Friday, December 31, 2010

The primacy of family home eveningNew Year’s Eve

According to the official handbooks, the church does not allow any church activities to take the place of Monday night family home evenings. Ever. Under any circumstances.

Well, except

If New Year’s Eve occurs on a Monday, church activities may be held that evening.

This is actually a longstanding policy—so, i have to ask, why? What’s so special about New Year’s Eve as opposed to any other holiday that’s frequently celebrated with late nights (like, for example, Independence Day in the United States)?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Youth dances and hair

A couple weeks ago, i chaperoned a church youth dance for the very first time.

It was a weird experience, being the grown-up. But that’s not the aspect of it i want to talk about today.

Here’s what really caught my attention: There’s a dress and grooming code for attending dances in my stake. (As far as i can tell, there’s such dress and grooming codes for church dances at least nearly everywhere, though the details of what they are may be different.) Here, the dress and grooming standards are, essentially, the same ones that Brigham Young University requires of its students.

For the most part, this isn’t a problem, because my stake allows youth who come to the dances but aren’t following those dress and grooming rules to change their appearance on the spot, and then they’re allowed in. So, for example, a girl with more than one pair of earrings (or a boy with any earrings, or anyone with any visible non-ear body piercing) can simply remove the piercing and they’re good to go.

This even goes to the clothes the kid is wearing—if, say, a girl comes in wearing a skirt that’s too short, the stake holds a bunch of teen-sized clothing in reserve that they can change into so that they’re then following the rules. (In my opinion this is good, by the way—if you’re going to have rules on appearance that have somewhat subjective boundaries, providing a way to adhere to them on the spot seems only reasonable.)

There are, though, a few rules that don’t lend themselves to on-the-spot changing—and there lies the problem. For example, one of the rules in my stake forbids youth with multiple colors of hair (you know, like bleached ends or a streak of color)* from attending youth dances.

Fine. You can make whatever rule you like. But i wonder about whether this is actually a good sort of rule to have, one where the so-called “problem” can’t be fixed on the spot. (Basically, if someone shows up with multiple hair colors, they’ve got to go home—there’s no good way to cover it up, especially with hats not being allowed.) What, though, if a non-member who has, say, blue and blond streaks gets invited to a youth dance here? They’re not allowed to enter—if they show up, they get barred from going in. Of course, if that happens they’re less likely to show any interest in the church in the future, i would expect.

And there we have a real issue (and not necessarily the one you’d immediately think of). The big problem: Our expectations start to feed our reality—i mean, a kid with blue and blond streaks clearly isn’t the sort of person who would ever have any interest in the church, anyway, right? After all, they never seem to want to come to our dances, so their hair color must just be a reflection of a hard heart and spiritual weakness, right? And we wouldn’t want someone like that in our church, would we?

* Of course, the enforcement of this rule doesn’t extend to girls with blond highlights. I suppose they can’t really enforce that one ’cause if they did, they’d have to ban some of the youth leaders from showing up. Amazing how the practices of the ones holding more power are acceptable, even if it goes against the literal statements of those in power, isn’t it?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Holidays and meetings

As much as i loathe extra-special bonus meetings, i do wonder why we don’t do Xmas Eve meetings, like so many other Xian faiths do. I mean, if you’re gonna have one extra meeting, you’d think that’s the one you should have.

(Of course, not having a bonus meeting on Xmas is, i suppose, better than what we do with Easter, which is to have the regularly scheduled meeting anyway but pretty much ignore the specialness of the day while we’re meeting.)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Looking at the calendar

Can we stop it already with the repeated claim (over the pulpit sometimes, even!) that we’re special because Doctrine & Covenants 20:1 tells us that Jesus was born on 6 April, 1 bc?

I mean, especially since it appears to be simply not true, what with the reference to the year most likely being just a hyper-flowery way of saying ad 1830? (Not to mention the issues of mapping a solar calendar to a lunar one, and the fact that each solar year isn’t always the same length anyway, and…) Also, it seems especially impolite to make such unsupported-by-scriptural-text statements right around Xmas itself.

Yeah, i know, we won’t (stop, that is). A boy can dream, though, can’t he?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mormons and persecution

The next time somebody starts going off in a church meeting about how persecuted they are as a Mormon,* i’m going to direct them to the recent NPR story on Iraqi Christians being singled out for death threats and even actual killing simply because they’re Christian.

That’s persecution, folks. People look at you weird or won’t vote for you or laugh about your beliefs ’cause you’re a Mormon, that’s simply life. Get over yourself. Mormons in the 1830s and 1840s were persecuted. Mormons in the 1880s were persecuted. Nowadays? If Iraqi Christians had the time or energy to spare, they would scoff at your delusions—and they’d be justified in doing so.

* A surprisingly common meme, really. Occasionally it’s blatant (the “somebody laughed at me at school because i’m Mormon” sort of thing), but usually it’s more subtle, and couched in terms of “attacks” on religion or the family or somesuch, but set up with a clear attack-on-Mormonism sort of spin.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Missing sleep

Can somebody explain to me how it’s healthy for our church’s teens to have weeknight church activities once a week that go until (in most places i’ve seen) 8:30 or 9:00 pm, and then have to get up early in the morning the next day for seminary? Seriously, what’s up with the logic? Have we decided our teenagers are superhuman, and don’t need sleep for healthy functioning?*

No, really—i don’t get it.

* And y’all in the Mormon Dominance Area, where you don’t have early-morning seminary, you don’t get off easy on this one. What i want to know from you is how it helps our youth to pull them away from their academics in the middle of the day, instead of putting gospel study in the home, where all the rhetoric we use says it rightly belongs.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Decorum and performance

I have, not infrequently, heard members of the church talk about how horrible and apostate—yes, the “A” word comes up occasionally—certain other faiths are because they allow things like drums and electric guitars and such into their meetings, and members of the congregation do things like dance or or shout or cheer.

All i can say is that if you don’t sometimes want to get up and dance or cheer in sacrament meeting, well, then your ward’s choir isn’t doin’ it right.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Why these meetings?

Can somebody explain to me the purpose of the priesthood executive committee at the ward level? I mean, why is there such a group that has to meet quite so often, as opposed to just doing everything through the ward council?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Changing rules

Unless i read it wrong, the most recent version of the church’s administrative handbook* says that the wearing of white shirts and ties should be encouraged among those who are asked to conduct the administration of the sacrament, but that—and this is the interesting part—white shirts and ties aren’t to be required of those who administer the ordinance.

I wonder if the widespread local de jure rules on white shirts and ties while administering the sacrament will actually go away, or if they’ll simply be replaced by de facto versions of the rule.

* Now called just Handbook, though it’ll always be the GHI to me!

Friday, November 26, 2010


What’s with padded folding chairs where the relief society meets, but hard chairs everywhere else (at least in most meetinghouses i’ve been to)? Are women’s coccyges really that much more delicate than those of males?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Politicians as leaders

So my stake was reorganized Sunday before last, and the new stake president is Sheldon Fisher. Interestingly, he has a political past—he unsuccessfully challenged Congressman Don Young in the most recent Republican primary here, running to Young’s right (which, really, is pretty hard to do).

In my memory, political figures in ward and stake leadership tend to be better at keeping politics, even to the level of code words, out of the pulpit than those who aren’t political figures.* (Maybe they know the game, so they know how to avoid it.) I’ll be interested to see if this observation continues to hold true.

* I use the phrase “in my memory” on purpose—i do realize that this hasn’t always been the case (see Benson, Ezra Taft and Roberts, B.H., among many others). My personal memories of these sorts of things, though, only go back to the early 80s or so.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Why is it that, as far as i can tell, the church only publishes quadruple combinations with leather (or at least leather-like) binding? What if i want a hardbound copy of the scriptures? I’m limited to separate volumes for the Bible and everything else. Why not let those of us who prefer to have everything in one book have them in cheaper options?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Mormons actually vote in other countries, too, you know

There’s a general perception that Mormons in the United States are, by and large, sociopolitically conservative.* Certainly, more of the Mormons in Congress are Republican than Democratic—i’m curious, though, whether Mormon politicians in other countries are generally affiliated with their countries’ conservative parties. (The only list of currently serving Mormon politicians from outside of the United States i can find doesn’t give enough information to figure that out.)

* Some say that that’s evidence that Mormonism necessarily leads to a sociopolitically conservative outlook, but that’s not a defensible position as long as the potential confound of region isn’t factored out—and i haven’t yet seen a study of Mormon sociopolitical leanings that does so.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Nylons and the oral tradition

The overreliance of Mormons on what i sometimes call (for lack of a better label) the “oral tradition” troubles me. This is particularly the case for a religion like ours that leans so far to the orthopraxy side of things.

Specific case:

When we lived in Florida, most of the women in our stake didn’t wear nylons to church. In fact, it was generally regarded as a silly thing to do—we were in Florida, after all, and nylons are a rather warm bit of clothing.

Now that we live in Alaska, as far as i can tell, nobody cares one way or the other—some women wear nylons to church while others don’t, and it’s not a big deal.

