On-the-Spot Mental Meltdowns

One of my less pleasant memories is that of the oral exam I had to take at the end of my master’s program in theology. Mostly what I remember is sitting in a room and staring blankly at three professors who were valiantly attempting to coax me into saying something coherent. At one point I recall one of them saying, “I know you know this–you gave a class presentation on it just a few weeks ago.” Unfortunately, my brain seemed to have temporarily shut down, and I had difficulty coming up with even basic theological terms. Read More

Doctrinal Development and Continuing Revelation

One of my Catholic professors once wryly observed that ten seemed to be the magic number for official Catholic pronouncements: after a new teaching had been repeated ten times, documents would begin with the phrase, “as the Church has always taught . . .” The comment made me laugh, because it reminded me of the LDS tendency to assert that every current notion in the Church must have existed in antiquity. Like other religious traditions, we are confronted with the challenge of theologically accounting for change while maintaining continuity with the past. Read More

Sunstone Feminist Blogging Session

I’ve been in Utah for the last several weeks, and yesterday I was able to attend a couple of Sunstone sessions, including the panel on Mormon Feminist Bloggers. It was really fun to put faces with some familiar names. I’m a little behind on sleep–it’s been a bit of a crazy week, and I’m about to leave to drive back to California. But here are some of my hopefully not too incoherent notes on what was said. Read More

Finding Spiritual Sustenance

The neoscholastics saw grace as something entirely outside the realm of human consciousness. One participated in the sacraments of the church to receive grace, but this grace was essentially alien and separate from human awareness. This view was sharply critiqued by 20th century theologians who noted that under this framework, it was difficult to see why grace would really matter to anyone. Such an extrinsic understanding of grace, they noted, left people with the view that religious practice was something basically foreign and unconnected to the rest of their lives. Why, if it’s not making any discernable difference in your experience of life, would anyone have any sustained interest in religion? Read More

The LDS View of Original Sin

Mormons, I frequently hear, reject the doctrine of original sin. Yet I am not convinced that the concept has no place whatsoever in LDS theology. I suspect that the Mormon claim that we don’t believe in original sin is frequently no more than an assertion that 1) individuals are not held personally accountable for the choices of Adam and Eve, and 2) unbaptized infants should not be seen as guilty of sin, and will not be eternally doomed should they die in their unbaptized state. If original sin is understood not in terms of personal guilt, but as some kind of negative effect on human nature resulting from the fall, I think it might actually be compatible with LDS teachings. Read More

Resolving Concerns

A couple of years ago, I asked a question in Sunday School about why we need the priesthood to do things like healings if such miracles can also be performed by faith. I brought it up because I think it’s an interesting issue, and I wanted to hear how other people thought about it. A few people shared their take on the subject, and then the discussion moved on. Nothing out of the ordinary. But the reason I remember this incident is because after class, the bishop came over to me and expressed his hope that my concern had been successfully resolved. I was a bit taken aback, as I hadn’t really expected to hear a definitive answer in the course of a five or ten minute discussion in Gospel Doctrine; I’d simply been curious about how other people saw the issue.

I’m not sure that “resolving concerns” is always the most helpful approach to take when people have questions and difficulties. Read More

Scripture Marking

The set of scriptures which I regularly take to church and read out of is one of those little quads, the kind that are convenient to carry around but which my mother complains have such small text as to be unreadable. I’ve had it for over a decade, but there isn’t a single mark in it–no highlighting, no underlining, no comments in the margins. People sometimes look at it and question whether I ever read my scriptures.

I’ve always been uneasy with writing in books; I find it both distracting and aesthetically unappealing. I remember cringing in Seminary when we were told to write things in our scriptures. I dutifully went along with the writing and underlining and even gluing in of little quotes, but I’ve never since used those scriptures. Read More

The Possibility of Integration

Growing up, I somehow picked up the idea that I wasn’t really supposed to feel certain things: anger, jealousy, fear, resentment, despair. Of course, I felt them anyway, but I interpreted that as evidence of some horrible character flaw. This was reinforced by the Gospel of Positive Thinking so often preached at church, as well as the cultural expectation that women in particular ought to be “nice.” I was so convinced that such feelings were unacceptable that I remember being too scared to confide even in close friends when I felt intense jealousy over a particular situation. I was sure people would think less of me for having such a reaction, that I’d be judged as selfish and not sufficiently loving. Often my response to a problematic emotion was to try to banish it as quickly as possible, sometimes to not admit even to myself that it was ever there. Read More

Hoping for Change

A couple of recent threads have gotten me thinking about the merits of staying in the church and hoping for change (as opposed to staying in the church and trying to accept the way things are, or simply leaving the church). I don’t think it’s unreasonable to hope that the church will change; our ever evolving history provides an obvious basis for such an outlook. It’s because of things like blacks finally getting the priesthood and the temple ceremony getting toned down over the years that I’m able to cling to the hope that the aspects of the church which most bother me aren’t necessarily eternal. Yet I can also see potential problems with this way of thinking. Read More

