re not doing well?
→Cool—a direct invitation to the young men and young women of the church to grow up to be full-time missionaries. (As a father of daughters with no sons, i notice these things.)

Quentin L. Cook
→An address largely about sex, but without ever once using the word. (Not that unusual, actually.)
→A thought comes to mind: If God forgives completely, then that means we ought to, as well. This, presumably, includes not gossiping about others’ misdeeds. Linking gossiping and forgiveness isn’t a link i’ve ever heard made (though i’m sure it has been somewhere).
→Back a few decades ago, detailed financial reports were given during general conference, including (in some years) stats like which stakes and missions had the highest tithing and fast offering rates per capita. I know some of the reasons the church doesn’t do that anymore, but it’d be fun to get some competition going. (Hey! Can’t let the Anchorage Chugach Stake have a higher fast offering rate than us!)

Jeffrey R. Holland
→Is anyone else picking up on a marked uptick in references to Lehi’s dream? It seemed to have fallen out of frequent use as an image, but it’s back with a vengeance this weekend.
→Direct references to claims against the Book of Mormon’s authenticity? Wow—you often get vague references, but usually not nearly so specific.
→This one is, i think, simply in terms of style of delivery, the most compelling address of the conference so far.

Opening thoughts:
→The opening prayer called Thomas S. Monson God’s “chosen prophet” rather than our “beloved prophet”. There’s certainly going to be some sort of ecclesiastical punishment for a slip like that!
→The prayer also made direct mention of the recent earthquakes and tsunamis in the Pacific islands—i may have missed something, but that’s the first direct mention of them i’ve noticed at this conference.
→A female organ player? Gotta be yet another thing the fundamentalists’ll start using as evidence of our apostasy (under the reasonable assumption that anything that makes someone like me happy would make them intensely unhappy). And was she wearing a pantsuit? Couldn’t quite tell, but it would seem only sensible, given the mechanics of playing a pipe organ.
→Ah, Sunday afternoon conference—after the excitement of the one everybody watches, we have the session that nobody watches. I kind of like this one best, the stepchild of questionable paternity among the conference sessions, though—the speakers act more relaxed, like they know the stage isn’t as big for this one.
→Why is it that the video feed switches from live as sessions approach, then to pre-recorded for a minute or so, and then back to live? Is there some sort of secret-not-sacred ritual that occurs immediately before a conference session?

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Sunday morning

Finished seven minutes early! Is that legal?

Thomas S. Monson
→Nice contrast between intent and action, followed by a nice turn of phrase on why that gulf exists: “…we may find that we’ve immersed ourselves in the thick of thin things.”
→Good to know that a random statement of desire from a president of the church can result in near-immediate measurable good results. Pity to know that people needed prodding from a president of the church to aggressively do good.

Primary song interlude!

Russell M. Nelson
→He called his wife Wendy, not Sister Nelson! Cue the happy dance!
→His definition of “real intent” was pretty obvious (really intending to do something). Kinda sad if we actually need such definitions, and i suspect we do
→Serious question: Why does it so often take personal tragedy or difficulty to get people to change their lives? Is it simple mental inertia, or is there something else at the core of that tendency?

Ann M. Dibb
→Yes, the M stands for Monson, and yes, she’s the daughter of that Monson. I was very happy when she switched from calling him President Monson to calling him dad. Very, very, very humanizing, for both her and him—and in my opinion we need more of that.
→St. Catharines? I’ve stayed overnight there! (Cue music from the most annoying Disney World ride ever.)
→She points out that there are very few stories in the scriptures about people who lived in blissful times. It occurs to me that there are very few novels about people who lived in blissful times, either—narrative tension is apparently a positive in both religious and secular writing.

H. David Burton
→Are kids still expected to memorize the Articles of Faith? You hear all sorts of stories of people “having to” memorize them in order to graduate from primary—but then again, i never memorized them, and i didn’t get held back a grade (or whatever the church equivalent is).
→This speech leads to an interesting question: Can all the rest of the virtues he lists be subsumed within integrity?

L. Tom Perry
→I so have trouble focusing on the content of Elder Perry’s addresses, because he exhibits precisely the sort of linguistic behaviors i’ve been spending my career researching. I try to listen, but i find myself getting distracted by the shape of his vowel system.
→The Manti temple is in my top five prettiest list. (There’s a clear number one—try approaching the St. George temple from the south on I–15 and see if you don’t agree—but numbers two through five aren’t ordered in my mind: Manti, Utah; Kensington, Maryland; Cardston, Alberta; and Lāʻie, Hawaiʻi. (Hmmm…Can you tell i’m not an overwhelming fan of spires topped with Angels Moroni?)
→Cool story about building the roof of the Manti temple.
→He mentioned ward mission plans, and how excellent they are. I don’t know if i’ve ever seen a ward mission plan that everyone was happy with. I’ve wondered if part of the problem is that it seems very corporate (a succinct set of principles with measurable expected outcomes) for being something based in divine revelation.

