Monday, November 28, 2011

What happens when the world isn’t as bad as we say?

One thing that y’all may have missed in the excitement of Thanksgiving weekend and Xmas shopping was the news that the teen pregnancy rate in the United States declined last year. And when i say it declined, i mean it declined—it dropped to a record low rate for the entire time records have been kept (70 years!), and this isn’t just a little blip downwards, but a continuation of a long-term trend.*

And yes, some of this is due to an increased use of contraception, but the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s analysis (which is only available in PDF format, and i don’t like linking to PDFs, so no link here, but it’s googlable) finds that a lot of it is also due to teens simply choosing not to have sex.** Kind of runs counter to the common Mormon meme that the world is busily going to hell in a handbasket, and that we need to aggressively shelter our kids from whatever the rest of the world is doing, since everybody else is getting more and more evil.***

So i’ll just say that what i became very thankful for this past Thanksgiving weekend was that my children are growing up in a world that seems to be getting more and more moral in some very important ways, whether we care to notice that or not.

* I recognize that the unwed teen pregnancy rate is a more interesting statistic for this entry than simply the teen pregnancy rate, but those statistics turn out to be really hard to come by—or, at least, reliable ones are hard to find. Part of the problem is that the best numbers for my purposes would be teen pregnancies in which conception (not just birth) occurred outside of marriage, and that doesn’t seem to be well-tracked by anybody.

**And before anybody decides to pull out the abortion card, i’ll simply note that the teen abortion rate has been steadily falling over the past several decades, and that the stats i’m talking about are pregnancy rates, anyway, not birth rates.

*** As does the fact that the peak year for the teen pregnancy rate (in the United States) was 1957. You mean teen pregnancies have been lower than that for more than 50 years, and we still haven’t realized that maybe the world isn’t all that more evil a place for our kids to grow up than it was when we were kids?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Truth from the lips of a child

Thanksgiving is widely described as a “family holiday”, and so in honor of the day i give you a quote from a member of my family (my 10-year-old daughter) earlier today:

Hot chocolate is the Mormon coffee.

Wisdom and insight, straight from a child.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Translation theory in action

Has anybody else noticed a trend away from the idea that English is a perfect object language for expressing religious items coming from the church’s translation department over the past half-century?

Consider German: Full-time missionaries used to (up until sometime after the mid-twentieth century) be referred to as Älteste+[last name], because Älteste is the usual translation of the English word Elder. This was even sillier than the English Elder+[nineteen-year-old’s last name], though, since "Älteste literally means oldest. Now, though, the church in Germany uses Elder+[last name] for full-time missionaries, which in my opinion works much better, since Elder doesn’t have a preexisting meaning in German. (And this change wasn’t just a change in general use—it even extended to the nametags.)

Also, starting sometime in the eighties or so, Endowment started slipping out of use as the German word for the temple endowment, replaced by the much more descriptive-in-German word Begabung.

Maybe there’s some hope for the higher-ups someday recognizing that English might need some translations of its own, or at least a move away from certain archaic-but-found-in-the-King-James-Version terms…

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Utah in Alaska

So our family took in a basketball game last night hosted by the University of Alaska Anchorage, one of our local universities.* It was unremarkable as college sporting events go, except when we looked at the program, only to find that the University of Alaska Anchorage—yes, Anchorage, Alaska—has a pretty sizable number of transfer students on the roster from Utah junior colleges (plus one player from Utah who came to Anchorage straight out of high school). Not only that, but they’re good—three of them started the game.**

Now, just ’cause these players are from Utah, it doesn’t mean that they’re Mormon†—but the odds are that most of them are.†† So, the question: What’s up with a recruiting pipeline from majority-Mormon Utah to majority-irreligious Alaska? It seems rather far away. I’m guessing there’s a story behind this, but i don’t know where to look for it.

* They currently have a nationally-ranked NCAA Division II women’s basketball team, and their early-season tune-up sacrificial lambopponent was the Dominican University of California Penguins—and if “Penguins” is an oblique reference to the school having been originally founded by nuns, they now have one of my very, very favorite school mascots ever.

** The other two starters were from other countries. We realized, as we looked at the roster, that the university could fill the floor with Utahns, and they could also fill the floor with non-North Americans. Yes, Alaska.

† Well, except for the one who Jeanne and i both agreed had the perfect look for a singles ward relief society president—ponytail don’t lie.