I know women who live in other locations, though, who have been taught over the pulpit by bishops and stake presidents that it’s a moral sin—yes, that’s not made up—for women not to wear nylons to church.

Sorry, folks, but i’d have to think that if it’s not a sin in Florida or Alaska, it’s also not a sin in Maryland or even Utah.

(Of course, i still remember a post from a while age on the Spanish Fork 401st Ward blog where the question was posed whether nylons are a “spiritual requirement for sisters, or old-men fetish?” Well, given that there really apparently is a word in Japanese porn for that, i know what my guess is…)

Saturday, November 6, 2010


Why do so many speakers feel the urge to pepper their speeches in church with glurge? Particularly when a quick trip to Snopes could demonstrate the falsity of much of what’s out there—scroll through the list on the glurge page, and you’re bound to see a lot of thing you’ve heard before in sacrament meetings, i’d wager.)

It’s a serious question—especially since i have to wonder whether the Holy Spirit is going to testify to the truth of something that quite definitely isn’t.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Counterintuitive elections

So it’s election night here in the United States, and ABC News has just projected that Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, will retain his seat (which hadn’t been at all a given before today).

This means that, to what i assume is the annoyance of lots of Mormons in this country, the most powerful Mormon elected officeholder in the United States will continue to be a member of the left-of-center Democratic Party.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Who does what?

A follow-up to my last post: While going through the theses and dissertations i’ve found on Mormon cultural patterns over the past few months, i found reference to a study* that found that Mormons express more intolerance for nontraditional gender roles in household labor (e.g., a husband doing the cooking, or a wife setting up a computer) than Catholics or Protestants, but that Mormons actually don’t differ from Catholics or Protestants in the way household labor is actually divided. Intriguing difference/non-difference there.

* Necessary disclaimer: The summary here is from a secondary source, i haven’t read the original, so i can’t vouch 100% for what’s here. The article that this comes from is referenced in the thesis as Bahr 1983—and then it isn’t listed in the works cited! Grrrr…How am i supposed to find it without a full citation? Well, i’ll be looking for it, definitely…

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Researching Mormonism

So i was looking for some scholarly work on Mormon culture, and i ended up at the Brigham Young Universisty’s online library of BYU master’s theses on Mormonism. I spent more time than i should have allotted there, ’cause it really was fascinating.

One thing i discovered: Back in the 50s and 60s (and to some extent in the 70s), the theses in the collection take pains to toe the line of Mormon culture (so that, for example, even if the data pointed in a direction that went against Mormon cultural norms, there was generally a discussion of why the data was flawed or why it actually went along with those norms—even when it clearly didn’t—or somesuch). In more recent work (which includes stuff found in the general collection, now that all of the school’s theses and dissertations are online), though, there seems to be a general tendency to go wherever the data leads, even if that goes against Mormon cultural norms.*

I’ve often heard the idea (mainly from con-Mormons**) that believing Mormons can’t do serious scholarship on Mormonism ’cause it’s impossible for a faithful Mormon to run the social risk of going against the intense normativity that is involved in being Mormon. It may be that that was once true, but that that idea is now outdated.

Or, at least, that’s my hope.

* I, for one, see this as a positive development.

** “Con-Mormon” is a term that Craig Olson came up with to describe someone who isn’t anti-Mormon (that is, they aren’t after tearing down the Mormon church at any cost), but has reasoned or at least reasonable arguments against some aspect(s) of Mormonism and the Mormon church. The crucial difference between an anti-Mormon and a con-Mormon is that rational (well, as rational as religious debate can be) debate leading to a worthwhile exchange of ideas is possible with a con-Mormon.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

What’s valuable?

You know what bugs me about the young women theme? the “values” that it lists aren’t all actually values. I mean, divine nature? How in the world is that a value? A nice thing to think about, sure—but not a value.

And, of course, there’s the fact that the logo creeps me out for some reason.

Anyway—that is all. Just a brief vent for tonight.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Why missionary efforts are doomed

I’m tired of being told i have to be careful about teaching my children correct gospel principles, because otherwise they’re guaranteed to be lost (in the religious sense) forever. I mean, it just doesn'’t work logically—consider:

  1. Assumption: If children aren’t taught correct gospel principles, they won’t live according to them when they grow up.
  2. The only reason that assumption could work would be if there’s no way someone who’s not taught gospel principles in childhood would follow those principles when they’re older.
  3. Therefore, the church’s missionary efforts are doomed because conversions to the church are completely impossible, since the missionaries’ efforts largely target those who weren’t taught gospel principles as children.

Or, in other words, reductio ad absurdum.

More seriously, i still don’t get why we have so much trouble coming to terms with the idea that people make their own decisions about their spiritual lives, even those who were raised in the church.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Partial truths

Some primary songs really bug me. Take, for example, the song “The Family Is of God”, which includes the lines

A mother’s purpose is to care, prepare,
To nurture and to strengthen all her children.

Are you kidding me? How about telling the truth: The purpose of human beings is to care, prepare, nurture, and strengthen children. (And not even just their own children, at that.)

So why the need to present this partial truth as a contrast to a previous verse describing a “father’s place” (which also only gives a partial picture)? This whole cultural need within present-day Mormonism to try to place mothers and fathers (well, maybe actually women and men) into neatly separated boxes strikes me as weirdly wrongheaded, and possibly even dangerous. So how did we get into it?

Thursday, October 14, 2010


My last post, and particularly the exchange following it between Heather and me, led me to wonder something about general conference: Since the written report is the official record of the conference and effectively overrules what was spoken there, and since the written report is freely available, why are we encouraged so strongly to actually listen to the could-be-changed speeches when they’re given?

Monday, October 11, 2010


So the bloggernacle is abuzz with the report that Boyd K. Packer is revising his general conference address in a couple of not insignificant ways before it’s published.

There’s a lot of discussion on various fora about what this might mean for Mormon dogma with regard to homosexuality, but that’s not what really caught my attention about this. What caught my attention is that this pokes a bit of a hole in the idea a lot of Mormons have that every time a prophet or apostles sneezes, then it’s automatically church doctrine.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Age and leadership

A question that i posted during my general conference semi-liveblogging sessions, but one i want to highlight separately, ’cause i really do wonder what people’s answers might be:

Joseph Smith was a teenager when he was first called as a prophet (though he was in his twenties once his ordination occurred). The original quorum of apostles was made up of fairly young guys. Why don’t we have notably young people in the highest levels of church leadership any more?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Knocking doors

So i heard about a friend of mine who’s really, really annoyed at the Mormon church because a pair of our missionaries rang her doorbell, not just invading her space but also waking up her son, who had just unwillingly gone down for a very, very much-needed nap.

It’s not just the Mormons her ire is directed against, though—it’s all groups or businesses or whatever that intrude on her privacy* by coming to her door without permission.

There’s got to be a better way. In fact, if you read church history, knocking on doors isn’t mentioned—it seems that the preferred methods were along the lines of street preaching or renting a hall and preaching.** And yeah, i know the whole thing about member referrals, but i’m talking about finding through missionary efforts here—isn’t there some worthwhile way for missionaries in the United States to use their finding time that doesn't involve bothering people who are relaxing at home?

* As she perceives it, at least. Of course, having—like her—grown up in the urbanized part of the eastern United States, i completely understand and actually feel pretty much the same way.

** What ever happened to renting a hall for preaching? Was it the victim of social changes? It’s not like it was an ineffective method back when it was used.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Sunday afternoon session

So we’ve finally gotten to Sunday afternoon, where the speakers can relax properly ’cause they know that everyone’s attention span has been used up by now.

As with all of these, i’ve written this post bottom-up, with the first speaker at the end of the post, preceded by the second speaker, and so on, up to the final speaker at the top of the post. My thoughts on each speaker, though, are given in the order i write them. Therefore, to get a chronological view of the session you’ll need to scroll to the bottom of this post and read upwards.

Closing thought

  • If they cut out all of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir bits, i’m thinking we could get general conference over and done with in something like two sessions instead of five.

Thomas S. Monson (president of the high priesthood)

  • So he requested that people read the conference addresses. Leads to the interesting question of why we’re requested to listen to all of them live, too.
  • Kind of a mellow benediction, overall. I have to admit—and here’s more proof that i’m evil—that near the end some of what he said reminded me of the philosophy Bill and Ted (of the pointless eighties movie Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) provided for the world: Be excellent to each other.

M. Russell Ballard (of the quorum of apostles)

  • So i’m guessing Elder Ballard is into trout fishing.
  • Addiction is bad. (I suppose that at this point i should disclose my own struggles with my addiction to oxygen.)
  • Wow! I don’t think i’ve ever heard a list of specific drugs like that in a general conference before—one may have been delivered, but i don’t recall it. (Of course, this makes me happy largely because i’m a fan of specificity—some parents may have been horrified that such things were mentioned where there kids could hear about them. As is so often the case, your mileage may vary.)
  • It’s sort of sad that he had to give a disclaimer that prescription medications (including painkillers) are a good thing—but i’ve seen people take statements by general authorities in similar weirdly wrong ways, so i guess it’s a sad necessity.
  • Hey! I’ve texted my wife when we were in the same room! Good way to keep the kids from overhearing our conversation, you see…
  • Interesting to hear the source of LDS Family Service’s addiction recovery program cited as Alcoholics Anonymous’s twelve-step program.

