Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Proper citations

So speaking of “If You Could Hie to Kolob”, i’ve been in sacrament meetings a few times now where we’ve been told that ward member X was going to play a solo instrumental rendition of that song.

Really? Wouldn’t it have been more accurate to say that she (and it’s always been a she, for whatever reason) was going to play Ralph Vaughan Williams’s arrangement of the Christmas carol “Dives and Lazarus”? I mean, it seems a bit presumptuous of us to claim Williams’s work as our own, as if putting our most space-doctrinish hymn to that piece of music meant we were the only ones that happened to recognize its existence and use it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

And who hies anymore, anyway?

So yesterday my ward sang “If You Could Hie to Kolob”.* It brought to mind something one of my missionary companions once mentioned when i was a full-time missionary in Germany. He said (paraphrasing from time-hazed but still strong memory)

You know, i hope they don’t ever translate “If You Could Hie to Kolob” into German—if they did, half the German LDS would leave the church. [pause] Well, and the other half would sing it every Sunday!

(It’s probably only amusing if you’ve spent much time around Mormons in Germany, but for those of us who have…)

Anyway, i haven’t gone through the 1996 Gesangbuch (the German hymnal) page by page to check on this (and they didn’t provide an index of authors, like they did in the English version), so i may be wrong, but as far as i can tell from a quick scan, a translation of the song isn’t to be found in there—so my companion’s prediction will have to wait a few more decades for testing, i suppose.

* Yes, my two oldest spontaneously sang “there is no end to this song” along with me in place of “there is no end to being” in the final verse. I feel that i can rest easy in the sure knowledge that i have raised them well.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


I’ve mentioned a few times that i have all daughters and no sons, and sometimes i feel like i’m the only active Mormon guy around in that situation.

There is one very, very big advantage that this gives me, though, you know. Specifically:

I will always have an easy out when it comes to father-son campouts.

All you guys out there with sons can feel free to be jealous now.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

In which David B pretends to be a deep thinker

I’ve read a good number of mainstream Xian critiques of the Mormon view of God from various sources, and they generally leave me with a simple question, based on the common claim that the mainstream Xian view of God entails a God who/that is absolutely perfect in every possible way and exceeds in all things, namely:

What's so great about absolute greatness?

This probably sounds like a joke, but it’s a serious question. If a critique of the Mormon conception of God is that the Mormon view entails a God who is not as wondrous as the mainstream Xian view entails,* then why is that supposed to be such a huge criticism? I see no inherent reason that that should be a valid critique; it seems to me that it’s a critique simply and only because it goes against some people’s underlying assumptions about the nature of deity, not because it somehow is a problem with a conception of deity.

And remember, an argument like “Isn’t it better to worship an absolutely great deity than a limited though still great deity?” won’t hold for this—i want concrete arguments here, not arguments in the abstract. It might be better if life here on earth didn’t involve the ebola virus, for example, but proposing an earth without ebola doesn’t make reality any different. I’m looking for arguments that speak to reality—and i haven’t found any yet.

* Something i’m not ceding, but which i offer as a basis for rational discussion on this issue.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Choosing friends

Every once in a while, the youth of the church get told (generally at the local level) that they should only date members of the church, and in fact that they should preferentially make friends with members of the church.

Beyond the fact that such advice makes me wonder whether we really are as missionary-oriented a religion as we tend to think, i suspect that such advice actually stems from people porting in ideas from the jello belt areas where Mormons are found in relatively large numbers.

Consider: If the number of youth who are Mormon nearby is larger, it’s easier to have Mormon dates/friends who are good influences selected from the total pool. If you’re a youth who lives near three other Mormon youths and two of them are, um, not quite living according to the principles of the gospel, your good-influence options for friendships among Mormons are terribly restricted. If, however, you can choose from thirty nearby Mormons, even given the same ratios so that twenty of them would be bad influences, that still gives you ten good-influence Mormons to hang out with.