†† Only one of them is from Mormon-minority Salt Lake City, after all.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Whither the (sorta-)unbelievers?

Participating in temple worship is a necessary thing if one wishes to be a full participant in the Mormon religion. However, receiving a recommend requires not just adhering to accepted Mormon practice, but also believing in it.

This poses a problem for those amongst us who are affiliated with Mormonism, and self-identify as Mormons, but for whatever reason have not received a spiritual witness of some part of the faith—some, in fact, of as basic a thing as whether God actually exists.

So those who don’t have a testimony (as generally defined within Mormonism) of such things are stuck with something approaching a Morton’s choice: either participating fully as a result of lying by saying they believe when they don’t, or telling the truth and not participating fully. It seems to me that this is a problematic position to place those people in, and the sort of thing that might well drive them away rather than bringing them closer to the faith. I don’t know how to resolve this problem, but that doesn’t stop me from perceiving it as a problem, you know?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Ignoring the wrong book

Can we finally admit that the Song of Solomon is really pretty poetry, and that we don’t actually have a good excuse for ignoring it in gospel doctrine classes—well, or at least that we have no good reason for ignoring it as long as we continue to read bits from the clinically-depressed bit of scripture that is Ecclesiastes?

Friday, November 11, 2011

The evils of not having money

I was going through some old notes from church meetings, and i discovered a reference to a speaker saying that the early (as in late 1830s) Mormons were “evicted from Missouri”.

Evicted? Wow. I’d never known that the early Mormons had been that far behind on their rent, but Jeanne and i have been reading through the Documentary History of the Church, and the church and its leaders certainly had their share of cashflow problems, so i guess that makes sense as the reason all the unpleasantness of the time happened. Right?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Speculation! (the sequel)

So in my last post i said that there was a lot of speculation about what would be announced in the out-of-cycle stake conference that our stake had this past Sunday.

And so, you may ask, what was the big announcement? Well, the answer is [drum roll, please]…

Absolutely nothing.

Yes, that’s right, much to my surprise the big announcement matched precisely what i was hoping for, if only to teach people that speculation doesn’t work. There had been a number of general authorities in town to do some training for the stake presidencies, and the stake presidencies asked for them to preside at specially-called stake conferences. That is all.

I will, though, say that there was a bit of a bait-and-switch. A member of the quorum of apostles was in town, but he spoke at the next stake over—we got a member of the quorums of seventy (and the next stake over got a member of the presiding bishopric, and i think there was another stake with another member of the quorums of seventy present, but i kind of lost track). Of course, i was out of town the previous Sunday, so it may have been announced then—i don’t know for sure.

But the general authority who was present at our stake had a good sense of humor about so many people expecting some big announcement—he got up and told us he had one: “Keep the commandments.” It was delivered quite nicely as a laugh line, but i think the more serious point underlying it was both well delivered and well taken.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


So our stake* has an extra-special out-of-cycle stake conference tomorrow, with the featured speaker being a member of the quorum of apostles.** Given this, there’s all manner of speculation about what this might mean, what’s going to happen tomorrow, and so on.

Therefore, i know that i’m wishing will happen: That he gets up and says something like, “I’ve heard that there’s a lot of speculation about what’s going to happen today. Really, i just wanted to see what Alaska looks like in snowy weather, and folks figured it would be good if i spoke to everyone while i was here. Have a nice day.”

Who knows—maybe it is some sort of big-deal event. But it’s always fun to see people’s speculations get punctured, and a boy can wish for that, can’t he?

* Actually, as it turns out, it appears that this is actually going to be a multi-stake thing.

** Yeah, i know, it’s bizarre that i always write quorum of apostles instead of the more usual (and church-approved) quorum of the twelve or quorum of the twelve apostles. I just feel like my phrasing is more transparent, given the way we generally refer to other priesthood quorums—i mean, not only do we not call elders quorums quorums of the ninety-six, technically a deacons quorum is also a quorum of (up to) twelve, and the ambiguity vaguely bothers me.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man, um, really annoying

While reading scriptures the other night, my family decided that Proverbs 27:14* is our favorite verse in all of the scriptures, and one that we intend to use the next time somebody tells any of us that the “right” time to do something holy is always the morning.

* Reproduced here in its entirety, so that you don’t have to click through: He that blesseth his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, it shall be counted a curse to him.