Mervyn B. Arnold (of the seventy)

  • A family of nine in a two-bedroom house, with an enclosed porch being pressed into service as a makeshift bedroom? What with the whole enclosed porch thing, i’m assuming he didn’t grow up in Alaska. (Quick googling: He was born in Maryland, but grew up in Arizona. That makes sense.)
  • He called For the Strength of Youth an “inspired pamphlet”. What did he mean by this? Did he mean that the contents are divinely inspired, or that its simple existence is inspired? It’s certainly not canon, and it’s subject to revision at any time, so the first of those possibilities doesn’t really work, at least not completely—but i suspect that’s closer to what was intended. Anyway, this leads to a deeper question: What does it actually mean for something to be “inspired”?

I didn’t have a hope of getting this name from the audio feed (of the seventy)

  • If sin is a willful disobedience of God’s laws, what about passive (but not ignorant) disobedience? I suspect it’s sin as well, but i’m not certain.
  • What does it mean to go to bed early and not sleeping in? I realize that it’s mentioned in the book of Doctrine & Covenants, but what were sleep patterns like back then? Most of what i’ve seen leads me to think eight hours a day would have been very low for back then.

I didn’t have a hope of getting this name from the audio feed (of the seventy)

  • It occurs to me that his metaphor of the hollow tree is a warning that we shouldn’t let ourselves become spiritually “hollow”, but i find it interesting that the tree was still able to stand with support from other sources—maybe there’s another lesson in the metaphor, which is that we ought to support others, no matter their weaknesses?

Larry R. Lawrence (of the quorums of seventy)

  • (I’m not certain i got who it was precisely correctly—we’re listening on the audio feed, not on video, so i don’t get to see their names on the screen.)
  • He’s speaking to the parents of teenagers. We don’t have any teens, only tweens—does that mean we get to take a nap now?
  • Actually, what with my oldest being who she is, telling her to get off the train tracks might get her to stay on more stubbornly…
  • The example of Alma correcting Corianton versus Eli not correcting his sons was well-done. There is another important situation to remember, though: Lehi, who corrected his sons but was unsuccessful in reaching all of them.
  • Interesting that he says that if either parent feels uncomfortable about their children doing something, they should support each other in their limits. This, of course, means that the most restrictive parent would always win; this isn’t necessarily a problem, i suppose, as long as the parents talk about their limits in private—it’s always possible for someone to be worried about something that isn’t worth worrying about, after all.
  • A well-placed warning about the dangers of sleepovers, and how they can lead to children’s first experience with various dangerous practices. Of course, sleepovers can also lead to a child having experience with a family praying together, or reading the scriptures, or doing other good things—but that doesn’t make for good headlines, i guess.

David A. Bednar (of the quorum of apostles)

  • Listening to this discussion of the Holy Ghost leads me to wonder what else, if anything, it does aside from acting as a messenger. You’d think a god would have more to do, but maybe not—maybe it’s an actual full-time divine job.
  • We can’t command the companionship of the Holy Ghost. That leads to an interesting question: Can we command the Holy Ghost to leave us?
  • Interesting definition of the word living in “true and living church”: essentially, that we have the gift of the Holy Ghost.
  • So if you have no malice, strife, or evil in your heart you have the Holy ghost with you? I’m not sure i got the details of that quote (of Joseph Smith) right upon hearing it, but it certainly sounds reasonable.

L. Tom Perry (of the quorum of apostles)

  • Lots of discussion of “traditional values” today. If my generation and younger haven’t been taught them, though, i’m thinking it’d be worth telling us pointedly and explicitly what exactly that phrase means. As it is, i think i know, but i can’t be certain.
  • Interesting that he said the exercise of the ministering of angels will add wisdom and such to one’s life. That’s not the way we usually think of that sort of thing, i think.
  • This address exhibits an interesting tension in Mormon rhetoric. There’s a lot of despairing of the youth of today, but then there are lots of stories about how wonderfully and excellently they’re acting.
  • I’m starting to think that what Elder Perry had really wanted was a speaking slot in priesthood session.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf (of the first presidency), opening remarks

  • Yes, this is the fifth general session of this general conference, making the priesthood session a “general session”. One would normally think that a session with restricted attendance like that wouldn’t count as “general”, but that’s the way these have always been counted as long as i’ve been watching them (and, as can be verified by listening to the recordings, for some decades prior). I wonder why?

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Sunday morning session

The big leagues! Yep, it’s Sunday morning, the the session of conference anybody who watches conference watches if they only watch one session.

Time to see who got the prime speaking slots.

As with the rest of these, this post is written bottom-up, with the first speaker at the end of the post, preceded by the second speaker, and so on, with the final speaker at the top of the post. My thoughts on each speaker, though, are given in the order i write them. Therefore, if you want a chronological view of the session, you need to scroll to the bottom of this post now and then start reading upwards.

Thomas S. Monson (president of the high priesthood)

  • Interesting that he refers to becoming president of the church as his “appointment” to that office.
  • Hurrah! A reminder that there is much that is good in the world! It’s altogether too easy for people, perhaps especially religious people, to dwell on everything that’s non-good in this mortal realm. Good to have reminders not to do so coming from the top.
  • So does my habit of seeing the good in the world around us mean that i’m a grateful person and never realized it? That’d be nice, wouldn’t it? Always good to have something going for you, i suppose.
  • Given that we believe in the immortality of the soul, is it ever too late to express gratitude to someone?
  • Nice indirect reminder that it’s altogether too easy to get used to what we have, and therefore feel that there’s no reason to be thankful for it.

Dallin H. Oaks (of the quorum of apostles)

  • He’s dealing directly with one of the inherent tensions of Mormon doctrine—that there is a hierarchical structure directing the affairs of the church and the behaviors of church members, but that there is also revelation to direct individuals’ lives that is available to all. Interesting terminological coinage he comes up with, calling these sides of revelation respectively the “priesthood line” and “personal line” of communication with God.
  • If the personal line of inspiration is primary over the priesthood line in family governance, does that mean that such issues as how families determine who says prayers, when family scripture study is held, and so on aren’t subject to the directives of bishops and stake presidents? I know some people who may be surprised to have just learned that…
  • So, Elder Oaks, tell us what you think about nondenominational Xianity. I’m sorta getting the feeling you’re not impressed, maybe?
  • He pronounced the word shew as [ʃo] (i.e., the same as show), which is actually the pronunciation of that word. Cue the happy dance.
  • Summary: He didn’t eliminate the tension i referred to above (which might be an impossible task, actually), but he did do a nice job of outlining some of the relationships involved that make it less of a tension than one might think. Nice job, really—like i wrote about one of Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s earlier addresses, it’s nice to hear addresses by general authorities who have had decent training in rhetoric.

Mary N. Cook (of the general presidency of the young women)

  • Yet another reference to Joseph Smith’s leg infection! The meme lives…
  • I’m going to have to review what she just said about the baptismal covenant. I haven’t been able to find it written down anywhere (and yeah, i know, i know, there’s Mosiah 18:8–10, but i’m not convinced that’s the baptismal covenant so much as it’s the qualifications for baptism), so i want to see if she gave any concrete pointers.
  • Spending long periods on the internet or watching television is bad for us? You know, like spending eight or ten (depending on sex) hours listening to the internet this weekend?
  • What she’s saying about clothing styles brings to mind a real question: Are current devout Mormon standards of clothing something that we should wish the rest of the world would adopt? I ask because, for example, current devout Mormon standards of clothing require the covering of shoulders, but are uncovered shoulders an inherently evil thing? I’m not certain of that.

Jay E. Jensen (of the presidency of the quorums of seventy)
  • My linguist self must offer the following observation: He exhibited tooth-sucking a few times early in his address. This is interesting, because that feature is generally associated with African-American Vernacular English.
  • “Take away the Book of Mormon and the revelations and where is our religion? We have none.” Actually, quite seriously, that’s not true. Most other religions don’t have the Book of Mormon, and many (most, if you don’t count such things as the Bible or the Qur’an or the Bhagavad Gita) don’t claim revelations, and yet they still exist as religions. Would our church be very different without those things? Yes. Would we have as strong a claim to correctness? I believe the answer is no. But that’s not what was stated, you know?