Henry B. Eyring
→Yet another address saying it’s possible to become perfect in this life. Interesting.
→“I am often touched when someone asks, ‘How’s your family?’ and then waits to hear the answer.” I don’t think i got the precise phrasing right, but there’s a nice oblique commentary there on everyday impoliteness and the noteworthiness (and goodness) of politeness.

A couple opening thoughts:
→Sunday morning conference session, dudes and dudettes! It’s the big leagues now!
→I’m not a fan of the Mormon Tabernacle’s sound, as i’ve written before—and yet they get as much time as (if not more time than) any of the speakers. Oh well. This morning the fact that content doesn’t really start until about ten minutes in gave us the chance to get past a couple weird technical glitches without missing much of anything, so that was good for us.
→And speaking of technical glitches, the server load is clearly being pretty heavy during this session. I suppose that makes sense—this is the one session that everybody watches even if they don’t watch any of the others.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Priesthood session

Thomas S. Monson
→This was one of the most throughly focused-on-a-single-topic speeches from a president of the church i’ve ever heard in priesthood session.
→The story about the couple with the brain-damaged child was really weird, if not creepy—i kept having trouble figuring out why criminal charges didn’t enter into the narrative. I’m thinking that the fact that it took place some decades ago (according to some of the contextual items he mentioned) probably had something to do with that—norms were different then.
→I’d heard the story of Thomas B. Marsh’s apostasy before, but this was one of the best narrative versions i’ve ever heard. I thought it was weird, though, that he said the “home teachers” tried to adjudicate the dispute between Sisters Harris and Marsh, when there were no such things as home teachers back then. I’m curious to see what that line says in the published version of the speech.

Henry B. Eyring
→Can somebody tell me what it was with speakers giving lists of three things tonight?
→His story of the bishop who used the “no lights out” method of helping the young men remain active was really very interesting, and it had a good moral (that we need to take some responsibility for those we have stewardship over). My only worry is that, even though Elder Eyring explicitly said it wouldn’t work everywhere, eighty percent of the wards in the church will institute something like that program on the basis of an apostle having said it’s a good idea.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf
→It’s really unusual for a modern-era general authority to have been a refugee. It’s the kind of thing that really must affect the way you look at the world, you know?

Congregational singing!
→Can someone explain to me why we stand for congregational hymns in conference? I don’t get the purpose of it. (It made sense, certainly, when people had to sit on those painfully stiff benches in the Tabernacle, but most of us have padded seating nowadays.)
→Also, we sang “Praise to the Man”. Decent song, but the rhythm at the beginning of the final verse is weird.

Yoon Hwan Choi
→There’s not much to ofer commentary on here, but i will say that he offered a really fun extended story. If you didn’t hear it live, it’s worth digging it up and listening. (I suspect that it’s more fun in audio than in writing.)

Walter F. González
→He advocated a memorization and recitation approach to the scriptures, which i’m not a fan of. However, whatever the method one uses, i’m glad that his ultimate goal was much deeper: Reading and studying the scriptures until they become a natural part of our speaking and doing.

M. Russell Ballard
→This address was directed to fathers and sons. Since i only have daughters, i figured that that meant i could take a ten-minute nap. (It turned out to be applicable to parents and children, though, not just fathers and sons.)
→I was happy to see that he said that it doesn’t matter where and when you have meaningful conversations with your children, as long as you have them. There’s too much Mormon folklore floating around that you need to have formal “interviews” with your children—maybe this’ll get some people to relax about it a little.
→The address contained a warning to those in the courtship phase of their lives not to do the “hanging out” thing instead of dating. Whenever i hear this meme, i feel like channeling Inigo Montoya (you know: “You keep using that word. I don’t a-think it means what you think it means.”), since hanging out now means essentially the same thing that dating used to.
→Also, he pluralized son-in-law as son-in-laws. My word nerd self was very happy to hear this.

Some stuff from the songs before the first speaker started:
→So the choir sang “Sweet Hour of Prayer” The hymnal says to sing it at 42–48 beats per minute, but i think they sang it even slower. I half expected Elder Uchtdorf to stand up afterward and say “As out time is expired, we will close the meeting by…”
→The choir was a priesthood choir from a stake in Utah. (Jordan, was it? I’m not certain.) They made pretty good use of the boy sopranos in “High on a Mountaintop”, though not really in any of the other songs.
→I see that we’re back to panning the choir for non-pink faces.

A couple general thoughts:
→Not related to general conference at all, but fun: While walking into the church building, i passed a car with a bumper sticker that read “You have to be real secure to be seen in a car like this!”
→Also, can somebody explain to me why priesthood session of conference doesn’t get broadcast to all the same outlets as the other general sessions? (And priesthood session is a general session of conference—the Saturday morning session is the “first general session”, the Sunday morning session is the “fourth general session” you do the math.) I really don’t get it—it’s not like it all ends up being kept secret from non-priesthood holders, anyway, since it’ll all get published online and in the Ensign anyway. Oh well—add that to the list of church policies and traditions i doubt i’ll ever understand.

