A Man By Any Other Name

When we were using the Joseph F. Smith manual for Relief Society a few years ago, I remember reading a note in the intro material about Smith’s use of “men”, “man”, or “mankind”:

“Also, President Smith often used terms such as men, man, or mankind to refer to all people, both male and female. He frequently used the pronouns he, his, and him to refer to both genders. This was common in the language of his era. Despite the differences between these language conventions and current usage, President Smith’s teachings apply to both women and men.”

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Penitence: Some Reflection on Lent  

When they asked us about the meaning of “penitent” at a church group I was attending the other night, I have to admit that the first thing that came to mind was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, when near the end of the movie Indiana is going through various obstacles to get to the Holy Grail. The instruction is that “only the penitent man will pass,” and at the last minute, he realizes he has to kneel in order to avoid having his head chopped off. So when I hear “penitent,” I think, “be humble before God or be decapitated,” which seems like potentially useful information, especially if I ever go on a religious quest that involves elaborate traps.

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God’s Economy Is Different

The argument goes like this: if women get the priesthood—I mean, they won’t, because God doesn’t want them to, but just imagine if they did—then what would men do? They wouldn’t have anything special anymore, and if they can’t have anything special, why would they participate? Or sometimes it’s like this: if women have the priesthood (or, toning it down, if women can be Sunday School presidents, or pray in sacrament meeting, or what-have-you), fewer men will get to do it, and we wouldn’t want to limit their opportunities.

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Calling You to Do Better Rather than Decimating You

I was sitting in church a few weeks ago and noticing how several of the scriptural texts were about God calling people: Samuel hearing a voice and wondering what it was, Psalm 139 (“Lord, you have searched me out and known me”), and the encounter of Jesus with Nathanael. As I was listening to the sermon, which also touched on these themes, and emphasized God’s call to each one of us, and the need for our community to make space for everyone to become what God is calling her or him to be, a question came to mind which I’ve often pondered: how do you discern between a call or a challenge that pushes you in healthy ways, make you grow, and brings you closer to God—and one that simply beats you down and leaves you broken? Read More

It’s my church too

I was lucky enough to grow up with unorthodox Mormon parents, who patiently listened to and sympathized with my teenage and college-age complaints about going to church: how boring it was, how my YW leaders could never answer my questions, how I often felt like I just didn’t fit in. And every conversation, at least in my memory, ended with a gentle reminder: “Remember,” they’d say, “it’s your church too.”

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Getting Baptized

I didn’t actually have to get baptized as part of my conversion. The Episcopal church doesn’t have a clear policy on what do with Mormons—while Catholics and some Protestants have ruled that Mormon baptism is invalid and converts from Mormonism must be baptized, Episcopalians have been rather less definitive. There are certainly LDS converts to Anglicanism who’ve made the religious transition without being baptized (perhaps most notably a former Episcopal bishop of Utah). When I first started playing with the idea of converting, I figured I’d do it via confirmation only; I liked the idea of holding on to my Mormon baptism as a way of maintaining continuity in my religious journey. Read More

Waiting for Visiting Hours: Memories of the Psych Ward

It’s been almost two years since I was last hospitalized (yay!), but I’ve been reading through some of the journals I kept while I was there, and it put me in the mood to reflect yet again on some of my experiences.

In every psych ward I’ve been in, visiting hours were restricted to an hour or two a day. After lots of experiences with this, I’d actually forgotten that for people in regular hospitals, they usually let people come throughout the day and only send them away at night; I remember asking a friend of mine who was in the hospital for medical reasons a few years ago when I could visit, and being surprised when she said, anytime. In the mental hospital, they seem to think it’s a distraction that needs to be limited. Though at least everywhere I stayed, they had visiting hours every day; I’ve heard of places that only allowed them a few times a week, if even that, I think on the theory that you needed to focus on their program and on getting better, and less contact with the outside world would help you do that. I would have really hated that.

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Can We Live Together? Thoughts on Battles Over Gay Marriage, and Co-Existence

I can’t speak for all of U.S. history, given that I’ve only been around since 1975, and spent the first 15 or so years of my life not terribly attuned to the broader social dynamics in the culture of my country. But I can say that in my lifetime, I have never experienced the kind of bitter divides that I see happening in the country right now over politics, where people are at times ending friendships and cutting off contact with family members who have different political views. I have complicated feelings about this trend. It definitely concerns me that our society is going in this direction; it doesn’t seem like a healthy thing. At the same time, I feel sympathetic to the view that some positions are so toxic that they simply corrode the possibility of any real trust or good faith in relationships. I know that these were fraught questions long before our last election, but since the ascendance of Trump, it feels like it’s almost impossible to get away from them. To be perfectly candid, I’m in a place right now where I find it very difficult personally to really trust anyone who is a Trump supporter. It feels to me like those people are living in a world with completely different values. And more than just different; values that are actively hostile to me and the things I most care about. I imagine that they might say the same thing about me, though. And I realize that depending on where you are, you might see my perspective on this as simple sanity, or you might see it as my making unfair judgments about people. Read More