Boyd K. Packer (president of the quorum of apostles)

  • There’s a lot of stuff in here, but at least so far (several minutes into it) there’s nothing really to remark on here—it’s essentially saying “Obey the law of chastity”. Probably pretty good, though, to use as a foundational text for a family home evening lesson for families with teens/tweens like ours, though.
  • There’s a lot of jumping from topic to topic here that’s making it semi-hard for me to follow—it’s all dealing with law of chastity stuff, but it’s hopping from, say, premarital sex to pornography to extramarital affairs to whatever else without a lot of signposting. This address, i think, is intended primarily for the written record.
  • There’s code words in this right now—he’s talking about the pointlessness of legalizing evil things by the ballot. I’m curious why he isn’t stating outright at least some of the issues that this is referring to. I mean, i figure it’s likely that that was a statement against legalization of same-sex marriage, but one can’t be certain without it being stated directly. So—and this is something i’m quite seriously curious about—why all the indirection?
  • ”Forgiveness means forgiveness.” Nice reminder.

Henry B. Eyring (of the first presidency)

  • The members of the first presidency traditionally speaks in priesthood session plus in one other session (and the president of the high priesthood traditionally gives additional brief opening and closing statements). That’s a lot of speechwriting.
  • Interesting that all three of the Biblical examples of people who didn’t trust/have faith in God (Jonah, Naaman, and Peter) ended up finally getting better at it. (Well, Jonah still had issues at the end of the book, but at least he had done what was asked of him by then.) He mentioned that about Peter, but it’s worth noting that the others figured out their errors, too.
  • His story of paying of their mortgage included a nice example of something that could be called a coincidence but worked to strengthen faith—it is, i suppose, the nature of such things that they could always be taken as either miracles or coincidences, and the crucial difference is how they’re perceived by those participating in them.
  • An acknowledgement that there are the honest in heart among those in power! Too often, i fear, Mormon culture (well, and Mormon history, really) leads us to be unhealthily distrustful of governmental authorities.

Opening prayer

  • Didn’t catch the name of who said the prayer, but he clearly was working to prove he was listening at priesthood session last night—i think he repeated all of the buzzwords from each address.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Priesthood session

Due to stuff my family is doing, people we’re hanging out with for conference, that sort of thing, my notes for the Saturday afternoon and priesthood sessions aren’t going to go up until i can transfer my notes from paper to an electronic format. This is a placeholder post until i can put my notes for the priesthood session up (probably Sunday evening), so that things stay in order.

Priesthood session, the weird in-between session. It’s called a general session, but it’s only open to less than half the membership of the church (male members twelve years of age and older).

As with all the rest of these posts, this is presented bottom-up, with the first speaker at the end of the post, preceded by the second speaker, and so on, up to the final speaker at the top of the post, with my thoughts on each speaker given in the order i write them. This means that to get a chronological view of the session you’ll need to scroll to the bottom of this post and read upwards.

Closing thought

  • Yet another bit of evidence i’m evil: I’m really curious what an “Auto-Tune the General Conference Speakers” (along the lines of “Auto-Tune the News”) would be like.

Thomas S. Monson (president of the high priesthood)

  • Lots of stuff about choices. I was particularly gratified to see that he made it clear that there are some choices that really don’t matter in the eternal scheme of things.
  • Wow—he said “In closing…” and there was an immediate rustle of people sitting up a bit throughout the room. Rather amusing. (Especially since he went on for a few minutes after that.)
  • He said not to make exceptions to obeying commandments for extenuating circumstances, because life itself is a series of extenuating circumstances. There’s one to ponder on for a while.

Henry B. Eyring (of the first presidency)

  • What is the gift of the Holy Ghost? It’s central to our religion, but it’s not nearly as well-defined as, for example, the sacrament or even sealing.
  • He said that if we’re called to speak in a meeting in the name of the Lord, we should banish all self-doubt. Hurrah! Now nobody will ever start a sacrament meeting address by apologizing for their lack of speaking skills, right? Of course!

Dieter F. Uchtdorf (of the first presidency)

  • He noted that after Ezra Taft Benson’s 1989 sermon on pride, it became taboo for members of the church to say that they were “proud” of anything (their children, their country, their work, or whatever). I remember that, and i remember thinking that that was taking things a bit too far. I’m glad that Elder Uchtdorf and i agree on that point.
  • He said (though in different words) that social darwinism is bad. My social welfare-fan self gave a little internal cheer at that sentiment.
  • He said that sports fans who vilify opposing teams and fans are exhibiting the sin of pride. Interesting. Has the Brigham Young University-University of Utah rivalry been particularly nasty lately?
  • He said that such vilification also spills over into politics, ethnicity, and religion, and that it’s equally sinful in those spheres. Well, at least there’s little to no vilification of political opponents going on these days, so we’re okay there. Right? Right?
  • There’s yet another reference to James E. Faust. Interesting—there’s been at least three so far today, at least that i’ve caught.
  • It took a long time for this address’s first mention of flying airplanes.

Juan A. Uceda (of the quorums of the seventy)

  • ”Only the home can compare to the temple in holiness.” We hear stuff like this a lot—but what does it actually mean?
  • Yet another bit of evidence i’m evil: All the repetitions of “I am sorry” as something we need to say started Elton John’s “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” looping in my head—probably not what was intended.

Patrick Kearon (of the quorums of seventy)

  • Not much to really report on here, except to say that i think this guy is actually a superhero, MetaphorMan! (However, his full name is English Accent MetaphorMan!, so it’s all okay.)

Russell M. Nelson (of the quorum of apostles)

  • He asked all of the full-time missionaries, wherever they might be in the world, to stand. You don’t get audience participation like that very often in general conferences.
  • He repeated President Monson’s call for every worthy young man to serve as a full-time missionary, and said he hopes that counsel will be followed in every home in the church. Well, for those of us who are in homes without any sons, that’s going to be an interesting one to try to follow…
  • Do people really not know they’re welcome to visit our church meetings? I thought it was generally assumed that the default is that religious meetings of all types are open to all who wish to drop in unless there’s some sort of signage stating otherwise.
  • Interesting news: You can now create a personal member profile at for nonmembers to view.
  • This address was a fun listen—he was on tonight, even though the subject was fairly pedestrian.

Opening thoughts

  • Dieter F. Uchtdorf was conducting. He read the order of service from paper—you could hear it rustling—and not from the teleprompter. I though that was interesting.
  • ”Hark All Ye Nations” still sounds better in German than in English, no matter how it’s arranged.
  • People were still filing in during the opening song. I’m mildly surprised that they didn’t have everyone seated a few minutes before the meeting began.

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Saturday afternoon session

Due to stuff my family is doing, people we’re hanging out with for conference, that sort of thing, my notes for the Saturday afternoon and priesthood sessions aren’t going to go up until i can transfer my notes from paper to an electronic format. This is a placeholder post until i can put my notes for the Saturday afternoon session up (probably Sunday evening), so that things stay in order.

Saturday afternoon is kind of a weird session—it’s stuck on a Saturday and therefore not what people are likely to default to watching if they don’t watch all the sessions, but some years it’s kind of a must-see, what with it being the session with the sustainings (and therefore the announcements of who the new apostle is during conferences with an opening in that quorum). Not this year, though.

As with all of these, i’ve written this post bottom-up, with the first speaker at the end of the post, preceded by the second speaker, and so on, up to the final speaker at the top of the post. My thoughts on each speaker, though, are given in the order i write them. Therefore, to get a chronological view of the session you’ll need to scroll to the bottom of this post and read upwards.

Closing thoughts

  • This closing song, “Home”, is…Let’s just say i vote no on the lyrics. That is all.
  • Wait—the women are singing about fathers and the men about mothers? Heresy! (Well, at least the children sang about the children, so maybe lightning won’t strike.)

Richard G. Scott (of the quorum of apostles)

  • He has two basic speaking modes: the really quiet, mellow, and frowny one, and the really quiet, mellow, and almost-but-not-quite-smiley one. He seems to be in almost-smiley mode today.
  • Jeanne just whispered to me “I’m finding this very hard to follow.” Amusingly, that’s pretty much what i was just about to type. That makes two votes—anyone else?
  • Satan has no ability to take away blessings. I’m not sure that Job would agree—maybe he means that Satan has no ability to do that without clearance from God?

Neil L. Andersen (of the quorum of apostles)

  • Good warnings against taking offense and having that push you away from the church. Part of the problem, though, is that it’s difficult to see the difference between reasonable and unreasonable reactions when you’re in the midst of them (or, for that matter, reasonable reactions with ultimately unreasonable effects).
  • I don’t know that we’re actually all that different from other people—it’s just really easy to recognize differences rather than similarities.

Gerrit W. Gong (of the quorums of the seventy)

  • Fresh-baked bread in the Missionary Training Center? Man, do you realize how much you could sell that stuff for in some of the side hallways of that place?
  • Okay, the thank-you notes from the missionaries was one of the best general conference opening jokes i’ve heard. I’m normally not a fan of trying to open with a joke, but for this guy i’ll happily make an exception.
  • Okay, but i didn’t get the “Blackberries, when read in church, make green bishops blue” joke. Why green? (Still, one for two is better than a lot of these get.)
  • It took me a while to get the “temple mirrors of eternity” thing—i must have somehow missed the first mention of it, or at least the context for it.