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Saturday afternoon

Boyd K. Packer
→He’s speaking from his seat. I’d known he’d been having health problems, but i hadn’t known they’d progressed so far.
→Hint for rail travelers: Don’t pull the emergency brake if you’re on a train going the wrong way—get off at the next stop. Pulling the emergency brake is a very, very good way to get a lot of people very, very angry at you.
→Thinking of a hymn to push immoral thoughts out of my mind doesn’t work—i simply end up thinking naughty thoughts to the sound of sacred music. Further proof that i’m evil, i suppose, as if you needed any more evidence.

Neil L. Andersen
→Addresses like this have to walk a fine line—is it pointlessly easy to repent, or is it pointlessly difficult? It’s actually neither, presumably, but it’s hard to strike a balance.
→Unless i’ve missed it, he hasn’t talked about “the steps of repentance” (or, even worse, giving a specific number of steps it takes to repent). Repentance is, as he points out, a continuous process, not a discrete one.

Kent D. Watson
→Temperance? I am reminded of St. Augustine’s famous non-penitential prayer, “Lord, give me chastity and temperance, but not now.”
→Anyone out there know enough Koine Greek to let me know what word got translated as “temperance” in the New Testament verses he quoted? I’m curious what precisely it meant in the Greek.

Tad R. Callister
→I got that the intro was about Peter after one and a half clues. Do i get a sticker for knowing my New Testament?
→The dude speaks very quickly but very clearly. I like his speaking style.
→We have to be careful when we claim that it only makes sense that divine revelation occurs nowadays ’cause God loves us now just as in ancient times. However, taking that to its logical conclusion would mean that God didn’t love people in the middle ages, or in ancient China, or other such cases.
→Were all the keys actually restored through Joseph Smith? Or does God reserve some keys, not to be delivered to mortals? I don’t know that it really matters for us, but i wonder.

Henry B. Eyring (addenda to the sustaining of church officers)
→I’ll bet the three guys he mentioned were relieved to find out they were getting released, after all—i mean, they’d probably planned a full night’s sleep and everything!

Jorge F. Zeballos
→When are non-native speakers of English going to be allowed to speak in their native languages in general conference? I mean, i remember listening to Ángel Abrea back in the day and being able to tell that he had something really, really important to say—but his facility with English was distracting enough (and slowed his delivery down so much) that it didn’t really come across. (Or is this yet another so much for being an “international church” item?)
→I like the implied (and nearly explicit) claim that it’s possible to become perfect in this life. The “nobody’s perfect in mortality, save Jesus Christ” meme lets us excuse ourselves of a lot of stuff we shouldn’t excuse ourselves of.

Robert D. Hales
→Interesting—a lot of review of fairly basic but mostly exclusive-to-Mormonism theology. I wonder if addresses like this in part an attempt to make sure that the rapid rate of conversion into the church doesn’t end up shifting Mormon theology toward something more mainstream.
→“Most of us will not see God as the prophets have…”—i thought D&C 130:3 says precisely otherwise, at least for the righteous, no?

Dallin H. Oaks
→“A young adult in a cohabitation relationship…” Can i just say how much this turn of phrase made the word nerd in me giddy?
→I’m pretty sure that he’s rather emphatically not saying that parents shouldn’t love their children who sin. I’m also pretty sure, though, that a number of people in and (probably mostly) out of the church are going to take some of what he’s saying that way.
→I like the fact that this directly confronts the fact that God gets angry at us sometimes—we tend to avoid that fact (out of discomfort?) in favor of focusing on God’s love.

Henry B. Eyring (sustaining of church officers)
→Why are area authorities sustained in general conference? They don't have, well, general authority—why do i (in Alaska) sustain someone who has authority in, say, Thailand but not here?

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Saturday morning

A couple final thoughts
→Interesting how short the prayers in this session were.
→And speaking of prayers, one last thought before moving on to the next session: Why don’t women ever give prayers in general conference sessions? I mean, it’s not like they have to be offered by general authorities (not too many decades ago the tradition was to have stake presidents offer general conference prayers)—so why not open it up a little?

Dieter F. Uchtdorf
→Interesting unasked question: Does one need a reason to love someone or something?
→He said that the closer we get to God, the more we love God. This raises another interesting question: If perfect love casteth out all fear, then does that mean that if we fear God (in the sense of being afraid, not the semi-obsolete sense of giving reverence), then we don't properly love God?

David A. Bednar
→I went googling for the text of an address of David A. Bednar’s a few weeks ago, and i discovered that he’s pretty intensely hated by a very vocal group of people out there. One of the most common charges? He’s bland, and therefore a stealth public-relations scheme to make Mormonism look reasonable to non-Mormons. Now, aside from this being paranoid on way too many levels to count, i don’t think they’ve been watching the same person by that name that i have.
→Nice use of the ambiguity in the term “bear testimony”.
→How long have general conference addresses been attempting to purge testimony meetings of travelogues and such? I’m starting to think that if they really want this to change, they’re going to have to change the format of those meetings somehow.
→Why do general authorities nearly consistently refer to their wives in public as “Sister X”? It’s always felt vaguely squicky to me.
→I’d like to say that i like the example of brushstrokes working together to create a painting.