 Where ZD is Going

A particular combination of life circumstances last year lured me back into being a more active blogger than I’d been in a while. However, as the year went on and I started to suspect that my religious dabbling elsewhere might be turning into a serious thing, I found myself grappling more and more with questions about what it meant for me to be blogging on a Mormon blog. When I finally made the decision in November to convert away from Mormonism, I realized I was going to have to address the issue at some point. Should I keep writing about my religious journey and explorations of faith here, I wondered, or would it make more sense to go elsewhere? I don’t feel done with blogging, certainly; there’s still so much that interests me about religion (inside as well as outside of Mormonism), and there are other topics that I’d like to write about as well. But given where I am, I’ve worried about whether it really makes sense to continue to share my thoughts here.

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An Agenda for President Nelson’s First 40 Days in Office

Day 1: Demote Dieter F. Uchtdorf to regular old member of the Quorum of the Twelve.
Day 2: Talk to the staff at the Ensign and lds.org, and tell them to get the women out of the centerfold in the Conference issues and off the General Authorities page.
Day 3: Get to work editing hymns. In verse 2 of “In Humility, Our Savior,” change the beginning of the second verse from “Fill our hearts with sweet forgiving; Teach us tolerance and love” to “Make our hearts obedient to thee; Teach us who we must not love.”
Day 4: Schedule a tour to promote Sister Nelson’s book The Not Even Once Club.
Day 5: Compose a letter to be read in all sacrament meetings that exhorts members to leave some positive reviews of The Not Even Once Club on Amazon.com.
Day 6: Work with Sister Nelson on her manuscript tentatively titled The Don’t Even Think About It Club.
Day 7: Announce a new, improved exclusion policy that bans the children of parents in a gay marriage from entering meetinghouses.
Day 8: Demote Dieter F. Uchtdorf to Seventy.
Day 9: Talk to the facilities management staff about getting those pesky “Visitors Welcome” signs taken down from meetinghouses.
Day 10: Send out a decree that all sacrament meetings must include a reading of the Proclamation on the Family.

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Whither Mormonism?  

Two Mormon-related events in the past week have shaken me up a little. On one level, neither of them were particularly surprising—but on another, I found them both unsettling and at least a little unexpected. The first was the release of the Gallup poll which found that the Mormon approval of Trump was, at 61 percent, the highest of any religious group surveyed. The second was the decision of incoming church president Russell M. Nelson to move Dieter F. Uchtdorf out of the First Presidency and replace him with Dallin H. Oaks. I also found the comments made at the press conference about the leadership transition, especially the ones about women, to be quite jarring. And I’ve found myself asking: whatever has happened to my church? (Yes, I know that it’s not technically mine anymore, since I’ve found a new religious home. But it’s still the church I grew up in, the church that shaped me. I don’t feel all the way disconnected from it.) Read More

Bringing the Good I Have, and Moving Forward

President Hinckley once encouraged those not of the LDS faith, “ . . . we say in a spirit of love, bring with you all that you have of good and truth which you have received from whatever source, and come and let us see if we may add to it.”  It might seem odd, but I’ve actually thought a lot about that quote this year, because it speaks to something about my current religious journey, as I take a significant step in a new direction. This coming Sunday, the day after Epiphany, I’m going to be baptized in the Episcopal church. Read More

Yearly Church President Probabilities for Current Q15 Members

As a supplement to yesterday’s post, I’ve made the graph below that shows the year-to-year probabilities of each Q15 member being President.

The values come from the same mortality table that I used to run the simulation to find the likelihood of each Q15 member ever becoming Church President. This graph doesn’t require any simulation, though. For each Q15 member, I just used his yearly probabilities of survival to come up with yearly cumulative probabilities of survival (i.e., how likely is he to live through this age). Then for each Q15 member, his yearly probability of becoming President is the probability that he survives the year and that all the members senior to him do not. This is found by multiplying probabilities, so for example for Elder Ballard, who is junior only to President Nelson and Elder Oaks, his probability of being President in a particular year is this:

(Ballard cumulative probability of living)*(1 – Nelson probability of living)*(1 – Oaks probability of living)

The results look similar to what we’ve seen in the past with graphs like this, in that there are big probabilities across periods of years for Elders Oaks, Holland, and Bednar. The one big difference is that, as el oso noted yesterday, President Nelson jumped from a pretty low probability for most of his time in the quorum to 100% when President Monson died. I guess this just illustrates that applying a mortality table that gives general trends to a small group of people as I have here is bound to be wrong in big ways at times.


Church President Probability Changes with President Monson’s Death

As you are no doubt aware, President Monson passed away Tuesday evening. As I have before when a member of the Q15 passes away, in this post I’ll show how the probabilities of becoming Church President change for the other members as a result.

