Sunday, December 14, 2008

Blacks and the Priesthood; 30 Years Later

The most recent issue of BYU Studies has a number of interesting articles commemorating the 30 year anniversary of the revelation allowing worthy men of all races to be ordained to the priesthood within the LDS Church.

This topic has special meaning for me as it was one of the first major issues that I explored in depth as I began to examine my own faith on the road to my own conversion to the Mormon faith. At that time I relied heavily on the writings of Jessie Embry but these BYU Studies articles provide a very personal look into the mind of Spencer W. Kimball. The main article is a long excerpt from a book published by his son, Edward L. Kimball. A couple things that struck me:

The role of academics and historians in influencing the thinking within the First Presidency. This article in BYU Studies points to a personal letter exchange between an LDS sociologist and a Mission President in 1947 asking about expansion to Cuba as a catalyst that caught the attention of the First Presidency in terms of re-examining the policy. Although the First Presidency put out a statement defending the policy at the time, behind the scenes a special committee was formed of the Twelve to study the issue and policies began to change, such as not requiring all converts in South Africa to trace their lineage. The author summarized, "The possibility for changing the policy increased subtly as scholarly efforts to trace the restriction to its source showed no certain beginnings and shaky reasoning in support of the practice," he then goes on to list the various scholarly articles published and evidences that members of the Twelve were actively reading and following the debate. It was also a letter from a Harvard administrator and reports from the Historical Department that seemed to influence the timing of the announcement.

The differences of opinion within the Twelve on the issue and the role of personalities. Strong opinions are to be expected when putting men of such caliber together in the same room. It only makes the unanimity that accompanies decisions by the Twelve that much more incredible and, in my mind, evidence of the influence of revelation and the spirit in humbling certain strongly opinionated individuals. (a quote by Elder Romney illustrates, "I had gone eighty years defending the Church's position. I am a Romney, you see, and a stubborn man...I would not have gone along without a witness in my own soul.")

Hugh B. Brown seems to have been the most in favor of dropping the ban as an administrative decision, not seeing need for a revelation if the policy did not originate in revelation. President McKay saw it not as revelation but as an inspired policy requiring divine intervention to change. He apparently desired and sought such a revelation but did not receive it. After President McKay's death momentum was apparently building within the Twelve, led by Hugh B. Brown, for a policy change but President Lee was strongly opposed to it and so it remained. Then of course it is interesting to look at the life of Spencer Kimball and all the ways he was prepared by his assignments to be the leader that finally received the answer. I was also struck by the personal correspondence that Kimball had with Elder McKonkie who concluded that there was no scriptural barrier to a change in policy and how strongly this endorsement apparently influenced President Kimball.

The nature and process of revelation. Perhaps the most interesting element of the article is the insights that can be garnered as to the nature and process of revelation. Even though President Kimball straightforwardly believed "should the day come it will be a matter of revelation" and that those who wanted to force the issue "cheapen the issue and certainly bring into contempt the sacred principle of revelation and divine authority," he also was an almost obsessed student in conducting informal interviews, keeping clippings, and then spending hundreds of hours alone in the temple in prayer and fasting focusing on the issue. Then his description of his answer, "there grew slowly a deep, abiding impression to go forward with the change." The moment of consensus among the Twelve was a bit more dramatic but even then it only came after years of debate and deliberation.

That process and recognition of an answer is within the reach of every member, and very well should be the experience of every member at some level. Hopefully the ramifications of my decisions are not of such a magnitude that it will take 25 years to get an answer or for everyone around me to be ready for the change...maybe that's why I'm not married, the rest of the world is not ready to accept a married David Stoker... ok, maybe there are other factors at play there.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

LDS Philanthropic Culture Part 3: What I would like to see

After looking at our scriptural mandate and the current status/trends in LDS Philanthropy I will now be so bold as to share my humble opinion of where I would like to see the Church and the LDS community position itself in the wider world of philanthropy. It's my personal opinion but that's what this blog is all about :)

1. I hope for the LDS brand, Helping Hands, to become synonymous with disaster relief. 
I think disaster relief is a natural fit for the LDS Church and its members, both in terms of values and playing to the strengths of the organizational efficiency of the Church. I would love to see the church brand of Helping Hands to become as synonymous with disaster relief as the Red Cross but with a more impressive response time and army of volunteers.

2. I hope for LDS Philanthropies to become known in wider circles for Health and Education.

Institutionally the LDS Church has already defined itself according to these two issue areas: focusing on health in their humanitarian work (emphasis areas in clean water, neonatal resuscitation training, wheelchair distribution and vision treatment), and then by focusing on education through the Perpetual Education Fund and the various church-sponsored universities and colleges, which are no doubt the biggest expenses in the LDS Philanthropies budget.

If the Church or its members were to become more involved in the wider circles of health and education I would suggest a number of high-impact organizations with whom the Church could partner with/support financially and/or view them as implementers of the Church's philanthropic goals:

Whirlwind Wheelchair: (Disabilities) appropriate design for conditions in poor countries.
Path and PSI (Health; focus on utilizing market mechanisms)
Room to Read: (Education; strong focus on enabling local publishers in local languages)
VisionSpring (Vision; business-in-a-backpack reading glasses)
OneWorldHealth (Health; first nonprofit pharmaceutical company, making medicine for the diseases of the poor that are currently not financially attractive to the large multinational corporations)
Sprinkles (Health; simple product that can provide great returns in terms of malnutrition, the largest killer of children under 5)

3.  NEW Packaging: LDS philanthropists should brand themselves around family-based interventions.

This is somewhat already happening but it is not being articulated and I think if it were articulated clearly, the community of LDS philanthropists could introduce a new paradigm into philanthropy and one that is perfectly aligned with LDS values.  Potential investments:
  • Microfinance.  This is already a favorite investment for the LDS community; they have been involved with Grameen and FINCA from the beginning; UNITUS, the microfinance accelerator, which has received rave reviews, was started by a group of LDS businessmen. But the articulation piece is recognizing the power of microfinance in terms of household income and the % of the loan that goes directly to the family.  Another organization to keep on our micorfinance radars: Microfinance International Corporation, creatively using remittances and the formal banking system to fuel microfinance. 
  • Renascer.  Vera Corderio's family based model of health care in Brazil, focused on reducing readmission.  She is one of the most high-touted social entrepreneurs, found early and elected an Ashoka Fellow in 1992, AVINA leader in 2000, Schwab social entrepreneur in 2001, Global Development's "Most Innovative" project in 2002, Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship in 2006.  For an overview, listen to Vera on Social Innovations Conversations, or watch a video of her work
  • A sample of recently elected Ashoka Fellows working with family-based strategies: Dariusz Cupail (Poland-supporting fathers as a key part of a family); Sylvia Reyes (Ecuador-traces various societal problems to the home and works with the entire family); Indira Ranamagar (Nepal-reintegration of prisoners into society by focusing on their roles in families);  Marli Marcia da Silvia (Brazil-supporting single mothers and encouraging fathers to be responsible for their children), Katarzyana Oles (Poland- family-centered obstetrics system). 