Russell T. Osguthorpe
→“Osguthorpe” is officially the coolest name of the day so far.
→This guy’s the Sunday School general president, and he’s talking specifically about religious instruction—brings to mind the way the presidents of the Seventy used to nearly always talk about missionary work (which makes sense, given their charge in the book of Doctrine and Covenants).

L. Whitney Clayton
→Serious question: Do bad things ever happen simply because bad things happen? He’s dealing with trials/burdens that happen to us because we are evil (punishments) or to teach us lessons (blessings in disguise)—is he treating this as a conprehensive list, or as two possibilities out of many?

Vicki F. Matsumori
→We live in a skeptical age. I’m actually comfortable with this, but it does seem to have crept into our preaching, you know? The Holy Spirit is a God—so why do we focus so much on the tiny “feelings of peace and warmth” manifestations of this God, rather than the great and powerful manifestations that a God is capable of?

Richard G. Scott
→As someone who sometimes uses “obscure references” when i teach, i do think i should point out that some of us simply have those rattling around in our heads, so it’s natural to use them—from us, it’s not an attempt to impress people, it’s just what we do. (Now, that said, i do agree that some people use obscurity in weird ways.)
→Grapes and jalapeno peppers together—yummm!
→Strong emotions can block out communication with the Spirit? So does this mean those whirlwind BYU engagements work against the Spirit? Just wonderin’.
→I’m gonna have to go through Elder Scott’s conference addresses since he was called to the Twelve—has he ever not included an at-least-oblique reference to pornography?
→ General conference addresses that deal with pornography seem to assume it’s all about the men, but women can be pretty ardent consumers of porn, too. Do women and girls get similar messages in Relief Society and Young Women’s general meetings? I’m gonna have to look thatt up.

Thomas S. Monson opens us off:
→Temples in Brigham City, Utah (pretty close to existing temples) and Fort Lauderdale, Florida (read: Miami, not terribly far from Orlando but far enough to create logistical headaches). Russia still gets bupkis.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

How to make sin boring

Heard in a sacrament meeting address:

  • We don’t have to break all the commandments to know that we should follow them.

This leads to idle speculation on my part: How long would it take to break all the commandments, anyway?* Sounds like a full-time job to me.

* Yeah, yeah, i know that James says that to break one commandment is to break them all. You know what i mean, though.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Children have no free will!

I’ve heard it claimed—over the pulpit, and multiple times—that the future church activity of a family’s children is the direct result of whether the family had family home evening when their kids were children and teenagers. I find this amusing, since family home evening was actually pretty rare in my growing up,* but all of my parent’s children married in the temple and are currently active in the church, achievements that can’t be claimed by a number of other people i know who held family home evening every week. This leads to three semi-unrelated thoughts:

  1. Claims about correct practice based solely on anecdotal evidence are, if not completely stupid, only a half step removed from complete stupidity.
  2. Wouldn’t the vital importance of family home evening make it impossible for converts to the church to remain active?
  3. Why do we find it so hard to admit that children have free will no matter what their parents taught them?

* I’m not an eagle scout, either—in fact, i completely dropped out of boy scouting when I was thirteen. Oh, the wickedness!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Anybody wanna parse this for me?

Heard in sacrament meeting, from a teenager who’d just participated in one of those horrible, horrible “Trek”* things:

    And i really gained a testimony of my ancestors.

That was it—it didn’t tie in to anything that went before (despite the “and”), it was a complete sentence, and there was no further explanation. It just makes me wonder what in the world “testimony” means to Mormons nowadays, anyway.

* And i promise a really good rant about the idiocy of those one day.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Can we just stop handing out magnetic things to put on my refrigerator to remind me about some gospel principle or another? I mean, not only is it like i have room for them on there anyway, i’ve never even gotten one that’s made with a decent-enough quality magnet to hold up a single sheet of paper!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Presiding in the family

The leadership of a stake i used to live in was really into the idea that the head of household (well, really, they talked about the father of the family, but they clearly meant the head of household) was responsible for calling the family together for things like family prayers and family home evening, and that that responsibility couldn’t be either delegated to or taken on by anyone else in the family.

Upon thinking about it, though, the whole idea of the family having to wait to do a good thing until a particular person says to do it strikes me as, at best, dangerous. (I mean, there are some heads of household who aren’t into the whole religious life thing, or a head of household might be distracted one particular evening. And anyway, why not let everyone help out?)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Things to be thankful for

A not-uncommon item heard in testimony meetings: “I’m thankful for my wonderful husband…”

I just always want to mentally finish it with “…but not for my no-good, two-timing, non-wonderful husband!”

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Disney fathers: Not diminished

Another thought on this sacrament meeting meme that the role of the father in the family has been diminishing in recent years:

If this is going on in society as a whole, could someone explain to me how the role of the father in Bambi was completely natural for its time, and the role of the father in the Lion King was completely natural for its time, and yet fathers have less of a role nowadays?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Why serve?