Kevin R. Duncan (of the quorums of the seventy)

  • Is this the first extended riff on the Mormon pioneers of this general conference? We’re past the halfway mark in the second general session—that may be a new record.
  • I’ve always been curious whether Jim Bridger ever paid up on his challenge about corn grown in the Salt Lake Valley.
  • Having lived in the Utah Valley (immediately next to the Salt Lake Valley, i have to say that whether the Salt lake Valley has actually “blossomed” is somewhat debatable. You see, i grew up in the southern mid-Atlantic, where we actually have a reasonable amount of vegetation…
  • I wonder if this guy heard the address given this morning on Ezra Taft Benson’s “14 fundamentals” about prophets, and had this intense sinking feeling, figuring he’d been preempted. (Fortunately, as a Mormon you can always get away with saying “Because this is so important, i’ll repeat it now.”)

Richard C. Edgley (of the presiding bishopric)

  • “Yes, faith is a choice” and, by extension, a lack of faith is also a choice. I’ve known people, though, who wanted to have faith, desperately wished to have it, but found that it eluded them. How are they choosing to lack faith? Or are they? Can lack of faith simply be a simple trial of life?
  • I like the admission that there are things in his religious beliefs he can’t explain or doesn’t understand—it’s something we don’t here much from church authorities (or rather, we hear it but we don’t usually hear it quite so bluntly).

Quentin L. Cook (of the quorum of apostles)

  • I have to admit that when i hear the name Vera Lynn, all i can think of is the brief song of that name from the Pink Floyd album (and movie) The Wall. This, of course, is proof that i’m evil.
  • He mentioned attacks on morality and religious liberty. I haven’t noticed any significant attacks on religious liberty lately in the United States (aside from some protests against the building of mosques), so i’m curious what exactly he’s referring to.
  • My oldest was thoroughly confused by his metaphor about “blacking out” attacks on the home and such—she thought he was trying to say we need to live in spiritual darkness. Lesson: Be really, really careful with metaphors, especially when they rely on images much of your audience has no experience with.
  • A straight-up naming of human trafficking as a significant evil practice! That may be a first in general conference.
  • He keeps talking about “Judeo-Christian” values and such, but the values he’s talking about are found throughout non-Judeo-Xian religions, as well, and even in non-religious traditions—and he acknowledges that. I’m curious, then, why he keeps coming back to Judeo-Xian traditions. (It’s clearly being used for some rhetorical purpose, but what the purpose is is being utterly opaque to me.)
Robert D. Hales (of the quorum of apostles)
  • It’s good for Mormons to learn that a lot of the words we use (agency, in this case) don’t mean to other people what we think they mean.
  • By using one’s agency, one can lose one’s agency. There’s a bit of irony there (possibly classical irony, even).
Henry B. Eyring (of the first presidency), presenting the general authorities and officers of the church
  • He gave Neil L. Andersen’s name as “Neil Andersen” (no middle initial). It was almost jarring to hear it without the L.
Opening thoughts
  • The music is being given by a “family choir”. What in the world is a family choir? I’m assuming they’re not all part of one big family, since they’re pretty much filling up the choir seats. Maybe it just means kids are allowed in?
  • And how do they pick the non-Mormon Tabernacle Choir choirs for general conferences, anyway? Is there an application process? Auditions?
  • Okay, so i kind of understand the rationale behind those whose native languages aren’t English having to give general conference addresses in English (though i really think we have the technological ability to make that unnecessary), but can we let people at least pray to God in their native languages one day?

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Saturday morning session

Welcome, welcome once again to general conference. As i’ve done for the past few conferences, i’ll be semi-liveblogging each conference session. By “semi-liveblogging” i mean that i’ll be jotting down thoughts during each session of conference and posting them after the session ends.

A warning about a scheduling snafu for today: Due to stuff my family is doing, people we’re hanging out with for conference, that sort of thing, my notes for the Saturday afternoon and priesthood sessions aren’t going to go up until i can transfer my notes from paper to an electronic format. I’ll put up placeholder posts for them until they’re up, just to keep things in order.

Also, a note about the way these are ordered: I’m going to be arranging these the same way i did last time, which may be confusing at first. This is because blogs arrange things chronologically from bottom to top, contra millennia of Western writing practice. Therefore, if you visit this page after conference is over, the final session will show up first, followed by the Sunday morning session, then the priesthood session, and so on.

That said, just to make things less scrolling-intensive, each session’s post will be written bottom-up (i.e., first speaker at the end of the post, preceded by the second speaker, and so on, with the final speaker at the top of the post). However, each speaker’s entries will be given in the order i write them. This may be confusing, but i think it works. Anyway, this means that this is where you scroll to the bottom of this post, and then start reading upwards.

Closing thought

  • The Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s arrangements were, for the most part, crazy slow and mellow in this session. (Not the closing song, though.) Must have annoyed the sort of people who get annoyed by sacrament meeting songs being sung slowly.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf (of the first presidency)

  • Very, very nice opening play on his own public speaking habits.
  • In all seriousness, listening to this address is forcibly reminding me of Mohandas Gandhi’s famous line that “there is more to life than increasing its speed”. Good thing to be reminded of, whether it comes from a Gandhi or an Uchtdorf, i have to say.
  • I like listening to general conference addresses by people who have clearly had some decent rhetorical training along the way.
  • It takes a confident speaker to take a glitch like your voice catching and weave it into your overall narrative.
  • Serious question: If we’re supposed to place that much emphasis on time spent with our families, does that mean, say, bishops will be expected to cut the time spent on church service each week to just five or six hours, max (and even that would be a bit much)? I mean, either that or limit the office to those who are properly retired (or maybe it’d be a good use of the male halves of senior missionary couples).
  • Note to self: Play bits of this address for a family home evening lesson or three. (Can you tell that i really, really liked this one?)

D. Todd Christofferson (of the quorum of apostles)

  • What’s up with the widespread use of first-name initials among general authorities? It seems more widespread among them than among the general population. I wonder where that practice comes from?
  • “…all honest work is the work of God.” Interesting meshing of the divine and the profane right there.
  • Can i hear cheers for his endorsement of the humanities and (especially) arts?
  • He draws a contrast between those who believe that our mortal bodies are the result of evolutionary chance and those who believe our bodies a a creation of God. Such a construction pretty much ignores, though, the fact that there are a lot of people who believe both at once—and that would be an interesting tension to explore. A general conference address probably isn’t a good forum for that sort of analysis, though.
  • So the ends don’t justify the means? But how in the world are all of Utah’s Amway sales droids going to make a living now?

David M. McConkie (of the Sunday school general presidency)

  • Wait—he’s saying it’s important for teachers to prepare? Well, at least he’s in the Sunday school general presidency, so that sort of a drastic change clearly isn’t expected in elders quorum teaching.
  • If you listen to general conferences of sixty or more years ago, the offices held by the speakers usually correlated directly with the content of their general conference addresses. (For example, the presidency of the seventy—there were no other general authority seventies at that time—generally spoke on missionary work, the presiding patriarch—that office was filled at the time—spoke on blessings and especially patriarchal blessings, members of the presiding bishopric spoke on the needs of those holding the Aaronic priesthood and the physical facilities of the church, and so on.) By thirty years ago, though, that was no longer the case. Now that members of general presidencies are no longer drawn from the general authorities of the church, we seem to be going back to the future.
  • He said that it’s “contrary to the economy of heaven” for God to let us know individually what we’ve already been told collectively (in the scriptures). To be completely honest, i don’t think i agree with this idea.

name not caught due to audio glitches (of the quorums of seventy, i’d guess)

  • He said that the “We believe…in…prophets…” in the sixth article of faith means that we believe what they say and follow their directions. Is that really what it means? I mean, there’s a lot of ellipsis marks needed to render that verse that way. (The full verse reads: “We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.”)
  • What does it actually mean that the living prophet can never lead the church astray? I think that we tend to have an overly simplistic view of that idea.
  • Joseph Smith was a teenager when he was first called as a prophet (though he was in his twenties once his ordination occurred). The original quorum of apostles was made up of fairly young guys. Why don’t we have notably young people in the highest levels of church leadership any more?
  • A lot of this was presented as, in his words, “obedience to the prophet”. I have to wonder if obedience to the prophet or obedience to God is a more basic daily guiding principle. (Certainly the latter overall, but i’m wondering about day-to-day life here.)

name not caught due to audio glitches (of the general primary presidency, it sounded like)

  • It wasn’t her point, so no criticism of her, but it bothers me when the story of Joseph Smith’s childhood operation and his refusal of brandy as an anesthetic gets held up as a great example of following the Word of Wisdom—there was no Word of Wisdom at that point to follow, to begin with!
  • “The world will teach our children if we do not.” Well, actually, it’s more that the world will teach our children no matter what we do—and you know what, i don’t think that’s a bad thing. Of course, i also tend not to think that the world is going to perdition in a handbasket.
  • In the story she told about the woman whose children prayed for safety while she was driving though a blizzard, i suspect that the greatest answer that came to the prayer was the road being closed.
  • A sports celebration as an instance of the strait and narrow path? I think it’s now officially possible to make anything into a gospel metaphor.