4.  LDS members and philanthropists should engage more fully in the wider efforts of philanthropy. 

I think the Mormons can bring great strength and insight into the world of philanthropy but for a host of historical and cultural reasons I believe they remain largely outside of influential circles in terms of leadership, employment, and activism in addressing the toughest social problems of our times.  I think LDS members should be encouraged to be active in service organizations outside of the Church and the Church should make concentrated efforts to involve the public-at-large in their humanitarian work.  I also think LDS philanthropists can bring great respect and dignity to the Church by being active in the wider circles of philanthropy, which is correlated to my last point...

5.  LDS businessmen should lead the way in integrating business and philanthropy.

Mormons have made a name for themselves in business, they fill leadership positions at the Harvard Business School, they have a highly ranked business school themselves, and some of the most highly visible Mormons are businessmen.  There is a world-wide trend in philanthropy that is borrowing the efficiencies and operations of business and applying them in the social sector.  LDS business leaders and LDS business schools should be out in front championing this movement.  

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Map of words in General Conference

Really interesting visual representation posted on LDS Media Talk of the words used in the most recent general conference (included below). I would be even more interested to see a comparison: general conference vocabulary vs. a sample of the vocabulary used in LDS congregations around the globe. I think the differences would be extremely telling.

A couple comments:

  1. I think it is nearly impossible to argue that Mormons are not Christian based on this analysis.
  2. My gut feeling is that I think most LDS congregations in the U.S. tend to not use the words "Lord" and "Jesus" as much as our leaders do in general conference, instead using "Savior" and "Christ" in greater frequency.
  3. I was sad to see "Zion" used so infrequently.
  4. I think it is interesting to see how frequently we use the word "President." I understand it is for good reason-citing previous Presidents of the Church and bearing testimony of our current Prophet Thomas S. Monson- but what does it say about us culturally that we use that term so frequently? I think it falls into the category of vocabulary that is a cultural phenomenon and not driven by or used in proportion to our scriptural foundation. I think an onlooking sociologist would point to the very business-like structure of leadership in the Church.
  5. The word "May" is probably in the top 5 which I find extremely interesting because I think it is a word that has fallen out of use in most common vernacular. I really like the way Mormons use the word which is often as a prayer or call to action "may we all be a little more kind, a little more loving" or "may we always remember." I think it signifies polite and a humble people.
I could go on but a very interesting visual graph. If you want to run one of your own talks or posts through the tool it is available at

Sunday, October 12, 2008

LDS Philanthropic Culture Part 2: Current Status

This topic obviously deserves further research and investigation but without published research specific to Mormons the ideas will have to rely on my own conversations, observations and a bit of intuition from my own experiences so it is by no means authoritative nor expert.  Also, bear in mind that I am only trying to explain what is currently happening, not passing judgement.  Here is my take on the current culture of philanthropy in the Mormon community:

1. Mormons do mainly charity not strategic philanthropy

This is not good or bad this is just what we do.  Mormons are generally happy with one-off charitable gifts/activities and they do so frequently and freely. Disaster relief is therefore a great fit for the LDS Church which they do very well and they are starting to make a name for themselves in that space, which I think is fantastic. Our ability to mobilize a large army of volunteers swiftly and orderly with smiles on their faces and not afraid to get their hands dirty is largely unmatched in the world.

The Mormon community in general is not involved in what could be called 'strategic' philanthropy meaning professional analysis, ongoing intervention, and evaluation, whether doing so themselves or supporting such efforts. Even activities of the institutional church such as employment centers or the Perpetual Education Fund are not completely 'strategic interventions', limited by their operations being carried out almost exclusively by short-term volunteers with little expertise in analyzing and refining such interventions.  Not to take away from what the PEF is accomplishing but I think the implementation is still catching up to the vision.

2. Mormons trust the LDS Church with their money

When an average latter-day saint or a wealthy LDS businessman is considering a philanthropic donation the brand of the Church is an instant vetting process. The Church is 1) extremely conscious of treating donated money as sacred funds, 2) they have a long track record of proven fiscal responsibility and 3) the fact that they use volunteers means extremely low overhead (which is appealing on the surface but I'll toss in my own opinion--low overhead is a very poor indicator of impact or social return on investment). So, many Mormons will give gifts to the Church before they would consider giving money outside of the Church for other philanthropic activities.  I think this phenomenon is also connected to the general isolation of the church for most of its history; general members simply have not been exposed to alternate options of philanthropy.  

3. Mormons are extremely conservative

Mormons have an interesting relationship with government and gov't welfare programs so that there is a constant battle over words in LDS charitable activities.   I sense that there is such an adverse taste to "socialism" and/or hand-out philanthropy that some do not like the connotation of 'social' even in words like "social entrepreneurship" or "social issues." Mormons have liked to use the word "self-reliance" but even that word has not been accepted by everyone, some do not like the word on grounds that it can appear to mean we somehow do not rely on the Lord as we should.  See Hugh Nibley Work we Must but the Lunch is Free.  So, it goes back and forth. Generally, the church and the members are weary to support 'liberal' activities.  I think that somewhat explains why Mormons have been drawn to activities such as microcredit and educational loans because they mix charity with conservative practicality and values.

4. Mormons prefer anonymous giving

This is more intuition than hard research but I get the sense that Mormons prefer anonymity in their giving. The roots likely come from the scriptural injunction for anonymous giving from the Sermon on the Mount but that would be common among all Christians. I think some give through the Church to preserve their anonymity and at the same time get satisfaction that the Church is, instead of themselves, getting the public relations attention. There is also a sense that Mormons will just go about their work, whether it's recognized by the wider world or not, which is a spirit that has accompanied most of their operations, so why not their philanthropic activities.  I really like this cultural phenomenon.

5. High competition and demand among a relatively small pool of high net worth individuals.

The body of LDS philanthropists is relatively small and so the demand for their wealth is great among all the programs of the church: Temple building, BYU, Humanitarian Department, etc. let alone all the independent Mormon-run charities and the philanthropic world at large. Additionally, although Mormons have a strong showing and reputation in business, most of the wealth is new wealth so they do not have the same size endowments or foundations as some of the East Coast old-money foundations. This goes back to the history of the Mormons being chased out of the United States and the demographics of the early pioneers of the church.

