Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sometimes you get heretical notions here

So let’s start with the foundational axiom that Jesus Christ led a sinless life.

Fine. But what does sinless mean?

The general idea among us Mormons, shared by most Xian theology, i think, is that it means that Jesus Christ never committed a sin—he was tempted, but never submitted to temptation.

However, there are other possible readings.

First of all, for Mormons, it could be that he committed acts that would be considered sinful, but that he did so before the age of accountability.*

Another possibility is that he committed acts that would be considered sinful, but he never sinned against any particular law that he knew of—after all, there’s that textually ambiguous status of sins committed by someone who doesn’t know what the rules are. (That’s at least part of why Mormons don’t consider the Fall to be the result of sins on the part of Adam and Eve—no knowledge means no sin.)

He may have sinned but consistently repented perfectly (better than the rest of us do, i’m thinking), meaning that those sins would not have been attributed to him.

And finally, he may actually have never sinned. At all.

I’m not sure which of these i hold with. I’m throwing this out there ’cause i’m curious what others think.

* For any non-Mormons reading, one doesn’t become accountable for one’s sins until arriving at the age of eight. (There’s more to it, but that’s enough detail for the moment.)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Sometimes you get useful tips here

A few weeks ago i complained that you can’t search on the church’s music web site by meter. I still don’t know how to conduct a proper search, but i’ve since looked more closely and discovered that you can browse by meter—there are two methods, one straightforward and one less so. The straightforward method is useful when you know what meter you’re looking for:

  1. Go to the church’s music site.
  2. Click on the “Music” link, and then on “Hymns” in the menu that pops up. (Note: This does not work for the “Childrens [sic] Songbook” link, which i think is really a shame.)
  3. Click on “Meters” (naturally enough) in what comes up

That’s fine and all, but you have to know the meter you’re looking for for that method to be much use. If you know you want to match the meter of a particular song but you don’t know its meter off the top of your head, you have to use the roundabout method:

  1. Pull up any of the songs in the hymnal on the interactive music player. (Here’s “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” my second-favorite song in the book.)*
  2. On the left-hand side is a box titled “About this Song”. (Yes, the capitalization is a little messed up.) If it’s collapsed, click on the triangle to expand it.
  3. One of the entries in this box is “Meter”. (For “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” it’s a mindboggling 14 14 4 7 8!) Click on the meter itself, not the label.
  4. This opens up a new page from which you can browse through songs by meter, already opened up to the meter of the song you started with. (As you might expect, no other songs in the hymnal have the same meter as “Praise to the Lord”.)
  5. Enjoy the music-nerd happiness.

By the way, if anyone can figure out an way to actually search by meter on that site, i’d like to hear it.

* My favorite is “All Creatures of Our God and King”, but you can’t use the interactive music player for that one due to copyright restrictions.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

More questions about the hymnal

My least favorite song in the hymnal, arguably, is “In Our Lovely Deseret”—i see little to no redeeming value in it.

Lately, though, i’ve become curious whether i most object to the insanely didactic nature of the song’s lyrics, or if it’s the oddly unmusical musical setting those lyrics have been put to. Has anyone out there ever heard this song put to different music? Is there anything that works, that would make it more palatable for someone like me?

(What’s really bad is the musical setting for that song played on a piano, by the way. On the organ it still sounds bad, just not as gag-inducing.)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Why do we end that way?

When did closing speeches with “…in the name of Jesus Christ, amen” become standard in church meetings? General conference addresses in the first half of the twentieth century didn’t always end that way. Did sacrament meeting addresses and public testimonies end that way back then, or did that come in later? Anybody out there have any memory of that era of public speaking in the church?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

With fecundity comes responsibility, apparently

I’m not just bored by the following sacrament meeting meme, i’m actively annoyed by it: The claim that i have to be righteous, because otherwise my descendants will be wicked. Really? My descendants have no moral agency whatsoever? Who knew?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

How great the tenor and the bass

Thomas McIntyre’s musical setting for “How Great the Wisdom and the Love” is notably cool. The tenor and bass lines are more fun to sing than not only the alto (and let’s be honest, the alto parts in our church’s songbook tend to be more boring than they should be), but even the melody.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Sometimes you get some deep questions here

Has Jesus Christ accomplished the Atonement? It just occurred to me that the Atonement might not be completed, but rather still be an ongoing process.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Acquiring culture

So i’m sitting in testimony meeting and three straight semi-little kids (all from different families) stand up and start out with these exact words:

I’d like to bear my testimony, i know the church is true, i’m thankful for my family…”

I mean, even the stress pattern was the same for all of them!

What i want to know: Where do they learn it?

* Not the most recent one i was at. That one, we actually had the conceptual opposite, where lots of kids stood up and they all said different things. That was a Good Thing, i’d say.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Choosing to serve

My parents didn’t grow up in the church (and so didn’t serve full-time missions), i didn’t hang out with returned full-time missionaries while i was growing up, and i lived with a non-Mormon relative for the couple years before i served as a full-time missionary—all that to say that i didn’t really have any “role models” to follow on the whole serving a mission thing.

