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).