I could keep going but there is enough here to discuss... how did I do? Do you see the same patterns? What goes on in your mind when you are considering donating to the Church above and beyond tithing donations?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

LDS Philanthropic Culture Part 1

A favorite Mormon scripture reads "...see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength..." (Mosiah 4:27). That phrase, as quoted, has been used recently in General Conference referring to church service (Ballard and Oaks), education/occupation/marriage/childbearing (Oaks), temple service (Oaks), family history (Oaks), heeding the prophet (Uchtdorf) and then Neal Maxwell built an entire beautiful discource around that phrase.

It is a great verse and appropriate in multiple settings, I think it is interesting to note that the context of that verse refers specifically to our philanthropic efforts as disciples of Christ and I highlight a couple phrases that I find interesting but do not always receive the same level of attention:
Mosiah 4:26-27 I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants. And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore all things must be done in order.

There is that famous essay by Hugh Nibley entitled Zeal without Knowledge, which phrase will serve as my thesis on this subject or at least will provide a benchmark for what we must be weary of. For the next three posts I would like to explore the philanthropic culture of the LDS community and evaluate our performance based on those measurements: wisdom, order, and diligence. The first post will attempt to provide a survey of the current/historical culture of philanthropy in the Mormon community, the second will look at trends, and the third is my hope for the future.

To set the stage, our mandate from scripture, living prophets, and the temple:

"Remember in all things the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not my disciple" D&C 52:40

This humbling sentiment is expressed throughout scripture: James 1:27, Jacob 2, and Matt 25:34-36 which has been a favorite scripture of both Gordon Hinckley and Thomas Monson.

However, I think we as Mormons have a much larger mandate, we are supposed to create entire communities, whole societies, that function in this manner. We are to be of "one heart and one mind" and have "no poor among" us. We speak of salvation, not in the Protestant tradition of individual salvation, but in the Israelite tradition of being saved as a people. We have a heavenly mandate to live the law of consecration now yet the common sentiment is that it will somehow be switched on at some magical moment in the future. Brigham Young had something to say about that:
Some of our Elders, and, in fact, some of the Twelve will tell you, "Yes, yes, the Order is a splendid principle and will bring happiness, etc., but it not hardly time to enter into it, wait a little while until the people understadn it a little better." Why, the are fools! They don't konw what they talk about. They have ears to hear and will not hearken, and have eyes to see and will not understand... I don't care how the world goes, what the President (of the U.S.) or his emissaries do. It matters nothing to me. What I am thinking of and interested about is how do the Latter-day Saints do?...The devil is in the community and he has not been turned out. Well, I still have hope in Israel.
I might not have the fiery bluntness of Brigham Young or the poignant prose of Hugh Nibley but these next few posts are delivered in a similar spirit, my hope in Israel and it is as more of a sermon to myself than to anyone else.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Don't "go through" the Mormon Temple

In the spirit of my last post I want to re-examine some of the cultural phrases the LDS community has come to use, this time in regards to the House of the Lord.

It is a common phrase in Mormon circles to talk about "going through the temple." But I love how Truman Madsen puts it in his essay "House of Glory" which can now be found in Five Classics of Truman Madsen, that we should talk about the "temple going through us."

I love that paradigm shift. If we are simply going through the temple like it were some sort of amusement ride or rite of passage then we are missing the point entirely. Furthermore, if we are communicating to our youth that the sole goal is to "go through the temple" then again I think we are doing ourselves a great injustice. The temple is a "house of learning", "a house of glory", "a house of faith"; all of those characteristics require time and accumulate in small increases in wisdom due to long exposure to light and truth. The temple should go through us.

Another phrase Truman identifies is "temple work" about which he says, "there is a sense, of course, in which it is work; but too rarely do we speak of "temple worship," which can send us back to our work changed."

Why do we shy away from using the word "worship"? I tend to hear the word 'worship' used mainly in the negative as in 'worshipping' money or cars or other things of this world or in terms of bowing down to idols. However, while that is a apt description for peoples' behavior, using the word strictly for the negative lessens our ability to describe true or pure worship. Alternatively, I do see a point that the word "worship" is sacred, particularly to the individual who is approaching the Lord, and should be used sparily and is perhaps most appropriate in text. But in the end I do think that if we used the phrase more often it would change our outlook on the temple and what we do there.

What do you think? Are there other casual phrases or words that we as members use that we need to re-examine?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

My prescription for promoting high culture in the LDS Church

There was a great post the other day over at Times and Seasons by Kent Larsen entitled "Key to the Culture of Mormons" which inspired a long comment by myself, which I thought I would share and develop in this forum. The topic I responded to being the transmission of "high culture" in the LDS community and the current absence of mechanisms of exchange.

There are many layers at play here but I do agree that currently there are few mechanisms in place, or at least the current mechanisms are not being used, to transmit 'high LDS culture' across the entire worldwide church body. I think the explanation is largely historical and is a manifestation of the growing pains/identity shift of a church that was largely isolated in Utah for most of its history which has then suddenly exploded into an international, multicultural church in the last 50 years, coming to a forefront in the last 10.

First, I believe that the church can and should help promote high culture and art by incorporating it into the official worship program. I think the Church is trying to do this with such activities as the International Art Competition, which I look forward to the next exhibit, and a recent emphasis in showcasing art in the Ensign.  I think they are also trying to disseminate high culture through special events in the conference center, such as these fabulous Christmas concerts, Latino celebrations, as well as productions in the small theater at the conference center, etc. They are also trying to disseminate it through BYUTV and in general BYU is used as a mechanism to create and share such art. I think the Church leadership is aware of the need to inspire and showcase such creativity and the ideal of developing high culture as part of a religious community is perhaps strongest in Mormonism when compared to other modern religions. Also, I would add that I think the Church has good taste in art and music based on what it tends to showcase on its official stages and publications. However... I think the Church still has a long way to go in terms of reaching this ideal and in the refinement of their current mechanisms, particularly regarding worldwide marketing and distribution.

A couple ways I would like to see the LDS Church incorporate high art and culture into the official worship program:

1. Allow greater flexibility in the hymnal, encourage local musicians to compose sacred music and help them publish, in some poor countries in Africa and Latin America you might need to help these artists financially to publish and record.

