My Episcopal Crush, and Converting to Pluralism

The metaphor of a “crush” to describe my newfound love for the Episcopal tradition is really quite apt. I’m smitten. I’m infatuated. I’m giddy and excited, and I even find myself feeling almost guilty at times for being so happy about this when so many terrible things are happening right now in the country and in the world. But it’s spring! And the sun is shining, and the flowers are blooming! And I get to go to church! Oh, so much church. On Palm Sunday a friend asked which of the Holy Week services I was planning to attend, and I said oh, all of them, and she laughed. But I can’t get seem to get enough. (For one thing, I think I’m absolutely famished for good liturgy, in a way that I didn’t even realize.) And just being at church, just being in the building, makes me ridiculously happy. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like this about Mormon church, not just because it’s beaten me down a lot over the years, but also because I suspect that it’s hard to have a period of falling in love with a tradition in which you’ve been immersed since you were born, and is never going to be new and exciting in the same way. Yep, this is a crush for sure. Read More

Some Easter Reflections on Receiving Gifts

One of the movies produced by the church that I actually rather enjoy is Nora’s Christmas Gift, partly because even though it has its cheesy moments, I like Nora, who  is funny and real. But I also appreciate its message, which is one that resonates with me. Nora has to cope with life circumstances that I think most of us would find quite challenging, as age and declining health put her in a position where she finds herself more dependent on others. She has to cope with the unsettling shift from being the person who organized things and offered help to others to being the person in need of help. She quite understandably resents the situation and resists the help. But at the end of the movie, it occurs to her that learning to accept what others offer her—and ultimately what God offers her—is what Christmas is ultimately about: “let earth receive her King,” she says, with a dawning recognition that is it up to her to allow grace to affect her life. Read More

Death on a Friday Afternoon

Selections from Richard John Neuhaus,  Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross (Basic Books, 2000).

“Christians call them the Triduum Sacrum, the three most sacred days of all time when time is truly told. The fist, Maundy Thursday, is so called because that night, the night before he was betrayed, Jesus gave the command, the mandatum, that we should love one another . . . The second day is the Friday we so oddly call ‘good.’ And the third day, the great Vigil of Resurrection Conquest. Do not rush to the conquest. Stay a while with this day. Let your heart be broken by the unspeakably bad of this Friday we call good . . . let your present moment stay with this day. Stay a while in the eclipse of the light, stay a while with the conquered One. There is time enough for Easter.” (1-2)

“Good Friday brings us to our senses. Our senses come to us as we sense that in this life and in this death is our life and our death. The truth about the crucified Lord is the truth about ourselves . . . The beginning of wisdom is to come to our senses and know that fearful truth about ourselves, that we have wandered and wasted our days in a distant country far from home.” (4) Read More

The Sins of Pride and Self-Negation (or, How I Learned to Lighten Up a Little About Service)

In 1960, a thinker by the name of Valerie Saiving wrote an influential article which is often considered the beginning of modern feminist theology, critiquing traditional models of sin which were centered around pride. Since such perspectives considered pride or excessive self-assertion to be the most basic sin,  they understood the process of overcoming sin as necessarily involving a move toward greater selflessness. Love was defined in such approaches as being “completely self-giving, taking no thought for its own interests but seeking only the good of the other.”1 Saiving raised the objection that these models ignored some basic differences in the self-development of women and men, and arose from an essentially masculine perspective. The crucial point that these formulations overlooked, she argued, is that there is danger in the other direction as well, as it turns out that too much selflessness, far from producing someone in an idealized and virtuous state, leads to the development of a kind of “chameleon-like creature who responds to others but has no personal identity of his [or her] own.”2  Saiving saw this as a temptation to which women are particularly vulnerable. Read More

  1. Valerie Saiving, “The Human Situation: A Feminine View,” in Womanspirit Rising (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979), 26. []
  2. Ibid., 41. []

Worthiness

My favorite Richard Dutcher movie, one perhaps lesser known than God’s Army or States of Grace, is a thought-provoking film titled Brigham City. It’s a highly suspenseful murder mystery set in a small Mormon community, and it deals head-on with some hard religious questions. The final scene is deeply moving. I won’t spoil it by giving too many details, but I will say that a crucial element of that scene is the question of what it means to be worthy to take the sacrament.