Back a few years ago, President Hinckley announced a new policy to rein in the excesses of missionary farewells—basically, trimming them down to maybe a short address by the one who’s leaving. A response from some people (including some i know personally) ran along the lines of “But how will we get them to want to serve a mission, then?” Kinda sad, if you think someone’s willing to spend 18 or 24 months of their life doing missionary service in exchange for 35 minutes of fame in their home ward.

(Even sadder, if there were actually a few who were themselves willing to make that exchange.)

Friday, September 11, 2009


So a few days ago i was saying to Jeanne that it semi-bothers me that the church has added “virtue”* to the Young Women’s theme, since study after study has found that girls that are faced with intense pressure to not have sex (most visibly in the form of things like purity pledges, virginity rings, and—creepiest of all—father-daughter chastity balls) actually end up starting sexual activity earlier and engaging in riskier sexual behavior than those who aren’t faced with such pressures.

Then yesterday i got pointed to the Spanish Fork 401st Ward** and saw that a recent post there dealt with this exact same issue.

Also—and this is kind of a different issue, but still—wasn’t the Young Women’s theme long enough to be boring-sounding already?*** Did we really need to add more syllables?

* At least they didn’t decide to call it “purity”, which is just icky, or “moral purity”, which is just a stupid circumlocution. Why they didn’t go with something still-roundabout but more straightforward like “chastity”, though, i’m not sure.

** Subtitled “Just south of liberal-leaning Provo”, which made me, as someone who served time in Provo and Salem (just south of Spanish Fork), laugh out loud for longer than the people around me were comfortable with.

*** And “divine nature” as a value? I mean, what’s up with that? It doesn’t even make sense.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


I wonder if bishops and branch presidents are ever tempted, after particularly, um, content-filled opening prayers, to stand up and say “And now that the sermon has been given, we’ll close the meeting with a prayer by…”

Monday, September 7, 2009

’Nother thought on Jonah

One thing i really like about the Jonah story: Jonah delivers his prophecy, and the Ninevites proceed to repent—and the King joins in, saying something like “If we repent, then God might turn away his anger.” That’s a lot different than the way you usually hear it glossed, saying “Let’s repent so that God won’t punish us”—and, i would argue, it isn’t just a more correct way of going about it, it takes a lot more faith.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Good translations

Time to give credit where it’s due.

The mainstream Xians who do the Veggie Tales videos got the content of Jonah’s prophecy to the Ninevites beautifully right (in my opinion) when they glossed it:

    Stop it!

(Probably a reminder we all need now and again, now that i think about it.)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Yeah, i’m a social stats geek—so?

Thanks to Dave Sundwall at A Soft Answer, who turned me on a few weeks ago* to the Pew Center’s study of sociopolitical views held by Mormons in the US. It took me a while to get through it properly, but it was worth it. There’s some interesting stuff in there, but unfortunately a lot of what people seem to be taking away from it a simple comparison of percentages, concluding that all it says is that Mormons are all hyperconservative (but with an intriguingly nuanced view of abortion). This isn’t what the report says, though.

Well, that is, it does say that Mormons are generally more sociopolitically conservative than the US population overall. It’s the details that make that the wrong conclusion to draw.

First of all, there are some interesting regional differences. Unfortunately, the study didn’t appear to separate people out by where they grew up, but rather only by where they live. Given that lots of wards and branches across the US are populated by Mormons who grew up in the jello belt, i suspect that the findings mask what i believe is a truth about Mormonism and sociopolitical leanings: It isn’t that Mormons are generally conservative, it’s that Mormons generally hold sociopolitical views that more or less match the population they grew up with—but most US Mormons are from sociopolitically conservative parts of the country, and that skews the overall results. The Pew Center’s results give us no way of actually determining whether my expectation is true, but it hints that it may be more true than false.

Another interesting finding: Converts really are different than lifelong Mormons. This may be a regional effect, as well, of course—there are likely to be more lifelong Mormons from areas that have a large number of Mormons. I really wish the Pew Center had reported the results of multivariate (and nonlinear!) regression analyses—i know they have the ability to do so, given the people they have on staff, so why they don’t release that sort of thing i don’t know.

One really interesting thing is the age difference—younger Mormons are more likely to have religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices that are associated with higher degrees of religious devoutness. I don’t know if this stems from younger Mormons being actually more devout in general or younger non-devout nominal Mormons being more likely to self-identify as non-Mormon (and therefore not part of this survey)—it’d be interesting to know.

And finally, the last thing i’d like to point out is that a clear majority of Mormons polled state that there is one true way to interpret Mormon teachings. To be honest, this amused me—i mean, i suspect that what people were saying was one of two things: either “i know how to interpret Mormon teachings, and i’m right” (yeah, and every Mormon who disagrees with you on stuff like caffeinated beverages feels the same way), or “our prophet has the correct interpretation” (which is more interesting, since the respondent wouldn’t necessarily know what the one true interpretation might be).