2. Give local members more flexibility in the art and decor of local temples. Even if it delays the opening by a few weeks, bring artists in the temple to paint murals, use local artists to do the woodwork, I think it would go a long way in both building the richness of LDS culture as well as building the faith and commitment of local members through participation. I think Mormon culture has lost something special in the process of streamlining our temple building. I love the beauty of the early temples, Salt Lake, Manti, with their brilliant architecture and high art, they are shining gems of the testimonies and commitment of the people.

3. Make the high art sourced in the International Art Competitions more available for mass consumption. The Church even awards some of the best works with "Purchase Awards" but then they get hung in the Church Museum or somewhere on Temple Square never to be seen by the majority of Church members. Why not use these as part of the LDS Gospel Art Kit or make them easily available for purchase through the Church Distribution catalogue? 

4. Potentially showcase high art/music at Conference. How many members have never heard the beautiful “The Redeemer” or similar oratorios? I thought it was interesting when the church brought in the Brazilian singer Liriel Domiciano and allowed her to sing not only in Music and the Spoken Word but in the Sunday morning session of Conference. The linked article says that that had not happened since 1930. Conference is perhaps the most central distribution mechanism of LDS culture, and for setting precedence; I think the church could use it strategically to inspire the development of the sacred music tradition of the Church. When a Koto or Javanese Gamelan orchestra accompanies the Mormon Tabernacle Choir we'll know the Church is trying to reach out to its international membership.

I think the second side in this equation is that members of the Church interested in these topics need to unite and use business and the Internet effectively to promote the creative arts of LDS artists. I think it needs to be separate from the Church and BYU but not so far removed from the mainstream that it can be dismissed by the mainstream membership of the Church. I think it will need to be web-based to reach the international church if it is truly going to represent and try to promote a world-wide high-art culture of Mormonism.

Those are my thoughts, I'm sure they are not new ideas and I know there are more important things to manage in the worldwide church such as pure doctrine and leadership, so this would all just be a cherry on top.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Slideshow of LDS Art

Quick update before my next post- I added a slideshow of LDS Art in the sidebar. Some of them are a bit more obscure and I realize it is hard to see details in the little sidebar so I would be happy to share where I located them on the web. Also, feel free to send me any pieces you think should be part of the slideshow, but I can't gaurantee I'll post them all, they must pass the screen of my own personal tastes :) I hope the artists see it as a free endoresment and not as a copyright issue.

Second, I added a feature to allow people to subscribe via email as I realize not everyone uses RSS readers.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Mormons should think twice when calling Jesus their "Elder Brother"

Mormons sometimes refer to Jesus as their "Elder Brother." This phrase is troubling to many onlookers from traditional Christianity as they see it as lowering the status of Jesus from God and King or putting us as practitioners on the same level as Jesus. It is a phrase that fuels their claims that we worship 'another Jesus' or the ridiculous smear tactic of saying Jesus and Satan are brothers, which was even used by Mike Huckabee in the presidential race, putting the issue in national papers.

Now, I understand why Mormons use this phrase and I'll summarize the doctrine later in this post, and I know the intentions of Mormons are not as the onlookers surmise, but in this case I am going to side with our critics and challenge Mormons to examine the words they casually use in their testimonies and prayers to see if this cultural pattern aligns with our doctrine.

This phrase, "Elder Brother" is not found in scriptures, neither Bible nor other LDS scripture. The principle of it is in the Bible, a combination of Jesus being the "Firstborn" and "Son of God" and all mankind being referred to as the "children of God". The reason the concept has gained prominence in Mormonism is due to unique LDS doctrines about what took place before the creation of the earth particularly as taught in the book of Abraham and the 93rd section of the D&C. Abraham 3 paints a scene in which God the Father is standing in the midst of spirits and among the crowd is the future Abraham and presumably other prophets as part of the "noble and great ones" and it is open to interpretation how far that net is cast. --In passing I will point out that it implies that there were some 'not-so-noble and not-so-great ones', I might have been in that category :) -- Then the spirit person who would come to earth and whom we know as Jesus is described as being "one among them" but with the adjective of being "like unto God." D&C 93 talks about Jesus receiving "not of the fullness at first" but that he became 'like unto God', "grace by grace". So there are some referrences in LDS scriptures that put Jesus "among" the wider family of humanity in the pre-earth realm and suggest development and growing into the role of Savior, but Christ is never lowered from his role or status, the added understanding is that mankind has divine heritage and potential and that only testifies to the power of Christ in His role.

I suspected the phrase may have had origins in the LDS hymnal but that search revealed that although there are some hymns that emphasize Jesus' role as friend and comforter, the phrase "Elder Brother" is never used and the vast majority of LDS hymns actually have the opposite emphasis, i.e. praising of Christ in his role as God, Savior, and King. My limited search on, along with the help of some friends, shows that the phrase first surfaces with Brigham Young and then can be found in discourses by most of the LDS prophets since then but always in passing, usually in reference to Christ's leadership role in the pre-earth realm.

I think the phrase is most common at the local level of discourse and vernacular in the Church, and just gradually became a common phrase members use in prayers and testimonies. I don't think it is used all that much, it is definitely used more by critics of the church than it is actually used by members. I listened for it in the last fast & testimony meeting in my ward and never heard it.

Again, I understand the doctrine and believe the phrase is accurate, I understand Mormons' excitement for this additional understanding of Jesus in the pre-mortal realm, and I believe that Mormons use it with reverent intimacy, but...

If we look at all the titles used to describe Jesus and their relative frequency in scripture, including how prophets refer to Him, how He refers to Himself and how God the Father addresses Him, we should be using this phrase "Elder Brother" rarely or not at all in following that established pattern. Additionally, I think there is always a tendency to become too casual in our reference to Deity and this phrase lends itself moreso to casualness. I think there are other ways of expressing the beautiful doctrine of Christ's role as the Firstborn and preordained Savior of mankind as well as the intimate friendship he provides.

Changing our language would put us in greater alignment with the language of our scriptures and save us a lot of misunderstanding when communicating with the greater Christian community.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Mormon Purse

If a person were to see a group of Mormons walking to a chapel on a Sunday morning they might be perplexed by the appearance of everyone, men, women and children carrying purses, I personally refer to mine as a man-bag. I'm speaking, of course, of the bookbags for carrying the LDS canon of scripture, which includes the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price. There are a number of cultural quirks that surround this little phenomenon--

First, the lingo--if a mormon says they want a new "quad" for Christmas they are not necessarily looking to go off-roading on a 4X4 but are instead looking for a set of scriptures that binds all four of those books into one. Likewise a "triple" is a not a baseball reference but reference to having two separate bindings the Bible (Old & New Testaments) and their "Triple" (Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price).
Second, there is an entire product line of bags that have been created to address this need of Mormons to carry their scriptures. There are dainty lace-edged ones for the young girls, then there are ones from Guatemala that incorporate traditional cloth patterns. My brother brought a set back from Argentina that were a unique blend of traditional Argentinian leather work and Watatsch Front Greg Olsen paintings. I have one made of Cambodian silk that I got the last time I was in Phnom Penh.