Jeffrey R. Holland (of the quorum of the apostles)

  • Some discussion about the sustaining of church authorities and officers that’ll be done in this afternoon’s session. Leads me to sort of idly wonder when the last time was that the body of the church in conference assembled rejected a proposed name. I mean, i realize that it’s not a vote in the electoral sense (but rather a vote for ratification, like at a business board meeting). Still, you’d think there would be more frequent negative votes than there are.
  • He mentioned funeral potatoes! I seriously hadn’t heard that term before my exile in Utah. (Potato casserole is what i’d heard it called, on those rare occasions i’d heard it called anything.) Regional lexical variation in the public sphere makes me happy.
  • I like the story he told about how his parents paid for his mission so that his money would still be there when he got home. What i really like about it is that they didn’t tell him about it—they allowed him to focus on his work then so that he wouldn’t be distracted by the need to thank them until later. There’s something in there about why we’re generally not supposed to trumpet our good works before the world, i suspect.

Thomas S. Monson (president of the high priesthood)

  • Did anyone else have issues with the audio feed on the internet here? I have no idea what he said, even though i could see the video perfectly. Hint to the techies running the church’s website: General conference video feeds are candy—it’s the audio that’s important.
  • Anyway, a few minutes into his address (read: about a minute before he was done) we got the audio-only feed going. (We had to fire up Windows to get that to work, and then later got the video to—sort of—work with the audio under WIndows. Was the audio problem a Mac-only issue, perhaps?) Anyway, we got to hear the end of a pep talk on how older couples should serve as full-time missionaries, which is always a nice subject to hear about, ’cause we don’t have to worry about feeling guilty about that one for a couple decades yet.

Opening song

  • So why is it that the men in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir wear business suits, but the women wear crazy tent dresses that no businesswoman in her right mind would ever wear?

Opening credits

  • I’m watching this on the internet, so i don’t know if everyone else saw the same opening credits video montage as i did, but it really just didn’t work for me. Sorry. Better luck to the church’s audiovisual department next time.
  • Our stake is really into the idea that people coming into meetings should be deathly silentreverent, and people shouldn’t speak to each other as they’re waiting for the meeting to start—any greetings or discussion need to occur outside the chapel in the foyer. Odd, then, that the general authorities of the church greet each other as they walk to their seats, and as they sit next to each other they pretty frequently lean over and exchange quiet words with each other. Hmmm…Might it be that reverence actually doesn’t mean silence?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Conference birthdays

Please allow me to kvetch for a moment about general conference scheduling.

For those with birthdays during the first weeks of April and October (and the last days of March and September), weekend birthdays are consistently wrecked by general conference wiping out the first weekend of those months.

Further, for women with birthdays during the last week of September, Saturday birthdays are sucked away by general relief society meetings—and this affects guys with birthdays then, too, ’cause it means that their wives or girlfriends are swiped out of their lives if their birthday happens to fall on a Saturday.

So i guess what i’m wondering is why we don’t mix it up a little—show a little love to those of us with birthdays in the 23 September to 7 October and 31 March to 7 April spans every few years by letting us celebrate without guilt.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

On failing our children

Talking to my kids this evening, it occurred to me that Jeanne and i have done very, very badly by our children: We have taught them gospel principles, allowing them to reason things out at a reasonably deep level, and as a result we have doomed them to years of boredom in primary.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Again with the modesty thing

So i was going through old emails (dating back to 1999, which really is too long to keep stuff like that around), and i found this response of mine to someone else’s post in a long-running discussion of issues of modesty (in the usual Mormon sense). I reproduce it here even though it’s longish, and even though what it’s replying to isn’t an attitude unique to Mormons (we share it with lots of other groups). I’m curious what others think of my reasoning, though.

So, anyway, it started with something forwarded from a website apparently called “Religion Today”:

“Lurid and sexually provocative magazines at supermarket checkout counters are inappropriate, most Americans say. Seventy-three percent of 1,006 people questioned by pollster Wirthlin Worldwide said the covers of magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Mademoiselle, and Redbook should be covered up.” The head of an organization called Morality in Media, Robert Peters, states: “…it is irresponsible to openly display at checkout counters, where children and vulnerable adolescents cannot help but see them, trashy magazine covers that so blatantly violate common standards of decency and morality,” Peters said.

My response:

I find this fascinating, myself, particularly since Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Mademoiselle, and Redbook were singled out, all of which (usually) show women in to be honest not-terribly-revealing but certainly often enticing/​provocative (depending on your point of view) outfits. (Cosmo makes much use of push-up outfits in its cover photos, but swelling breasts are not in and of themselves revealing—if anything, they involve the creation of an illusion that hides rather than reveals.) What’s really interesting about this, though, is that magazines like GQ and Men’s Health, which often have men on their covers showing lots more skin than any of the women on the named magazines’ covers, were not mentioned. Is it only photos of fully dressed women that are “lurid and sexually provocative”?

For a moment, i’d like to reminisce on my own experience in Germany as a full-time missionary. Yes, magazine cover (and advertising, for that matter) shots of scantily-clad women (usually not men, interestingly, although there were some in my observation) showing more skin than would be allowed on the cover of Cosmo in the United States were quite common, but i have to admit that i don't necessarily see this as being related to any sort of “moral decay” in German culture—they simply showed more skin in their photographs than Unistatians tend to.

And this brings me to what troubles me about this whole discussion—there’s an underlying assumption that nobody’s questioning. That is, there’s a tacit ground rule people are using that having more skin visible in public places is necessarily a Bad Thing. Is it, though, or is this simply Unistatian (or American? Angloamerican? Euroamerican?) values being parrotted by the participants in the discussion? The assumption may well turn out to be correct, but never holding it up for questioning is, i feel, a disservice to the entire issue.

I mean, it’s quite valid to propose (full disclosure: this is actually my position) that the problem isn’t visible nudity, but the problem is rather the people who view that nudity. I suppose that i’ll be the minority here, but i’d argue that a fear of viewing human skin is at some level irrational, and we should be less worried about what’s visible to the world and more worried about how we react to it. (Arguably, we should also worry about how others react to it, but in my opinion we need to work on ourselves first.)

Maybe i’m alone on this, but my reaction to scantily-clad men or women on magazine covers tends to be something along the lines of “attractive person” or “good muscle definition” or “that outfit’s entirely the wrong color for that person, and i can’t believe that shot made it to the cover”. Is this a bad thing? Is it a bad thing to think that the problem isn’t that which is seen, but rather the reaction of that which sees?

I mean, really—the reaction of most Germans i knew, when i asked them about the level of nudity on magazine covers over there or the topless beaches or somesuch was something along the lines of “But it’s just a body!” And that, folks, is all it is—it’s just a body. Yeah, that’s an important thing and all, but it’s not like what you see in front of you is something eternal, even given the Mormon doctrine of a corporeal postmortality—it’s just a mortal body. So why the uproar over something as ignorable as that?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Gender imbalances and eternity

Here’s a Mormon meme that i don’t think i hear as much as i used to, but that i still hear occasionally: that more women will inherit the Celestial Kingdom than men. (Every once in a while you even hear the dreaded “A general authority said in a stake conference that…” on this one.)

Anyway, i for one haven't been able to find any definitive word on this issue. Most defenses of the claim, though, go something like this:

  1. Every individual that receives exaltation must be sealed.
  2. Some men have been sealed to more than one wife. (Not just nineteenth-century polygynous sealings, either—for example, under current policy a widower can be sealed to his second wife while remaining sealed to his first wife, but this is not done for widows.)
  3. God keeps covenant promises. This means that those who keep their covenants cannot have a sealing broken.
  4. Therefore, if at least one man and two of his wives keep their covenants, there will be more women than men in the highest level of the celestial kingdom.

The problem, though, is that this is based on certain widely-held but uncertain assumptions. For example, assumption (1) seems reasonable, but we don't actually know that it’s true as stated. Those who die before the age of accountability, for example, are saved in the celestial kingdom automatically, sealing in the sense we think of it or no.

Assumption (2) presents an incomplete picture. Some women have been sealed to more than one husband, to begin with—under current practice, when doing sealings for the dead, if a woman was married more than once she is sealed to all of her husbands.

I’ll agree with (3), but that doesn’t lead directly to (4), even ignoring the problems with (1) and (2). Conclusion (4) seems logical enough, but i would argue that those who present it are making an assumption that sealings work in postmortal existence the way they’re applied in mortal existence. (That’s arguably a warranted assumption, but one that one oughtn’t make without explicitly building a case for it.)

Basically, we don’t know. Given the desire of Mormons to fill doctrinal gaps, though, it’s the sort of speculation one would certainly expect to find.