All the probabilities come from a simulation I did for a post back in 2015. It’s a straightforward simulation: it uses an actuarial table and each Q15 member’s age and seniority in the quorum as inputs, and it draws a series of random numbers to simulate different possible life expectancies for each member. The life expectancies are then compared to find in what fraction of the simulations each member outlives all other members senior to him to become President. I did 100,000 replications for each run. That is, 100,000 times I drew random numbers for each Q15 member and compared them to his survival probability each year, and then worked out whether each member would become President or not in that scenario, and how many years he would serve if he did. For a more detailed description of the process, see my earlier post.

I realized when writing this post up that I had never done a post to show changes in the probabilities after Elder Hales passed away last October. I’ll start with that. This table shows the changes in probabilities and average number of years serving as President for the other Q15 members after Elder Hales died. Note that all the numbers, including ages, are as of October, 2017.

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Nacle Notebook 2017: Funny Comments

This post is my annual compilation of the funniest comments I’ve read on the Bloggernacle in the past year. In case you’ve missed them, here are links to previous years’ posts: 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008. I’m very good with numbers, so I can tell that the fact that there are nine old ones and one new one means that this is my tenth annual post! It seems like this calls for a celebration of some kind, but I’m not sure what form that should take.

Anyway, back to the comments. Most that I’m quoting are excerpts from longer comments or posts. I’ve made each commenter’s name a link back to the original comment or post. The comments are roughly in chronological order.

fbisti, commenting on LDS_Aussie’s post “Lies, Damn lies and Statistics?: Growth and Decline in the LDS Church Membership Numbers” at W&T:

God is fickle (depending on who is the stake president).

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Ring Out, Mild Bells!

The Curriculum Department has received a number of complaints that Hymn #215 was promoting wildness among Church members, particularly some of the youth. There have even been reports of unwholesome recreational activities linked to singing of this hymn. We are pleased to offer this newly revised version, which will replace the existing version when the hymnbook is next revised in 2045.

Ring out, mild bells, but be restrained,
Keep decibels low, keep echoes brief.
The year is leaving like a thief;
Ring out mild bells, but keep noise contained.
The year is leaving like a thief;
Ring out mild bells, but keep noise contained.

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The Reckless Love of God  

I suspect that a message that most human beings absorb growing up is that we should exercise some caution in our love. That love is always a risk, that it opens you up to being vulnerable, that you can get deeply wounded if you get too drawn in by love’s currents and run into troubled waters. That the people whom you love the most are also the ones who can hurt you the most. So we learn to hesitate, to look before we leap, to take care, to think in advance about what might go wrong. Sometimes we may let ourselves get swept up in it despite all this, an experience which can be both giddy and terrifying. But we also often build walls, sometimes as thick as we can make them, in hopes of protecting ourselves from getting too invested, from caring too much.

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A Faith Less Angsty

For most of my life, my religious beliefs have been both deeply meaningful to me, and a source of intense turbulence. I agonized over my relationship to Mormonism for decades, over what it meant to stick with a tradition that did things I so deeply disagreed with but which was such a profound part of my identity, and had played such a foundational role in shaping my spirituality.  I don’t know how many hours I spent writing about those questions, talking endlessly to friends and family about them, even bringing them up in therapy. And because of all that, I think I developed the idea that genuine faith was meant to be difficult, and by “difficult” I meant, something that regularly drove you crazy.

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Leaked Memo on the Effects of Non-Priesthood Cooties (NPC)

In the wake of the Church’s recent announcement that young women will be allowed to hand out towels in the temple (and that priest-aged young men will be able to perform and witness baptisms for the dead), the following memo to the First Presidency that preceded the change has been leaked by an unnamed source in the Church hierarchy.

Executive summary

Recent research and revelation indicates that infection with Non-Priesthood Cooties (NPC) would not prohibit young women from handing out towels in the temple, and it is recommended that the current restriction on them doing so be lifted. No other changes in women’s or young women’s participation in priesthood ordinances are recommended, as NPC infection continues to be a serious concern in all other such situations.


As the adornment of humanity, women and girls are, from birth, infected with Non-Priesthood Cooties (NPC) that prevent them from participating in priesthood ordinances in any way. (Note that NPC infection also makes it possible for women to become pornography.) Women’s NPC may even threaten the efficacy and validity of the ordinances themselves if women and girls get too close to them. The threat of NPC extends even to serving as a witness, a fact which has been known to prophets ancient and modern. For example, it is recorded in the New Testament that when the Savior was resurrected, and well-meaning female disciples attempted to convey this information to authorized priesthood leaders, Peter rightly doubted their testimony and believed it only when he had verified the event for himself. Although the women testified truthfully in this case, Peter was doubtless responding to previous situations in which the women’s NPC infection had prevented them from witnessing correctly.

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