About eight years ago, when I was still a PhD student, I got to design and teach a Master’s-level class on Mormonism at my school. One week, I showed them Brigham City. The group of mostly Protestant students quite liked the movie, but they said something that has really stayed with me. They said that their take on that scene was different than mine had been, because they came from traditions in which there isn’t a worthiness requirement to take communion (or the sacrament, in Mormon lingo); in fact, one of them said that when you feel unworthy, that’s actually the time when you need it the most. I’ve thought a lot about that over the years. Read More

The LDS Godhead and the Traditional Christian Trinity: Which is More Confusing?

According to Nephi, many “plain and precious truths” were taken out of the Bible. When the question is posed in Gospel Doctrine as to what exactly these truths might be, people often bring up the nature of God. Other Christians have a completely confusing understanding of God, it is said, as opposed to our straightforward one. What is with this whole three-in-one Trinity, anyhow? This is perhaps the most common complaint I hear about mainstream Christianity—their understanding of God is far too complicated.

I agree that the Trinity is a difficult doctrine. However, I’m not persuaded that the LDS take on the Godhead is actually any clearer. Read More

“What is God really like?”

When Beatrice and I were serving together as missionaries, we were lucky enough to be in a district that included the mission offices.  The APs and office Elders were in our district, so more often than not we held district meetings in a cozy conference room in the main mission office building, giving us frequent occasion to see the Mission President and his wife.

Throughout our companionship, Beatrice mentioned to me that she had questions about the role of women as depicted in the temple endowment. We discussed it a few times in companionship study, and then – taking advantage of our proximity to the mission leaders – one day we decided to take the issue to the wife of the MP. To be clear, we didn’t openly dissect elements of the endowment that are considered private or sacred. We talked about the sorts of things that are commonly parsed on fMh, Exponent II, and here at ZD: the hearken covenant; women veiling their faces; the almost complete silence of Eve and lack of other female characters in the pre-mortal realm; and other, similar issues. Read More

Some Thoughts Sparked by Taylor Petrey’s “Post-Heterosexual Mormon Theology”

At a conference earlier this year, I presented a brief (and admittedly self-serving) paper suggesting some of the reasons why Mormons need theology. I listed several areas where I saw a need for theological work, and I noted that one of the most pressing of these was our lack of queer theology. After my presentation, several people enthusiastically asked me exactly how one might go about doing queer theology, and I had to admit that I was only pointing to the need for it; I was still working out how one might actually do it. For this reason, and others, I was excited to see Taylor Petrey’s recent Dialogue article—a thoughtful approach to a topic about which most discussion produces more heat than light. I am still thinking this through, but I would like to play with some of the ideas that Taylor brings up. Read More

Gratitude and Grace

A couple of years ago, I wrote a Thanksgiving post about my ambivalence about gratitude, and why, while I see the value of it, I think it’s a problem to dictate it, or to use injunctions like “be grateful” as a weapon against those who dare to express unhappiness about anything. I’ve been thinking about the subject again this year, but perhaps from a somewhat less psychological and more theological angle. I’ve been wondering—why, religiously speaking, is gratitude important?

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The Pitfalls of Pluralism

When it comes to religion, I have strong pluralist sympathies; one of the aspects of the LDS church I personally find the most challenging is the “only true church” claim. I’ve blogged before about why I think it’s a mistake for Mormons to assume that we have nothing to learn from other traditions, or to conceptualize them as–at best–less developed versions of ourselves. In my own life, I have found that serious engagement with the teachings and ideas of other traditions has tremendously enriched my faith.

Nonetheless, there are ways of talking about pluralism that I find problematic. Read More

Thoughts on LDS Feminist Theological Work

A question which has been on my mind recently, as I have been contemplating some of the theological questions involved in LDS feminism, is that of methodology. In particular, what are the sources of authority which might be used in feminist approaches to the tradition? Too often, I think, LDS feminists—including myself—have a tendency to simply import norms and values from the varieties of feminism which are prominent in contemporary secular discourse, and then measure the Church against them. This inevitably leads to the criticism that feminists are advocating “worldly” values, and these are irrelevant in the realm of revealed religion. For example, popular terms like “rights” and “equality” may have deep resonance when invoked in the context of Western liberal democracy, but some question the usefulness of these terms in a Christian context. Read More

God’s Ways Are Not Our Ways

This post was inspired by the CK debate happening here.