I find that scripture cases are one of the early artifacts that are created as the gospel spreads to new lands. It is a welcome phenomenon, especially if it translates into the words of the scriptures being likewise always carried within the hearts of the people.

I could not find very many examples of the international flavor scripture bags. If you have one, send me a picture and I'll post it. Here are the few I found:

Kangaroo fur from Down Under (Did anyone buy a coin purse there?); imports from Guatemala; a little Polynesian flavor; and some leather work from the Holy Land.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

LDS Church looking for feedback on Ensign

If you didn't make it to the last page of the Ensign this month you might have missed an opportunity to explain why you didn't make it to the last page! (Actually, you didn't miss it, and it's easier to fill out the Ensign survey online anyway, and I'm sure we all read the Ensign cover to cover.) I encourage everyone to take the survey. A voluntary survey is bound to attract extremes in opinions- even more reason for the readers of this blog to participate as I anticipate that we fall somewhere in the middle. I think it is wonderful that the Editors and GA advisers are making a concerted effort to ask and listen to the wider readership, a great sign of humility.

I have had discussions on this blog and offline with some of you about the Ensign and it's role in both setting and reflecting LDS art and culture. I see it as a powerful media tool for the LDS Church to promote desired cultural tones and to inspire the further development of LDS art and culture. I also find the Ensign to be an interesting barometer of LDS cultural trends and the changing face of the Church.

Before I go off to take it myself I can't help but critique the survey having been involved with survey creation and collection the last few years. :) Overall they get a high score: the length is appropriate; visually it flows well; it follows good rules about mutually-exclusive answer choices, odd number scales; I like the balance of questions. They might get some half-filled out paper versions back as it is possible to interpret the first page to be the end of the survey. My favorite question, hand down, is #10, where we get to describe the magazine as "modern" "too idealized" "inviting" and more exciting adjectives. I'm excited to share my thoughts (I'll be nice, I promise).

Monday, August 25, 2008

Why don't we put Anti-Nephi-Lehities on T-Shirts?

Mormons love the story of the 2000 Stripling Warriors. There are invigorating songs, t-shirts, action figures, cartoons; little boys dress up and want to be like them, and even the BYU head football coach references the story to inspire his team.

In Sunday School this week we covered both this and the foundation story of the Ammonites or the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi and I was struck by how disproportionately the two stories have manifested themselves in modern Mormon culture.

As a young boy it was perhaps natural to aspire to be a stripling warrior, I mean--just look at those guys, what scrawny preteen wouldn't want to have arms like that. However, as I advance in years after yet another birthday, I am increasingly troubled that we often glorify the militarism side of the story and brush over the pacifism element of the story. I wonder if the the choice in artwork and song would be different if the LDS Church were dominated by followers of Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. and not by lifetime members of the NRA?

There are of course multiple reasons why the stripling warrior story has become more popular. The name for one, "Anti-Nephi-Lehities" does not carry the same machismo as the brawny "stripling warrior." I will point out that that phrase "stripling warrior," let alone, "strapping warrior" which is more often the connotation and visual depiction, is never used in the text itself. The text does use the word 'stripling' in it's constant emphasis on how young the boys were and it uses the term soldiers not warriors. (In passing I'll also point out that the term AntiNephiLehi often strikes readers as funny because of our association of the Greek root "anti" meaning "opposition" but greater textual analysis shows cultural and textual consistency, another score for Joseph Smith).

If the visual depictions were more accurate they would more likely approximate the images we see of boy soldiers in the modern era although the comparison stops there as the stories of valiant youth fighting to preserve the life and liberty of their pacifist parents is not even comparable the the innocent suffering of kidnapped-at-gunpoint slave soldiers in the Congo or Uganda.

I look forward to seeing the piece of art that will depict the parents as the heroes and the tender young boy soldiers going to fight as a noble but ultimately tragic necessity.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Mormons should carol instead of knock doors.

One element of LDS culture that I absolutely love is the strong choral tradition.  I am admittedly influenced by my own mother being a choral instructor and my having been a singer in choirs all my life but I also think theologically it is a beautiful cultural treasure. 

Mormons are known for having great choirs, most prominently the Mormon Tabernacle Choir which has even been labeled "America's Choir" due to it's performance at multiple presidential inagrerations and having the longest running radio show broadcast in the world.   Brigham Young University also has a great suite of choirs.  Gladys Knight's choir, Saints Unified Voices, is probably the greatest recent addition to the Mormon suite of choral music and I believe will be looked back on as a significant development in the LDS musical tradition.  Last but not least, one of my personal favorites is the Montreal Homeless Choir started by a member in... Montreal.  

As a people we are striving to be of "one heart and one mind," and the act of singing in "one voice" can be both a beautiful manifestation of that spirit as well as a mechanism for building such a community.  It is a symbolic gesture that is used throughout Mormon worship.  I am convinced there will be gorgeous choral music in heaven.  King Benjamin and Mormon were both looking forward to singing with the choirs above, and the angels at the birth of Christ were no doubt singing Handel's very arrangement.  

I look forward to the choral music that will come from church members as the LDS church grows internationally and across different musical traditions.  The musical repertoire of the SUV Choir is the first great example.  I can't wait until we have Mormon choirs of Mongolian throat singers, Bulgarian women's choruses, or simple church choirs that sound like this community choir in Malawi

Friday, August 15, 2008

I'm Alive!

The google gods have smiled upon me and my blog has been reinstated. They apologized for their robots having labeled my site as spam, the trajectory of which, to me, is a bit scary, having to apologize for the behavior of one's robots, but that's a discussion for a different forum.

I'm excited to be back, I felt the conversation was just getting started...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Who I am, why I write, and my intended audience

I am not an expert on LDS culture or Mormon fine arts.  I am a relatively everyday member of the Church striving to be a valiant disciple of Jesus Christ, defend the faith, and build Zion in the ways I can.  I am unabashedly failing miserably on all accounts- I would be lost without continual repentance.  I have enjoyed music and the performing arts all my life both as a performer and amateur connoisseur but that is my only expertise, my own experiences.  So that is my first motivation: pure personal interest and love of the subject.