Definitely doesn’t make it right, though.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

More weirdness in Mormon culture

So i was at our local Mormon-oriented bookstore a little bit ago, and i saw that they had a bunch of motivational posters for kids based on heroes from the scriptures. (“Real Hero Posters”, they’re called.) I went over to look more closely at them, and i saw that there were about two dozen of them. It was a two-sided display, one side made up of Biblical heroes and the other of Book of Mormon heroes.*

The Biblical side was mostly male heroes, but it had threefour female heroes mixed in. Well, the Book of Mormon is pretty thin on female characters,** so i was curious what they held up as role models for girls.***

Correction: I’d originally only thought that three of the twelve Biblical hero posters featured female characters, but i was wrong—there are four: Ruth, Esther, Hannah, and Mary the mother of Jesus. Not a bad set, i’d say.

Rather to my surprise, there was only one poster out of the twelve Book of Mormon posters that had any female characters,**** and it was (wait for it) the daughters in the wilderness. (That is, the daughters of Lehi and Ishmael who subsisted only on raw meat but still were able to nurse the children they gave birth to.)

I’ve since learned that they’ve come up with one more female-oriented poster in the series: the mothers of Helaman’s stripling warriors.

Um, yeah. I mean, nice stories and all, but Abish gets bupkis? You know, you may remember her—she went house to house among the Lamanites to get attention to what was going on as a result of Ammon’s preaching. Pretty important for the story, and i’d say she’s a pretty good role model for girls (and boys, for that matter). Or if not her, what about the queen of the Lamanites from the same story?

No, instead of women who actually performed active, individual roles in the Book of Mormon, we get women who acted in groups, none of whom even have actual speaking roles.

Not cool, nameless Mormon-oriented commercial products designers. Not cool at all.

* Neat trick, really—you can send only the Biblical half to mainstream Xian bookstores and make money off a larger market segment.

** Famously, the Book of Mormon has only three named female characters that aren't shared with the Bible. There are a handful of other unnamed female individuals or groups that play some sort of plot-movement role, though, and i don’t think they should be forgotten.

*** I was kind of figuring the harlot Isabel was out.

**** See footnote **.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Sacramental bread

I have been in wards where there was a strong local directive to only use white bread (as a symbol of purity, i suppose). I’ve also been in wards where there was a strong local directive to only use whole-grain bread (to match up with the Last Supper, i suppose).

Why not just recognize that it makes no difference, and not give any such directive at all?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

More on scheduling

Why is it that we rotate meeting times when multiple units use one building? Any building with multiple wards or branches i’ve ever been in, there’s been an annual (usually but not always coincident with the turn of the year) shuffling of meeting times.

Or, in other words, just when people finally get everything in order for the schedule their ward has, we upend everything.

I assume that this stems from general church policy (it’s built into the record-keeping software the church uses, for example), but why in the world do we go through this annual ritual? Why not just say that one ward meets at time X, another at time Y, and the third at time Z, and to keep things simple it’ll stay that way?

Monday, September 6, 2010

When did art become graffiti?

Can we stop it already with the meme that tattoos are bad because they’re like putting graffiti on a temple, in that one’s body is a temple and tattoos involve putting marks on one’s body? Yeah, i know it has the imprimatur of having been used in general conference, but that doesn’t mean the analogy holds up to even minimal scrutiny.

I could understand the whole argument if we built our temples out of rough-hewn stone or maybe even if we only used smoothly polished facing materials, but many (most?) of our temples have decorations carved/cast into the facing material. Really, if we decorate our temples, why are tattoos so different than that?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Why we’re better than the rest

I just ran across this absolutely marvelous 1973 quote from Hugh Nibley:

The worst sinners, according to Jesus, are not the harlots and publicans, but the religious leaders with their insistence on proper dress and grooming, their careful observance of all the rules, their precious concern for status symbols, their strict legality, their pious patriotism…The haircut becomes the test of virtue in a world where Satan deceives and rules by appearances.

This, of course, is why nobody in any leadership position of our church cares whether boys and men wear white shirts or ties, or whether they wear beards, or whether they have long or short hair, or for that matter whether women wear skirts or dresses, or whether they have multiple earrings. Nope, nobody in our church is concerned with those sorts of things at all.

p.s. I’m considering moving this blog from Blogger to the WordPress platform, possibly hosted on my own server. I know there’s three or four people who read this blog semi-regularly, some of whom are bloggers themselves. Any input on that idea?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The cult of the early riser

Can somebody explain why the church still does early morning seminary for high school students? I mean, we’ve known for years that teens really do generally need to sleep in later than those of other ages—but we make a big deal about getting up hyper-early to go to seminary classes.

So why? Why do we put our teens through something that is so clearly bad for them and call it a virtue?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Attaching a name to a story

So i was paging through the August Ensign, and i noticed that in the very last article in the issue the author talked about growing up in an abusive home. However, the name of the author looked like a real name, not “Name Withheld”.

I can only assume that the editors responsible for this oversight have been taken out and flogged.

p.s. Actually, to be entirely honest, i welcome this. I mean—and i’m dead serious in this postscript—if we regularly attach things such as abuse only to nameless folks, or at least real folks who are still ashamed enough about it or still feel so injured by it that they won’t let their names be attached to the story, how will we ever really be able to combat such thing amongst us?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Timely thoughts from times past

Just saw this bit, and i thought it was worth quoting:

We ought always to be aware of those prejudices which sometimes so strangely present themselves, and are so congenial to human nature, against our friends, neighbors, and brethren of the world, who choose to differ from us in opinion and in matters of faith. Our religion is between us and our God. Their religion is between them and their God.

It just seemed worth quoting, given certain hot-button arguments going on right now in the US.

Oh—and the source of the quote? Joseph Smith. (It’s from a letter he co-wrote to Edward Partridge and the church at large from Liberty Jail, Liberty, Missouri, dated 20 March 1839.)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sunday is a special day

When i was growing up, i never really understood why people felt the need to dress up when they went to church.* I heard a lot of people explain it, though, by saying that the sabbath is a special day, and so we need to dress differently on Sundays than we do on other days.

You know, that actually makes a lot of sense to me.** However, what doesn’t make sense to me is why that means all the lawyers and bankers and such out there end up wearing the same clothes to church on Sunday as they wear to work most of the other days of the week—doesn’t that mean that, for them, Sunday is not a special day?

* Okay, full disclosure: To some extent, i still don’t.

** I’m completely serious about that. And that’s why i’m left with the question i close the post with.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sometimes dissonance is fun

A few months ago there was an announcement of a stake activity for young women in association with a church broadcast for them. The stake activity was to feature “workshop classes…in nail, skin, and hair care”. I really hope that the church broadcast that followed focused on how it’s what’s on the inside, not on the outside, that really counts.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The sabbath is a relative thing, really

I may have said this before, and this isn’t limited to Mormons, but it bears saying today anyway: Why are so many Mormons so into the idea that it’s a horrible, horrible thing for businesses like grocery stores to be open on Sunday? I mean, why is it so important to us that observant Seventh-Day Adventists and Jews have more trouble doing their shopping than the rest of us?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

In which David B makes a political statement

During my exile in Utah, i noticed that there were a lot of ballot initiatives. (I mean, not a lot by California standards, but still a lot.) For those unfamiliar with ballot initiatives, they’re a process by which a proposed law gets placed on the ballot at an election (along with the various candidates for public office), and if the ballot initiative gets enough votes, it becomes law.

Anyway, Jeanne and i have been reading through the church’s redress petition to the United States in the late 1830s, and i just have to say that i’m rather surprised that any Mormon with a sense of history would be fully comfortable with the whole idea of a local majority making legal decisions.

Friday, August 13, 2010

An unexpected biography

Thurl Bailey played basketball for the Utah Jazz from 1983 to 1991, and currently lives in Salt Lake City. He is also a Mormon. All of these things would seem to go together.

The fun thing about this is that he wasn’t a Mormon when he played for the Jazz—he became a Mormon some years later, when he was playing professional basketball in Italy.

Not at all significant, really, i just found it an amusing bit of unexpectedness.

p.s. And he has an amazing bass—basso profondo, really—singing voice.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

White Lines (Don’t Do It)

Reposted, with permission, from the Combs Family* blog:

There was a woman dealing little baggies of a powdery white substance out of the trunk of her car in the church parking lot today.

Suspicious, huh?

Rewind to Relief Society…

“Hey ladies, Sister Blank ended up with a Costco size box of baking powder and won't be able to use it all before it expires. She has separated it out into some bags and if you would like to take some stop by her car after church. She doesn’t want it to go to waste.”

A bunch of Mormon ladies in a parking lot attracting attention. Over baking supplies.

Well, I thought it was funny.

And so did i, i must say.

* Written by Meggan Combs, someone who i actually know not just from the ’net, but from Real Life™. Yes, believe it or not, such things are possible these days.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Blatant heresy

Why are Mormons so into having choristers lead us whenever we sing? It’s really bizarre, particularly when you consider that it’s something a lot of other religious traditions do just fine without.