I’ll confess that I find a certain amount of comfort in the idea that God is in some ways a different kind of being than we are. Humans, for all their beauty, are kind of messed up sometimes, and I love the idea that there is a being out there who is perfect and “good” and who doesn’t have the same kind of imperfections as the rest of us. I also love scriptures such as Moses 7:33–the moment when Enoch asks God why he weeps, He responds, “And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood.” The idea that there is a perfectly loving and good being who weeps at the cruelty that we inflict on one another appeals to me. Read More

Using Human Reason to Think About God

A question which often arises in theological discussion is that of whether we mere mortals are in any position to make sense of these kinds of topics in the first place. One common argument is that the things of God are incomprehensible to mortal understanding, and we shouldn’t expect to understand them with our finite brains. If particular religious teachings appear nonsensical or even morally problematic, then, this is merely due to the limits of human reason.

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How Studying Theology Has Impacted My Faith

A question I get a lot at church is that of how studying theology has impacted my testimony. Sometimes people make comments along the lines of how studying the beliefs of others must be quite faith-promoting, with an apparent assumption that the musings of non-LDS religious thinkers are likely so self-evidently ridiculous or confusing that they could only result in my having a greater appreciation for the simple clarity of the restored gospel. Others wonder, by contrast, whether engaging religion academically might be dangerous, might undermine my belief in the LDS church. I am not comfortable, however, with either of these paradigms. What I study has in fact profoundly influenced my faith, but in complex ways. Read More

Parenthood and the Imago Dei

In honor of having made it through another year of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day celebrations (and/or firestorms), I’d like to consider some issues related to parenthood, and how we talk about it in the Church. Though I admittedly do have my qualms about some of the language related to gender, I have to say that the LDS emphasis on the importance of parenting is something I actually quite appreciate, and generally see as positive. At the same time, as a single adult member of the Church, I’m all too aware of how this emphasis can leave a large segment of the community feeling somewhat like second-class citizens. So I find myself coming back to the question, is there a way to talk about the importance of parenthood that doesn’t marginalize the non-parents? Or is that simply one of the costs of keeping the role of parent as central as we want it to be? I honestly don’t know the answer to that one. Read More

Reflections on Good Friday

I’ve always been a bit ambivalent about the stories surrounding Easter. I remember as a child listening to adults talking in solemn and hushed tones about the death of Jesus, and wondering how I was supposed to react. Should I be feeling guilty, since as a sinner I shared part of the blame for his suffering? Should I be feeling horrified? (Some of those who went into excruciating and grisly detail seemed to be hoping to provoke a bit of that reaction.) All too often, hearing the story of Good Friday left me with an image of a Jesus who quite possibly resented me for having messed up so badly that he had to pay for it, and who was now scrutinizing my every action to see if I was good enough to be worthy of his help. Read More

History and Faith

A couple of recent discussions have gotten me thinking about the relationship between history and faith. Not every person takes the same approach to navigating the challenges posed by historical problems, of course, and I respect that there are a variety of ways of conceptualizing the interplay betwen the two. What I can’t quite make sense of, however, is the idea that they can be completely separated, that one can talk about faith without reference to history or dismiss history as being irrelevant to faith. (In other words, the “if you have a testimony, then history doesn’t matter” line of thought.) Read More

Toward an LDS Theology of Religions

“Theology of religions” has been a particularly pressing concern in Christian thought since at least the middle of the twentieth century. The term refers to the effort to make theological sense of other religions. It involves questions like, from the perspective of a Christian, is God involved in other religions, or are they merely human constructions? Is Christianity the only true faith–and if so, why hasn’t God revealed it to everyone? As I’ve posted about before, theologians often speak of three general approaches to the problem: exclusivism (Christianity is the one true faith and there is no way to salvation outside of membership in it), inclusivism (only Christ can save, but explicit belief in or knowledge of Christ is not necessarily required for this to happen), and pluralism (there are multiple true paths and ways to salvation, and Christianity is only one of them.)

I’ve often thought about what an LDS theology of religions might look like. Read More

Questions

When I look at the religious conversations I’ve had again and again, the papers I’ve written, the books I’m fascinated by, I can’t help noticing how frequently I find myself coming back again and again to some of the same themes. There are certain questions which have haunted me for years; I feel almost compelled to keep returning to them, to explore them further, to try approaching them from yet another angle. When it comes to these particular problems, you might fairly accuse me of being somewhat obsessed (my siblings and friends could certainly attest to this). Some examples: Read More