Second, I experienced a major paradigm shift in regards to arts and culture in the Church when I served as a missionary (many many moons ago) in one of the most culturally diverse wards in the world.  In our ward we had, in no particular order, members from various African nations, Latinos from multiple countries in Central and South America, Brazilians, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Cambodians, Laotians, Hmong, Vietnamese, Korean, American New Englanders with Catholic backgrounds, and Utah-pioneer stock transplants; coupled with wide ranges in language, education, and socioeconomic status.   The cultural complexity of the ward and the challenge to bring everyone together was exhilarating, daunting, and beautiful.  However, at times it was also terribly sad because the cultural barriers were so great that many members did not endure let alone thrive; the environment was a constant challenge as opposed to a home or refugee.  To me that was and is a great tragedy and ever since I have been a champion for challenging the mainstream to rethink certain cultural elements that are not necessarily connected to principles or doctrines of the gospel.

On top of it all I am fascinated by culture, history, sociology and anthropology and so when I combine it all I don't think I will ever be at a loss of words. 

My intended audience is mainly the American general membership of the Church which I think still represents the cultural core of the Church and who I think is active in the online conversation.  In reality I know my audience is largely my friends and family with a few stragglers.  Hi Mom.   But I am definitely writing to inspire an internal discussion among church members.

I decided to start my own blog as I felt the other voices online were either too extreme in their criticism or completely unwilling to examine with a critical eye, I hope I can find that fine balance somewhere in between.  I have admittedly struggled with finding that proper tone and I hope to always have the mantra playing in my head, 'beware of pride.'  My hope is to inspire conversation, critical analysis of our behavior as practicing Latter-day Saints, and to learn something about myself in the process all the while striving to help myself and my community to become a people of Zion.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Am I a "Liberal" Mormon?

This blog and my tone in it sparked a real-life conversation with one of my friends in which I found myself explaining that I was perhaps "more liberal" than others in the church when it comes to LDS culture. After reading the post of another friend at Temple Study which cites some strong language from the LDS prophet Harold Lee using the word "liberal," I have been forced to reflect on my word choice from the previous evening.

This morning and I found myself commenting on a post at MormonTalk and much of what I was writing is applicable to this discussion. So the text below comes from that comment but parts might make more sense having read the original post and the full commment.

Re: the fallibility of the "LDS Church", particularly leaders. My response:

I understand your point and agree that non-transparency can injure and break down confidence and faith. However, I would question whose role it is to be transparent and who is the “LDS Church”.

First, I would argue that we should not expect nor would we want the voice from LDS headquarters as the sole voice of transparency. We need independence as a check, much like the need for independent journalism in society. When challenges are made I think we want a voice from LDS headquarters that is not defense but humble but also positive. Personally I think the LDS Church is handling this better as time passes. The norm of response has completely changed during the administration of Gordon Hinckley and there are positive signs that that will continue such as the Ensign carrying a story about the Meadows Mountain Massacre recently. Historically to understand why the church has responsed to criticism the way it has I think Teryl Givens’ “People of Paradox” is the most insightful analysis.

I think there already exists a body of faithful LDS watchdogs so to say. I think the greatest example of extreme critic while at the same time unquestionable loyalty and faith was and is Hugh Nibley. And there is a whole group that have followed in his footsteps that I believe have maintained that fine balance. I personally think there critics who get too caught up in their criticism that they shoot themselves in the foot and lose their faith, but that is not the fault of the Church by any stretch of the imagination, that is a battle within the mind of that individual. I think modern authors like Bushman and Givens are some of the best well-known examples of how to live that balance appropriately, but there is also a whole population of common everyday Latter-day Saints that have found that balance as well, however it is more likely to hear the voices of those everyday members who did not find that balance when you peruse the internet.

Re: "inevitable" loss in confidence when discovering critical aspects of the Church, church history, culture, etc.

I disagree with ‘inevitable’. In any aspect of life and development there is naivety and then subsequent increases in knowledge that challenge previous worldviews, the response of the individual at those points in time is completely a choice. It is the easy path that jumps to conclusions, that thinks they are an expert in LDS history and doctrine the minute they discover an issue. It is the wise and humble who will say, 'here is an issue, let me learn more, it is obviously a known issue by other faithful members', and can also accept that our knowledge might never be complete on some issues.

In the complete opposite of inevitable loss of faith, I personally think that coming to a view that leaders of the church are fallible and human is a profound humbling and faith building experience and often comes with age as well as being asked to be a leader oneself.

Overall, the issues are neutral, the response of the individual is on trial.

In response to another commenter who was disillusioned with the Church but said if the temple oaths really were about serving your fellow man then that was a little redemptive for the image of the church in his eyes.

Finally regarding the comment that the temple oaths being about serving our fellow man as being redemptive… first that has always been the message and covenant from baptism on, I find the most poetic description of that is found in the scene at the Waters of Mormon after a group was baptized. And yes the culminating oaths in the Mormon temple are never about blind obedience to church leaders or blind faith but they are about, as have been published elsewhere (see below): Obedience to God’s commandments (reminder-the primary commandments being about love). Sacrifice of self. Also, purging of unholiness from our lives, particularly in the way we treat and interact with others. Additionally, fidelity in marriage. And then ultimately giving of our whole souls, everything we have and are, to God, his Church, and building his kingdom (which I will point out does not mean blind obedience to some institution but the complete opposite: the whole hearted freedom of choice to choose to build and to make the vision and mission of the institution your own i.e. caring for the poor, building faith, making good men better.

Public statements about temple covenants from church approved sources:

-Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997 ): 147.
-Elder Talmage, The House of the Lord, 100. Also quoted by Elder Packer in The Holy Temple, 163.
-Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988): 121.)
-Encyclopedia of Mormonism

I also want to link to Jeff Lindsay talking about how we need to prepare people better regarding the specific covenants they will make in the temple.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Mormons at War

ESPN recently dubbed the BYU - Utah rivalry as the #1 non-BCS in-conference rivalry in college football.  

Even with all the qualifiers in that distinction it is arguably one of the most passionate rivalries in all of college football primarily because of the added element of religion.   For those who are unfamiliar with the background you can get the full history in some very extensive Wikipedia articles on the general rivalry as well as the "Holy War" as it is known.  

The rivalry is full of culture and color in and of itself but in this forum I would like to look at the elements of LDS culture and Utah culture that can possibly explain the ferocity of the rivalry.  

I think the fundamental reason is demographic.  There is a growing demographic divide between the two schools and the surrounding communities, the percentage of LDS residents of Salt Lake City proper has been steadily decreasing since the 1960s while the smaller communities of Provo and Orem remain predominately LDS.  As that demographic divide continues I anticipate the religious polarity of the two schools to grow which I think could give greater potential for the rivalry to turn ugly or distasteful.