Yeah, it may well be true that there is one correct interpretation of Mormon teachings—i suspect there is, though i don’t know that i’d give a firm “yes” in answer to that question, maybe a “if you mean does God know, then yes; if you mean does any mortal know all truth, then no”, but I doubt that would fit on the form—but i still haven’t seen a comprehensive Mormon catechism,** you know?

* If you follow this link, ignore the comments—somehow, it devolved instantly into namecalling and ax-grinding over immigration issues.

** I own a copy of the most recent Roman Catholic catechism. It’s a fascinating reference work, really—i’m kind of jealous. Yeah, we’ve got the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, but it’s just not the same.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Using even the bad times

From a sacrament meeting address by a recently returned full-time missionary:

  • It was tough, because i was stuck with a companion who was ill.

I understand the thought, actually, but the reaction strikes me as showing a lack of imagination. When i was a full-time missionary and my companion was essentially bedridden for just shy of a month, i took it as an opportunity to really intensely study the scriptures during the time i would otherwise have been out preaching—and i learned more about the scriptures during that not-quite-a-month than i’ve learned probably any other entire year of my life.

“When life hands you lemons, make lemonade” is a silly (maybe even stupid) little saying, but the thought behind it is valid, after all.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The purpose of home teaching

I thought this was a one-time statement, but i’ve now heard it twice in sacrament meetings, so i’d like to register my objection to it:

  • Home teaching is intended to provide priesthood leadership in homes that don’t have the priesthood present.

This is, i would argue, untrue—rather, home teaching is intended (in part) to provide priesthood assistance to homes without the priesthood present (as well as those that do). This is an important difference.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


We’re counseled to live close to the Lord—maybe my family did do a Bad Thing, moving from the mountains to sea level some years ago.

(Or maybe such counsel is simply a way to keep the Utahns’ self-esteem up…)

Monday, August 24, 2009

On prophecy

The latest thing that bores me in sacrament meeting speeches: Someone reading something of the “If the world doesn’t repent, then God will pour out punishments on them” variety from, say, Spencer W. Kimball or Joseph Fielding Smith while they were president of the church, and then drawing the conclusion that the problems the world is facing now are in direct fulfillment of that prophecy, and that that’s proof that the prophet was divinely inspired, since otherwise how could they have known thirty whole years ago?

Thirty years? Thirty years is nothing! I mean, John prophesied all that in the Book of the Revelation nearly two thousand years ago! And how about Daniel, long before that?

Friday, August 21, 2009

When disguises don’t work

I don’t get parts of the Book of Mormon. I mean, take the story of Abinadi. He gets hunted down (unsuccessfully, apparently), and then he pops up in disguise (presumably so nobody’ll recognize him), and the first thing we hear him saying? “Hi! I’m Abinadi!”

Apparently secret agent training wasn’t quite as advanced back in those days as it is now.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Continuing to think about virgins

Another thought on the parable of the ten wise and ten foolish virgins: If the parable says that you can’t borrow a testimony from those that have one, isn’t it also kind of saying that you can buy one, as long as you leave yourself enough time?

Who knew? You really can buy anything in this world with money!

Monday, August 17, 2009

No oil in my lamp

The parable of the five wise and five foolish virgins has gotten really popular in the church over the past few years, and some of the ramifications of that parable worry me sometimes—i mean, my family uses compact fluorescent lights in our lamps, so not only don’t we have any spare oil for our lamps, we’ve never had any oil in them to begin with!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Back in the saddle again—and Job

Well, after much Sturm und Drang about it i finally have reliable internet connectivity, so i figured i’d share an insight i’ve had—i’ve finally figured out the ultimate moral of the Biblical Book of Job:

  • If you make a wager with God, you’re gonna lose the bet.

Thank you, it’s just a little service i like to provide.

Friday, July 31, 2009

An anniversary, and the return of the testimony glove

So this blog is officially one year old today.

Looking back through all the posts, i find it interesting that the one that got the most comments, including some from people who just popped in to disagree with me on that topic and then disappeared completely, was on the rather bizarre phenomenon of the “testimony glove”. (The link should pop up a new window with my post on it. You may want to read it to provide context.)

I just think it’s interesting that such a cutesy item can be the source of such vehemence, both against it (that’d be me!) and for it (i’ve found a “testimony of the testimony glove” written by the person who claims to have invented them).

I still maintain that the whole “testimony glove” is harmless enough, except that it gets taken way too far when we start recommending that people use things like that as a cheat sheet for testimonies. Testimonies are supposed to come from the heart—any claim that there are “five essential elements of a pure testimony” (yes, that’s a quote) and that testimonies should stick to those misses the point, really—outside of a couple of rather technical uses, a testimony is a statement of what the utterer avers to be fact. In Mormon contexts, this is something you aver to be fact because the Holy Spirit has given you a witness of it. Full stop.