Us, though, we just have to have someone waving at us while we sing, even to the point of occasionally press-ganging people who would rather not into performing that role. Why?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

True confessions

A moment from my life:

Last night i walked down the stairs and found my 11- and 9-year-old daughters reading the Song of Solomon from a very, very modern translation (The Message, to be specific). Interspersed among their reading of the book, they were having a discussion about healthy and unhealthy relationships, particularly but not exclusively romantic ones.

The fact that this all happened spontaneously in children i’ve had a hand in raising is probably enough to convince a good chunk of the Mormons out there that i and my whole family are on the proverbial highway to hell, and i’m pressing down hard on the accelerator.

Further, that stumbling on this was a proud parenting moment for me probably simply affirms their conclusions.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Really, sitting works just as well

Why are some people so utterly insistent about standing for intermediate hymns? I mean, i get that in some congregations the tradition is to stand for them, but the way some people (often choristers, actually) act, you’d think a congregation not standing for a song that happens to be wedged between speakers was a symbol of mass apostasy.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Again with the skirts and trousers

One more thought on skirts: I know this isn’t limited to Mormons, but what’s the deal with skirts (not miniskirts here, i’m talking about knee-length things) and dresses being perceived as more “moral” than trousers on women? I mean, i always thought of skirts and dresses as somewhat less moral, what with sexual access being quite a bit easier with them and all. So what am i missing here?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

It…It was the trousers, really.

We get weird about clothing in our church. Consider, for example, the one i’ve run across more than once that holds that women must wear skirts to go into the chapel. Why?

Weirdest instance of this i’ve ever run across: Some years ago, Tuesday or Wednesday or whatever youth activity night, and a handful of women huddled outside the entrance to the chapel, trying to figure out how to get the child of one of them who was running around in the chapel. The problem? All of the women were wearing trousers. I walked by with a (male) friend, and they asked us to go fetch the child, which was then done.

The weirdness? We were wearing jeans. At least some of the women were wearing dress slacks. So what was up with it being okay for us to go in the chapel but not them?

p.s. Ten bonus points for whoever gets the obscure film reference in the title of today’s post.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Is this really a covenant?

Is Mosiah 18:8–10 a summary of the baptismal covenant (as it’s usually referenced), or is it a summary of the qualifications and results of an effectual baptism? I think there’s a difference, and i suspect the difference would be important (not to mention that i suspect that it’s the latter, not the former), but i can’t put my finger on exactly how and why.

p.s. I actually like Blogger as a blogging platform, but my biggest annoyance with it (aside from the lack of decent photo placement tools, though that doesn’t really affect this blog) is that the buttons for publishing a post and saving it as a draft are right next to each other, making it really, really easy to think you’re scheduling a post to go up one afternoon, when you’re actually keeping it invisible to your readers. That is all.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

For all the Mormon MBAs out there

It's worth remembering that the plain text of the Word of Wisdom says that Mormon-made sacramental wine is acceptable. There's gotta be a Mormon entrepreneur out there who sees a money-making opportunity in that.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

On fear

Just an interesting point a sacrament meeting speaker made recently: The word fear is problematic in religious contexts, because it’s ambiguous. Therefore, it becomes necessary to contrast what i as a linguist might call fearreverence and fearshame (with reverence and shame being the words the speaker used).

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Again, the gathering is over

Okay, so i completely understand people singing and loving “Come, Come Ye Saints”—it’s not my musical preference (it’s in G major to begin with, never a good choice), but fine, whatever works for you.

But could we please have a rewrite on some of the lyrics? Especially that bit in the third verse, which starts

We’ll find the place which God for us prepared
Far away in the West…

I mean, this isn’t accurate anymore on two counts.

First of all, this is a clear reference to the “gathering” to Utah. However, it hasn’t been the policy of the church to have church members move to Utah for a long, long time—so why make it sound like it’s still in effect in one of our most commonly-sung songs? (I suggest replacing “Far away in the West” with something like “Near at hand, where we stand”.)

Second, isn’t “in the West” a bit relative? I mean, now that i live in Alaska, far away in the west is Moscow, if it’s anywhere. (In fact, when i was growing up in Maryland, i started refusing to sing that line on the principle that the gathering was over, and the land that God had prepared for me was right where i was. On the other hand, of course, during my exile in Utah, i made it a point to sing that line with vigor.)

Friday, July 16, 2010

The ‘gathering’ is over. Repeat, the ‘gathering’ is over.

What’s up with “gathering” songs like “For the Strength of the Hills” being in the hymnal? The gathering to Utah ended about a century ago, after all, and with a very few exceptions (like “Israel, Israel, God Is Calling”) the lyrics of that sort of song are painfully didactic and the melodies are boring. Really, not a good combination, especially when it goes along with a message that goes against current church practice.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Spirituality and boys

I’ve gone back and forth on posting (well, reposting, sort of) this, but i want to get people’s reactions on it.

A couple months ago, Heather the Mama Duk related this story in a comment to a post on this blog:

Not really on your point, but it reminded me of something I found totally weird.

My former visiting teaching companion in my old ward once said she felt people who were given several boys were the more spiritual people in the church. She said that she knew I must be a wonderful person because I have 3 boys. She wasn’t so much because she only had one boy.

Um, yeah. I seriously had no response. Totally speechless. It was the strangest conversation I’ve ever had with another Mormon. I mean, I’d had almost the exact same conversation a few days before with my next door neighbor, but she was Muslim so culturally her point made a lot more sense.

For the record, I do not believe at all that Mormons with lots of boys are any better than those who have lots of girls…or no kids at all.

I’m (re)posting this to find out if anyone out there has had similar experiences, or has heard similar things from other Mormons. Is this widespread and people just don’t say it to my face ’cause i have all daughters (and so therefore must be unspiritual)?* Or is this the sort of thing that comes about ’cause we’re gathering our converts from all the wrong neighborhoods?** Or is this actually an integral part of Mormon doctrine, and i’ve just managed to miss it in my readings of canon over the years?

* I mean, unspiritual for that reason, not for things like that i run a vaguely snarky blog.

** Not that i’d blame relatively-recently-appeared-in-Mormonism social attitudes that are clearly borrowed wholesale from evangelicalism on such things. No, of course not. Never.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Obscuring a distinction

For several years, the Mormon church has used the term ‘less active’ to refer to those who don’t attend church meetings. This has replaced the term ‘inactive’ to describe such people, and the terminology shift seems to have caught on among the general membership of the church, at least in places i’ve lived.

The problem i see, though, is that ‘less active’ and ‘inactive’ actually, at a literal level, describe two very different things. After all, among church members there’s (at least) a three-way distinction to be made in activity levels: Some Mormons are fully active in church activity, some are fully inactive, and some are in between. Why not use all three terms to describe these groups, where ‘active’ and ‘inactive’ mean exactly what they look like, and ‘less active’ refers to those who have some degree of activity in church, but aren’t really fully involved?

No, seriously—why not use the terms that way?

Friday, July 9, 2010


Section 4 of the book of Doctrine and Covenants does not say (as is commonly claimed) that faith, hope, love, &c. qualify you for the work—it says that the desire to do the work qualifies you, and that’s a far more intriguing claim.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

In which David B makes an unpatriotic statement

So there’s all sorts of commercial sites out there running scamstours of “Book of Mormon lands”. The thing i find really interesting about this is that, as far as i can find, all of these sorts of tours involve destinations in Mesoamerica,* but, at least among Mormons in the United States, the same sort of people who swallowaccept Mesoamerican claims for Book of Mormon locations also seem to believe that when the Book of Mormon talks about promises for “this land”, it means the United States specifically, or maybe (if they’re feeling generous) all of the Americas.

What i want to know is: Why might those promises not be intended for, say, Costa Rica? Or Nicaragua? Or the Andean highlands? Or anyplace else that doesn’t include the United States?

* Yes, even though we don’t actually know where any of the locations—and there are multiple named locations, something a lot of people forget—in the Book of Mormon might actually have been.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Excluding folks from heaven

The very early Mormons (before what people often mean by “the early Mormons”—i’m talking about the late 1820s and early 1830s) tended to believe pretty firmly in a very inclusive, almost universal heaven. What happened to push us away from that?

(Couldn’t be a need to feel better than others, i’m sure. Right?)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Considering lessons from the scriptures

A sacrament meeting speaker recently told us to consider the lessons we can draw from 3 Nephi 1:4–13.

The main lesson i draw? God has a thing for the dramatic.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Going through the logical possibilities

I wonder about 3 Nephi 11:33–34—it says the unbelieving who aren’t baptized are damned, the believing who are baptized will be saved. It say nothing about the believing who aren’t baptized, but i guess they get hit by not fulfilling the law given to them. The remaining case of the unbelieving who are baptized is interesting, though, and their fate is left tantalizingly undefined.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The n+1th commandment, where n≥0

Seriously, i’m tired of the meme that the first commandment given to Adam and Eve was to have kids. The first one we have record of? Sure. The first one ever? We have no way of knowing. (And that’s even assuming the Garden of Eden story is non-allegorical, which the church has no actual position on, as far as i can find.)