Being Single and Adult

I’ve been a legal adult for more than a decade now. However, as a single woman without children, in a church context I often feel relegated to a kind of pre-adult status. Don’t get me wrong: I’m perfectly willing to concede that there are quite likely unique life lessons and experiences involved in marriage and parenting that can’t be gained elsewhere, and I’m not out to downplay the value of those things. Nonetheless, I’d like to find a way to talk about adulthood which didn’t assume that it necessarily included those elements. Read More

The Universal Salvific Will of God

In 1 Timothy 2:4, God is described as one “who will have men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” The assertion that God has a universal salvific will, that he desires the salvation of every person, poses problems for any theological claim that only a certain group of people (e.g. Christians) are eligible for salvation. Augustine, who saw the majority of humanity as a “lump of sin” headed for perdition, resolved the dilemma by re-interpreting the scripture to mean that God wants salvation not for all people, but for all whom he has predestined. In the 20th century, by contrast, many have taken this verse quite seriously and re-thought the exclusive claims of Christianity in its light. Read More

What Would Jesus Do?

As Christians, we talk a lot about the imitation of Christ; Jesus, we are told, provided us not only with teachings, but also with the example of his life to follow. However, I find that putting this into practice is often more difficult than questions along the lines of “what would Jesus do?” might make it appear. Since few people would argue that we are all required to be itinerant miracle-workers and die excruciating deaths, it’s clear that at least to some extent, we have to make judgment calls about just which aspects of Christ’s life we are expected to imitate. Read More

Thoughts from Julian

In the year 1373, at the age of 30, Julian of Norwich had a series of visions, published as the Revelations of Divine Love. I’ve read the work a couple of times, and I find it good medicine for the overly neurotic soul. While I might not accept all the details of Julian’s theology, I love her picture of a God who is approachable, who is infinitely kind, who isn’t nearly as troubled by our constant failings and mistakes as we are. Read More

Reflections of a Utah Mormon

Okay, I was actually born in California, but my family moved to Utah the summer I was five years old, and I don’t remember much before that time. (I do recall wondering how we would attend church after the move, as I’d gleaned from Primary that we were the “one true church,” which I took to refer to the physical building we attended. Little did I know that there would be “true churches” on every block.) I lived in Utah County for the next eighteen years, from the time I started kindergarten to the time I completed my undergraduate education at BYU. Read More

The Ethics of Missionary Work

First of all, before I find myself pelted with tomatoes (or perhaps Books of Mormon) by an army of RMs, let me clarify that I don’t think that sharing something which you’ve found life-changing, something which you think could have tremendous potential benefits for others, is a bad thing to do; in fact, quite the contrary. Nonetheless, I am troubled by much of our discourse about missionary work. I keep coming back to the question of whether it’s morally acceptable to enter into a relationship with another human being with a view towards using that relationship to accomplish some other end (even a laudable one), rather than seeing the relationship as an end in and of itself. Read More

Tales of Sacrament Meeting

The T&S thread on chapel seating got me thinking about my memories of sacrament meeting over the years. I don’t recall that my family sat consistently in one place when I was a kid, though I do remember a lot of sitting in the hard folding chairs in the cultural hall. As I recall, younger sisters could be very useful for helping the time go by. When I was an early teen, I would take one of my younger sisters for a walk during the middle of the meeting, ostensibly because she needed to stretch her legs. Another sister spent sacrament meeting drawing mazes; she reminds me of the time when she left to use the restroom and was quite unhappy when she came back to find that I’d “livened up” her maze with various comments and threats. Read More

On Questioning

I’ve been reading a lot of Luther lately. He makes the point over and over that human reason is insufferably arrogant in its attempts to understand God; God’s actions may sometimes appear absurd to us, but it is not our place to judge. Faith, he says, includes believing in the goodness of God even if he decides to damn everyone; it is presumptuous of reason to question God’s mercy based on the fact that some end up in hell, even if they had no possibility of doing otherwise. Luther, like Augustine, in asserting the priority of grace over freedom (we do not have the power to opt for faith; God must work that in us), has no solution to the question of why God elects some and not others. For him, that decision is part of the hidden will of God, and it is not our place to pry into such matters. Read More

Faith and the Imagination

I’ve recently been doing work on the imagination and self-narrative, and it’s made me think a lot about the role of imagination in faith. This isn’t at all to say that I see faith as equivalent to belief in something imaginary, but simply that I think our faith is always shaped by our imagination. Our understanding of the divine is inevitably mediated by what we imagine it to be–we carry some kind of picture or image of God in our minds based not only on our life experience but also on the ways in which we’ve made sense of that experience, the connections we’ve drawn between events, the meanings we’ve constructed. And such processes are fundamentally imaginative in nature. Read More