And creating a crib sheet for things that are claimed to be essential is dangerous, i’d argue. If the speaker knows the five things on the testimony glove to be fact (God lives, Jesus is God’s son, Joseph Smith is a prophet who translated the Book of Mormon through divine inspiration, we’re in the true church, and the church is led by a living prophet),* then that person should call that their testimony. However, if the person knows other things that aren’t on the testimony glove to be true (say, that priesthood keys have been restored, or that angels minister to humans, or that the book of Doctrine and Covenants contains revelations from God,** or that having love for each other is a good thing in God’s eyes), that’s still a “pure testimony”, no matter what the testimony glove may say.

The really interesting thing about the comments i got from my earlier post on the testimony glove is how (politely) vehement some of the responses were that the testimony glove is a good thing. (Sidebar in response to a comment i got off-blog: Just ’cause an idea appears in the Friend doesn’t mean it’s divinely inspired, you know?) One of the memes seemed to be that we have poor models of testimony-bearing in testimony meetings, so kids need a cheat sheet of sorts. Though i disagree that children need a cheat sheet for testimonies (a testimony in testimony meeting is supposed to be at least semi-unscripted, after all, since it’s supposed to be delivered when the Spirit moves you to deliver it, not when you’ve planned out what you’re gonna say)—and particularly that full-time missionaries don’t need one, or at least shouldn’t—i can understand the urge. However, the testimony glove does two things wrong in relation to this: It misdefines what a testimony is, and it wrongly limits the sorts of things that ought to appear in testimonies.

And yeah, as a couple commenters noted, travelogues and thankimonies can be annoying, but when they’re very short and used to illustrate a deeper point, they actually work. The people in your ward don’t do that? Fine. Start modeling better behavior, don’t hand out scripts. Is that so hard?

Well, for some people, apparently it is.

* I’d argue that some of these are wrong, in minor though not unimportant ways—for example, the church is not led by a living prophet, it’s led by Jesus Christ.
**I suppose some could argue that this one is subsumed within the Joseph Smith one—but if so, why would the testimony glove be needed to remind people that the Book of Mormon was translated via prophetic means?

Friday, July 24, 2009

A thought for Pioneer Day

I have no pioneer ancestry—at all—but i’ve often had people tell me that i have a spiritual pioneer ancestry, ’cause my parents were taught by people with pioneer ancestry.

You could actually play that game with pretty much anyone in the church—if they weren’t taught by someone with pioneer ancestry, they were taught by someone with pioneer ancestry (or if their teachiers didn’t have pioneer ancestry, they were taught by someone who did…and so on).


You know, i like this idea, i just don’t think it goes far enough. My parents were taught by someone with pioneer ancestry, who was taught by someone with pioneer ancestry, who was taught by someone with pioneer ancestry, and so on until you get to someone who was taught by someone from upstate New York (who was, if you want to take it even further, taught by angelic ministrants and deity).

So much for everyone in the church ultimately having a pioneer ancestry.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What’s an abode, then?

Some things you hear in church just make you want to say “Um, dude?”—like the sacrament speaker who took the line in the scriptures that Jesus can “abide” with us and claimed that that word doesn’t mean he can “live” with us, it means something much, much stronger (though that was never defined, oddly enough). Um, dude?…

Friday, July 17, 2009

On evidences of apostasy

Today’s entry is semi-inspired by spending time in Kirtland, Ohio last Sunday with three different Latter Day Saint Movement churches, though i’ve thought it for a long, long time:

So what’s up with this widespread Mormon point of view that all the arguing amongst the existing Xian churches during the Second Great Awakening is proof that they were in apostasy? Given all the different Latter Day Saint Movement churches right now, and the doctrinal differences and occasional open disagreement between all of them, wouldn’t that mean we have proof that we are all in apostasy right now? I mean, if you’re gonna use the one, you have to be ready to be skewered with the other, right?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Diminishing returns?

I feel like i’m hearing more and more people in church saying that the role of the father in the family has been diminishing in recent years.

Recent years? I’d say the role of the father has been diminishing since humans decided that the best way to deal with a pair-bonding society was to do the hunter-gatherer thing, really.

Friday, July 3, 2009


What is it about Mormons and pianos?

With only very, very rare exceptions, the only homes i’ve ever been in that have pianos (a) have at least some of the same occupants as were there in the 1950s, and/or (b) have Mormons in the household.

I, for one, find this weird. (Of course, i have to admit to not really liking the way pianos sound, even when they’re perfectly in tune, which is rare for an in-home piano.)

I know this blog doesn’t have a wide readership, but surely those of you who do read have some sort of collective wisdom on this one.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The church’s moving company

So as i mentioned a bit ago, my family is moving to Alaska. We’re in the midst of the move itself right now (hence the gap between the last post and this one), and so i’ve been thinking about moving, naturally enough, and particularly:

When did the Elders Quorums become the official moving company for the church?

I was an Elders Quorum president a while back, and i got a call once from someone about 10:00 am, and he told me that he was on the road driving his U–Haul, and would get in about 2:00 pm that same day, and could i get a few of the elders to help him move in?

Well, since i didn’t get the message until the evening, i didn’t get him any help—and you know what? I felt no guilt. At all.