(Of course, this leaves out the fact that the sort of clannishness that advice offers isn’t healthy at all, and also that one has to wonder who’s supposed to be a good influence on people who aren’t themselves good-influence types, but i’m guessing anybody who regularly reads this blog either already knows that or already loathes me enough that they wouldn’t believe me on such points anyway.)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

General conference and local television

When i was young enough that i can barely remember it, Washington DC’s channel 5 carried some of the general sessions of general conference, but they stopped that at some point while i was growing up. Anyone know why? It’s not like the number of Mormons in the DC area (and, therefore, the number of likely potential viewers) went down during that time.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Weighing options

When i was in high school, i was heavily involved in extracurricular activities. Some of these, particularly drama, required me to stay after school until rather late in the evening. Since for me to attend seminary i would have had to get up at or before 4:00 in the morning, the only year of high school i attended seminary was the one year my ward offered it Wednesday evenings (and even then i missed several classes).

I’ve mentioned this to some members of the church over the years, and have actually been told by a few of them* how horrible it was that my family didn’t make the “sacrifice” to get me to seminary. For some reason i still think it was important that i got 7–8 hours of sleep a night, and i also think it was important for me to be involved in the activities i was involved in. (Sometimes the choice is between good and good, after all.)

* Usually folks without high schoolers of their own who would have had to get up at 4:00 am, of course.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Why we hate each other

My last post got me thinking about regionalism in the church, and something i’ve often heard from Utah Mormons: Why do Mormons from places outside of Utah hold a grudge against Utah Mormons? Why is there so much Utah Mormon bashing?

Well, i suspect that it’s largely more of a perception thing than anything else, to begin with. I tend to think that it’s simply a case of Mormons having stereotypes about the various cultural subgroups (often geographically based) within Mormonism, and whatever group you’re part of seems to you to be the one that gets slammed the hardest.

That is, Utah Mormons are sensitive to (and notice) jabs at Utah Mormons ’cause they’re Utah Mormons, California Mormons are sensitive to jabs about California Mormons, Eastern [US] Mormons would be sensitive to jabs about Eastern Mormons except that we know we’re evil, &c.

According to my own perception, though, i think there’s also a cultural trend among Utahns (not just Mormons from Utah, by the way) to talk about Utah as if it’s necessarily the greatest place on earth, and everybody’d better agree with that claim—and i would expect a backlash against that sort of thing.

Consider that, while i was growing up in Southern Maryland, i had to listen to Utah transplants go on about how it was too humid (never thinking that some of us might think that the air is actually pleasant in Maryland, but that it’s too dry in Utah), our mountains were just “baby mountains” (completely missing the point when i’d respond “Yeah, but our mountains have trees!”), that it took too long to get to church (40 minutes on Sunday morning for my family before they improved the roads, an hour and a half for some families in the ward), and the like. I feel that, faced with such, it would only be natural to expect a certain amount of backlash.

So i’m sorta sorry, Utahns, but i feel no sympathy.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sometimes being a missionary is fun

Completely true personal story: Back when i was a full-time missionary (i was sent to Germany and Austria), i had a missionary companion (a Utahn) who, when introducing himself to people, would go on and on at length about how Utah was the greatest place on earth—and one of his “proofs” of this was that Utah has every sort of landscape possible: there's desert, mountains, forest, &c. I dealt with this for a while until i as a born-and-bred Marylander couldn't take it any longer and i broke in (in German and as innocent-sounding as i could manage it) with “Really? I didn't know Utah had any ocean coastline.” I still think that the minimal cruelty was entirely worth it for the expression on his face.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Should it be a classic?

I recently ran across an old copy of Spencer W. Kimball’s The Miracle of Forgiveness that was sitting on the wrong shelf, and i flipped through it. I didn’t do a close rereading of it or anything, but it reminded me that i’ve never understood the appeal of the book.

So what’s up with it? What am i missing about it that makes it such an allegedly wonderful thing?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

What if most of us can’t sing all that well?

So musical numbers in sacrament meetings are supposed to be of the highest quality possible, and then we encourage everyone to participate in ward choirs. Doesn’t anyone else see a looming contradiction here?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Attending to…who?

Is Doctrine & Covenants 123:11–14 a complete sentence? It’s punctuated as if it was one, but i can’t find an actual predicate anywhere in there. Maybe it’s actually that i can’t find an antecedent for verse 14’s these.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A bit of light demography

Self-identified Mormons make up 2 to 2½ percent of the United States population (depending on survey methodology). About 25 to 30 percent of the United States population has had personal contact (even briefly) with someone they know was Mormon. (This includes things like chatting with the full-time missionaries at the door.)

This means

  1. we’re doing a pretty good job at contacting people and being open about our religion, and
  2. we’ve got a whole lot of work left to do.