The second element that should cause self-reflection for Mormons is the threat of pride.  I'm not talking about being proud of your team or wanting to win, I'm talking about when winning on the football field falsely gets coupled with self-righteous notions of having a monopoly on religious truth or superior religious piety to the point of haughtiness.  This is not a challenge to the Latter-day Saints collectively but individually.   Each passionate sports fan needs to monitor themselves that they do not cross that line.  

Should Mormons be proud or ashamed that they have a reputation for a unusually fierce rivalry?  Does it matter?  I would argue that there can be a healthy and fun expression of rivalry and competitiveness in sport but that maintaining that healthy status takes restraint and a sense of humor otherwise it is destructive.  As a general principle I would rather see a religious-flavored rivalry played out on the football field rather than in the street with guns, which is still the case in parts of the world. 

The question I'll leave you with for discussion:

Will there be sport rivalries during the Millennium?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Beautiful Photo Exhibition depicting the Life of Christ

Tonight I was introduced to an exhibit produced by an LDS photographer, Mark Mabry, out of Arizona which depicts scenes from the life of Jesus Christ. It is an absolutely beautiful collection of images. It was shot on location in and around Arizona, the costuming and actors were borrowed from the LDS Easter Pageant. Having grown up in Mesa and attending that Easter Pageant all my life I must say that the art and emotional impact captured in these still images was a much more powerful experience for me personally. In comparison with other artistic mediums to depict Christ I find this example of photography particularly moving because of the human emotion that is able to be portrayed in the faces and bodies of the subjects.

Currently the exhibit is showing at the Arizona Temple Visitor's Cener but it has received approval from the First Presidency and will travel to all the visitor's centers around the world. My expectations were exceeded in the quality and the emotional image of the photography. I commend the artists and the producers for both the spirit they captured and the art they produced. I understand that they are in talks that will bring the exhibit to the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. as well as the Washington D.C. LDS Visitor's Center. I look forward to seeing it in person.

There have been various reviews around the web by those who have seen it in person and universally it appears to be a very powerful experience. Jeff Lindsay at Mormanity writes the most detailed review and description of his experience.

I encourage everyone to share the video, I can't imagine a better video to endorse in the viral sharing world of the web. For those with more interest you can see behind the scenes video about the production at It really does add a lot to the viewing experience to hear, feel, and know the individuals behind the photos.

I find it to be a wonderful example of people using their time, talents, and all of their souls in the artistic proclamation of the ultimate message of life and salvation.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Changing Mormon Art: Arabic Portrayal of Psalm of Nephi

Source: flash presentation of the 6th LDS International Art Competition

Mazmuur Naafi: The Arabic Psalm of Nephi

Ahmed Jamal Qureshi
Digital print on paper, 2002

"The gospel finds beautiful expressions in every culture. Pioneers of the past brought with them the arts and architecture of Europe, while today's pioneers have an array of new cultural riches that broaden our appreciation of the restored gospel. In the Arab world, imagery in art is often eschewed in favor of sacred text shaped into flowing designs. Here, the artist has adapted a mosque dome form to display the circuitous text in a stately Thuluth font of Nephi's cry of trust in the Lord (2 Nephi 4:16–35). The text concludes in the center where the word "God" is written in a flowing Diwani font. In the four smaller circles in the corners are names of four individuals who brought the book of Nephi to us: Nephi, Lehi, Moroni, and Joseph Smith."

I absolutely love this piece and would buy it if the church ever sells prints. (They purchased the rights to the print as part of the award in the competition).  I recommend a great write up on the artist and the design of this piece in a previous BYU Studies if you have access to it, which I unfortunately cannot find in a PDF version online.

I think this piece is a brilliant example of how the beauties of art and culture from diverse culture can be "redefined" or expressed in the context of a new found faith in the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ in these the latter-days.  I think this is a particularly interesting example because it is so foreign to the artist taste of mainstream Mormons yet it is of an artistic tradition that geographically has strong ties to the culture of the first family of the Book of Mormon.  

What are your thoughts on this piece?  Would you put it in your home?  Would you be surprised to see it hanging in the temple? 

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Jesus shaves in the latest Ensign

In the June Ensign there was a picture that caught my attention in terms of Mormon dress and grooming.  I know it is not a new topic, it was always an annual topic of conversation in the Daily Universe at BYU, but it still strikes me as an unusually strong shift in cultural norms and one that begs commentary.  Of course I'm talking about the infamous beard. 

Did the editor of the magazine not realize that the darkened image of this presumably reformed sinner has a strong resemblance to modern depictions of Jesus?  And of all visual representations of a reformed life, how did the progressive shaving of one's beard become the quintessential image of repentance?  

Mormons have a long history with beards, no pun intended, ok, maybe intended.  We started clean shaven, Joseph Smith was said to have not even have been able to grow a beard he was so lightly patched.   Then Brigham Young became the face of Mormonism (sorry, I can't stop) and a bearded old man was the public image of Mormonism until David O. McKay took over in the 1950's.  Now when people think of Mormons they think of clean shaven young men on bikes.

Is there a right and wrong in this all?  I would argue that the largest populations of individuals that wear beards in our modern day are the poor and if a negative connotation associated with a beard persists to the point that the poor do not feel comfortable gathering with general population of the Church or if beards are such a cultural norm in a country such as Kazakhstan, for example, that a clean shaven church is seen as completely foreign/not worthy of listening to the message entity then yes it is wrong to perpetuate such an image. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Ties should not be mandatory for all Mormons

As the LDS church grows and expands internationally what role does the necktie play? The answer should be none if we are talking about the tie as an article of clothing. The scriptures give principles regarding dress and grooming but never since the law of Moses are specific articles of clothing dictated. 

So what are the principles? D&C 42 is a good start where the instruction to the Saints regarding clothing was for all things to be done in cleanliness before [Him], for their garments to be “plain” and “their beauty the beauty of the work of thine own hands.” Most important the overarching commandment preceding 
those instructions was “thou shalt not be proud in thy heart," a lesson we should learn from the Book of Mormon where pride almost always goes hand and hand with costly apparel. 

I would love to see greater liberty given to local cultural congregations to determine appropriate Sunday apparel. If we talk about 'dressing up' for church out of respect and honoring of the Sabbath-as a special day set aside from the rest the week- then I would propose that each culture will have the appropriate style or level of dress within their culture and not require an importation from the West.  Is there any good reason why these two pictures could not be pictures of LDS Bishops on Sunday?