Well, Jeanne and i just loaded everything up by ourselves without using help from the elders quorum. I am apparently not a good member of the church—i should have called my elders quorum president for help the night before our shipping containers were to be picked up. Right?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Unoriginality in speaking

Can somebody tell me when it became completely acceptable for people to simply read General Conference addresses instead of coming up with their own original work when they speak in sacrament meeting? I mean, i assume there was a letter from the First Presidency or something, since it’s occurring so often—so when was it? Was i home sick, or maybe traveling for business on that particular Sunday?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Up to 490, or so it seemed

So if the scriptures say that we can have up to seven quorums* of seventy, and the change from local to general seventies quorums was done, at least in part, to match prophetic guidance on the subject,** why do we now have eight quorums of seventies?

* Why do i always want to say “quora” instead of “quorums“?

** Look particularly at the text leading to note 12.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Architects gone wild!

A couple weeks ago, A Soft Answer* ran one of its periodic “Flickr Find”s—this time, a picture of the Mormon pavilion at the Expo 74 World’s Fair in Spokane, Washington.

(Click on the image for its Flickr page, including copyright information.)

Yeah, the whole “golden plates” thing is cool and all, but like i wrote on A Soft Answer about it, i strongly suspect that this bit of weirdness from the church’s architects is what got church leadership to finally speak out against the use of mind-altering drugs.

That is all.

* A blog which, in a bit of small-worldness, is done by Dave Sundwall, who i went to college with.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

MoTab we ought to hear

To begin: I’m not a fan of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s sound. At all. (Actually, i’m not a fan of much of what you might call the “Mormon sound”—Gladys Knight was right about the, well, boring nature of our music.) However, i will readily admit that they have the right sound for some stuff—and so there are two things i’d like to hear (preferably live, but i’ll take a high-quality recording) MoTab do before i die, ’cause they have the perfect sound for them.

The first, and the longest shot: Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. You have to figure this one isn’t going to happen. (Legend says they backed out of a recording in the 1960s when they read it—it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s true, since the book has lyrics that translate to stuff such as “May God grant, may the gods grant/​What i have in mind:/​That I may loose/​the chains of her virginity.”) Of course, when i taught at Brigham Young University (this was right around the turn of the century) the BYU combined choirs did an absolutely amazing performance of Carmina Burana, so maybe Mormons have mellowed out about singing Latin- and Middle German-language erotic and drinking songs. I can only hope.

The second, and much more along the lines of what i’d expect from MoTab, is Mozart’s Requiem. They may have done a recording of this, in fact, and i’ve missed it (they recently released a recording of Mack Wilberg’s Requiem, which may be getting in the way of what i went looking for, and i know they’ve done Brahms’s German Requiem)—it seems their sort of thing. Once again, they have the right sound for it.

(And if they’ve actually done either of these, pointers to them would be appreciated. Thanks.)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Naming a patron saint

I would like to nominate my friend* Craig Olson as patron saint of this blog. In support of this, i present the following shaggy dog, which he once wrote in a discussion in response to a troll asking, among other things (with typos preserved)

Do gods eat and drink? Do gods sleep? Since gods are glorified men do they do the same activities as they did during their probation on earth. I realize they perfect. But as they are married do they carry on othernormal human activities like eating, drinking and sleeping?

It had been a long day, and God was tired. He stared out the window of the train, and watched the kingdomside draw by in the afternoon light. He sighed, impatient for the train to reach the station, tired of watching mansion after mansion pass before his view.

With a series of subtle slowing lurches, the train hissed and clanked into the station. God reached out the window, and opened the door from the outside. Stepping down to the platform, he reached back into the compartment to grab his briefcase. He crossed the platform and walked through the turnstile, whose plaintive squeak seemed to set his teeth on edge. No one, it seemed, ever bothered to oil the thing. It had made the same squeak every day for as long as God could remember.

Walking to his car, God unlocked, then opened the door and swung his briefcase over to the passenger seat. After resting his hands for a moment on the edge of the door, God sat, heavily, behind the wheel, then swung in and closed the door. The key slid easily into the ignition but, when turned, produced no results. No cranking, no lights, no clicking, no luck. Some days, it seemed, were just more difficult than others.

With a sigh, God climbed back out of the car and locked the door, leaving his briefcase on the front seat. “It’s not like I need it for anything this evening,” he thought. And without a glace back at the car, he set off on the walk home.

The house was set well back from the road at the far end of town—not a difficult walk, and quite pleasant as the light began to fade from the day. The house was dark as God strode up the drive. “I’m home,” he called as he walked through the door, but there was no reply. There was a note on the kitchen table—something about a Relief Society Board meeting, and a casserole in the Kelvinator. Hungry as he might have been, the long day and the long walk had lessened the desire for food, at least for a cold casserole.

Turning aside to the den, God sat down and leaned back in the recliner. He could see the sky through the window turn slowly to a clear cobalt glow. “At least it’s Saturday,” he sighed, and closed his eyes for a welcome rest.

* Both a real-life friend and a net.friend. I met him and his family when i was a teenager, then we fell out of touch, then we re-met on the net.