Perhaps as a result of this, i was shocked (and i mean that quite honestly) when i was in the Missionary Training center and learned that there were a lot of people there who had chosen to serve a mission even partly out of social, non-internal reasons. My experience was, of course, rather different, and almost zen—the opportunity was there to serve, so i chose to serve. (There wasn’t even really any “Should i go?” questioning. I wonder how widespread or not such an experience is. I’m guessing it’s not all that unusual, but it doesn’t make for good stories so we don’t hear about it very much.)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

All about the unintended messages

Michelle’s response to the last post on this blog reminded me of a memory that had been buried in the back of my brain for a long time.

Back when i was a teenager, i read a lot. (Still do, actually.) Since i was growing up Mormon, a chunk of what i read was the pablum that passes for adolescent literature directed at Mormons (which is not to say that most adolescent literature not directed at Mormons isn’t pablum, but that’s a separate issue). This was particularly the case since my parents ran a Mormon-oriented bookstore for a bit of my growing up.

Anyway, one book in particular (the title and author of which, sadly, are lost in the mists of brainfog) was written to try to steer young Mormons away from four of the Big Vices—alcohol, tobacco, illegal drugs, and premarital sex.* This book’s particular approach to the de rigueur hamhandedness of the genre was to take the done-without-names third-person narrative common to Mormon lesson manual narratives of the 70s and 80s** and apply it to horror stories about the way things could go terribly, terribly wrong for teenagers who committed sins.

I remember a few of them, but the one i particularly remember was the story of a girl (cleverly named “a young woman”) who started having sex at a very young age (i can’t recall if it was twelve or thirteen) with pretty much any willing guy she could find, and ended up contracting a sexually transmitted disease that left her infertile. This was presented as the most negative of all possible outcomes. I still remember thinking, as a teenager, that if someone was engaging in such high-risk sexual behavior, infertility would probably be a positive outcome for that person, what with having one less thing to worry about and all—and if i, in my early teens and not playing the sexual promiscuity game, had that thought, i can only imagine that there were a few teenagers who were being sexually promiscuous who figured that they’d just been informed of a novel way out of some of their major life stresses.

Like the title says, it’s all about the unintended messages.

* You’ll notice the conspicuous absence of rock and roll from this list. Apparently, the author felt that Lex de Azevedo had already done such a poorly-reasoned approach to the subject with his book Pop Music and Morality that it could never be surpassed.

** Those of you around then will remember this—stuff like “A relief society president decided she needed a better way to reach the newly-married sisters in her ward…” and “A young girl was praying at dinner one night…” I mean, could they have telegraphed that they were made-up stories any more blatantly? Probably, but i can’t think of how.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The power of stupid terminology

Do non-Mormons use the silly, silly term “power of procreation” to label sex (and, relatedy, fecundity)? I find scattered references from other sources on Google, but the top hits are all Mormon-oriented.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

If you could hie to Gilligan’s Island

In honor of it being Jeanne’s birthday today, and also with April Fools Day coming rapidly upon us, here’s something she and i came up with together.

Our ward’s choir sings once each month (on the Sunday the high council dude speaks). Last month, they sang “Oh My Father” to the tune of “If You Could Hie to Kolob”.* (This is an unprecedented two-fer—you get the two space-doctrinest hymns in the hymnal, both at once!) This was a new combination for me, even though i’d already known that you can sing either of these to the tune of either “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” or “The Ballad of Gilligan’s Isle”—and so that got us thinking of fun tricks choir directors could play with the hymnal.

Our favorite was the idea of singing every single 7676D-meter song in the hymnal (and the 7777D songs that would work)** to the tune of “If You Could Hie to Kolob”, a different song with the same tune each month, and see how long it took the congregation (and, more amusingly, the bishop) to catch on to what was going on. (My guess is that it might take some members of the choir a couple months to catch on, actually.)

I almost want to go up to my bishop next Sunday, shake his hand, and say “Hey, bishop, i’ve got this great idea for an April Fools prank on the ward…” just to see the initial expression on his face before he realizes that this is only what he should have come to expect from me by now.

* I know a lot of people absolutely heart both of these songs, but i would like to insert an obligatory gag here. There is no end to the “no end” verses, to begin with.

** By the way—does anyone know why you can’t search by meter on the church’s music web site? One would think it would be relatively trivial to implement, and quite useful.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

What we don’t all know

Pet peeve, and a very serious one: People introducing concepts in sacrament meeting addresses with something like “We all know that…”

No, we don’t all know about whatever—many of us may, but what about non-Mormons who may be visiting, or people who have been away from the church for a while, or small children, or even people you’d expect to know but happen to have missed that concept somehow? I mean, i suppose you could get away with it in a very small group where you know everyone really well, but even there it’s a risky claim.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Dating and rumors

Jeanne and i were talking about growing up Mormon, and we realized that all through our growing up people told us that “the prophet” had said that kids shouldn’t date ’til they’re 16 years old, but we never actually saw a prophet say that ourselves. Were we simply looking in the wrong decade (or century)? I know it appears in various bits of church literature, but had a sitting prophet actually made such a declaration by the mid-80s?

(Of course, nobody ever actually defined “dating” when saying that anyway, so when it really comes down to it it’s not like it was actually terribly helpful advice.)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Blessings and cursings

I’m actually not certain, various Mormon memes notwithstanding, that God wants us to experience affliction in this life. Generally, afflictions are described in the scriptures as punishments. Not all are, of course, but it’s worth noting that even in those cases they’re not described as blessings.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Mormonism meets Buddhism

A zen testimony: My belief is.

Or, if you prefer, a fast meeting koan: What is the sound of one testimony being sobbed?