In the West the appropriate style typically means dress shirts and ties for the men and typically dresses or skirts for the women. In other parts of the world those same principles can manifest themselves in different fashions. When I was in Ghana I loved the fact that the women dressed up in their bright brilliant dresses with colorful patterns, never over the top or an issue of pride but it was simply their cultural norm of dress for such a level of respect and honor. The men, however, in Ghana wore the business suits and ties of the West, despite having a local counterpart to the women's clothing. Of course in nearly all parts of the world the business attire of the West has some foothold but I don't think it should be demanded or expected that every deacon in Indonesia or every bishop in Uganda to be wearing a white shirt and tie. I think the white shirt and tie that the church brings with it into international areas of the church actually acts as a barrier for some investigators and potential members of the church. That extra bit of Western culture will cause the church to be viewed as an American church and somewhat elitist, bordering pride for observers from the outside.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Mormons and their neckties

I've always found the necktie to be a peculiar article of clothing, who decided a piece of fabric dangling from the neck was refined and sophisticated? Neckties were on the mind after listening to a piece on NPR about the demise of the necktie in the American office. It remains a staple in certain lines of work, high finance, government, and law, but it has faded from American culture as a whole. The most stable market for neckties?--the Mormons. (They didn't say that in the article but it's probably not far off the mark).

If you asked a person off the street to describe the dress of Mormons you would probably get “white shirt and tie” somewhere in the response due to the missionary visibility in the community. Is this a good or bad association to have? Potentially good if it leads people to view the individual as respectable, as valuing education, and cleanliness. Potentially bad if wearing a necktie is associated with businessmen, lawyers, and government officials---groups not known for having the greatest track record in honesty, caring for the poor, and other virtues that form the backbone of Christianity.  (In passing I'll point out that those three groups in particular are the great villains of the scriptures.)   Getting tied up with these negative connotations is already rather common, every missionary can recall a case in which someone thought they were from the CIA or FBI. 

I think as the general population stops wearing neckties these cases of 'mistaken image association' will only increase. The question is what sort of brand or image does the Church want to portray and is it accomplishing that with it's current norm of dress?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Know anybody who could enter the LDS Art Competition?

If you've gone by the website recently you'll notice they have been promoting the 8th International Art Competition.  I think it's great that the church is encouraging art from the international body of the church.  (I would love to see them do the same thing with music but I'll save that conversation for another post).  

I have enjoyed watching the expanding gallery of LDS art and commend the church for promoting it.  My generation grew up with such a limited spectrum of depictions of  the Book of Mormon peoples or images of Christ, it is nice to see the church commissioning works from a wider range of artists including international artists such as Jorge Cocco.  I would also say that FARMS has played a significant role in expanding the artist representations of the Book of Mormon by their publishing decisions, particularly the use of art by Minerva Teirchert as their cover art.

When I came home from Ghana I did a little investigating on behalf of some artists I met there and ended up talking to a person at the Church History Museum associated with these
 competitions.  Over the last couple competitions they have received an increasing number 
of submissions by international artists but overall it still remains low, especially compared to the relative percentage of members by country.  Most international or ethnic entries in the past have actually been from artists who live in the United States. participants are responsible for their own shipping which excludes many, if not most, of member artists outside of the United States, certainly my friends in Ghana and it is a relatively well-off country for Sub-Saharan Africa.  Perhaps the church could encourage regional competitions and sponsor the winners to be showcased in Salt Lake. 

Many of you are well traveled, have you come across members of the Church who are artists and are creating LDS themed art, particularly mixing their cultural or ethnic art traditions with their newfound faith?  I would even consider sponsoring a piece or two if they were of a very high quality.  

Sunday, June 15, 2008

I would prefer Naan for Sacrament

I brought the bread for the sacrament (communion) today and it inspired some curious looks. I had to make a special trip to the grocery store Saturday night as my cupboards were bare and when perusing the bread aisle I noticed some nontraditional choices, a reflection of the multicultural city I reside in I couldn't resist, I bought the Middle Eastern packaged pita bread.

The priests pulled back the covering cloth (what do we call that, it's not a table cloth) and looked at each other with a puzzled look. I saw that it took a little extra effort to tear the bread, luckily it was a long sacrament hymn. One friend quickly identified me as behind the unusual choice in sacramental representation. I saw a few more interesting looks but didn't hear any vocal reactions.

I think it's good to mix things up every once and a while to point out the differences in cultural practice and doctrine. Is there any reason the LDS sacrament bread should be sliced wheat bread? No. Should LDS missionaries insist that congregations use sliced wheat bread even if it means having to buy expensive bread from the one store that caters to Americans? (I've seen it) No. What about countries where bread is not a staple food? What should they use for the sacrament?

The doctrine or principal-- Doctrine & Covenants 27, "it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory."

A few other tidbits about the LDS sacrament--

"Individual water cups, instead of drinking from a common cup, were introduced in 1911. This followed a growing trend among American churches which began with the Congregational church in 1893." Wikipedia

"Passing the sacrament first to the presiding church authority was emphasized in 1946." Wikipedia

Being a public health graduate I can understand the practice of the first but nobody should get ruffled feathers if circumstances were such that you had to share the cup. In fact I think there is some added beauty in symbolic terms of sharing the cup. There is also less waste with one cup. I wonder which is more environmentally friendly, the current plastic cups or the old paper cups. I would love to see the church move to something like biodegradable corn starch cups or something along those lines.

The passing of the sacrament to the presiding church authority is pure culture, done, I believe, out of respect and honor for the office but I don't know of any doctrinal precedence. I think the practice can lead to some false understandings and false honoring of status or position. I personally would love to see the practice changed to portray greater egalitarianism. I think it would be great to see the bishop occasionally pass the sacrament. Growing up, whenever there was a fifth Sunday in a month, the Elders and High Priests in my ward would pass the sacrament and I liked seeing that humility.

Last point-- in 3rd Nephi chapter 18 when Christ introduces the sacrament to the Nephites it appears that they ate until they were full and I believe quite literally in this case that they ate until their appetites were full and satisfied. I would love to do that one Sunday, especially if the sacrament item was my grandmother's famous rolls.

First post

I really do not have the time to do justice to this topic but it is a favorite conversation topic of mine so perhaps I will be more diligent in posting here than my other blogs.

I love culture and the way it explains and predicts behavior. I love the arts and the beauty of music, dance, and art. Being a student and sampler of many different cultures I have come to appreciate my own cultural inheritance and also have felt empowered to shape the culture around me.

These posts will unabashedly be my opinion on the good and bad of LDS culture and my vision of the ideal.