Madness in Charlottesville

I imagine I’m not the only one to find myself suffering from what I might call outrage fatigue this year. Every week seems to bring some new preposterous happening, whether just the White House administration and our clown-in-chief doing or saying something else ludicrous, or scarier things coming from so many places. Nuclear threats. Cover-ups in high places of collusion with foreign powers. The health care of millions on a precipice. People being shot by police officers for the color of their skin. Official resistance to combating climate change. The list goes and on and on. And I feel like with every week, my ability to be horrified by something completely awful gets deadened a little more. Read More

A Thought about Faith-promoting Stories

Every faith-promoting story is also a faith-destroying story. I don’t mean just stories that are passed off as faith promoting but that are more about something else (like over-controlling parents) or stories that turn out to have been embellished. I mean all of them. A faith-promoting story has a conflict to it–someone is stuck in some difficult situation–and that conflict is resolved miraculously. The level of drama involved in the miracle varies a lot, of course. Some miracles are definitely showier than others. Some are quieter, perhaps boiling down to the person realizing that what they thought was a conflict actually wasn’t when they approached it a different way. The reason that faith-promoting stories are also faith-destroying is that for any particular conflict a person faces in such a story, multitudes of other people have faced the same conflict and have not gotten the same miraculous resolution. (It’s the fact that most people don’t get the miracle that makes it a miracle; if it were commonplace, it wouldn’t be miraculous.) This raises the obvious question of why the miracle comes to the one person and not to the others. And there typically isn’t a good answer to this question. God can seem awfully fickle when doling out miracles.

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Does the Church Have Room for Doubters?

A few weeks ago I was on a plane to India, visiting the subcontinent for the first time, excited for this grand adventure but a bit anxious about the success of our business meeting and the possibility of acquiring a nasty bout of Delhi belly. Arriving in Paris Charles De Gaulle airport, I turned on my phone and saw a text message from my daughter saying that my wife, Lilian, had been struck by a drunk driver, sending her car spinning down the interstate.

Before continuing, let me explain that for several months I haven’t felt like blogging (I know–there was much rejoicing), my feelings too raw from Kate Kelly’s excommunication and its implications for members like me. Frankly, I just haven’t been able to bring myself to care as much anymore about the Church and my relationship to it. Deep inside me something has been broken, like the shattering of an intricate vase whose rebuilding completely confounds me, and my hope that the institution will repent and evolve–becoming something that is less hurtful to some (e.g., women, LGBT, singles, people of color, non-Americans) and more welcoming to all–sometimes feels like a foolish dream. Read More

If I Were Going to Steady the Ark, This is What I Would Do

OK, I’ll admit upfront that my title is somewhat disingenuous. I’m not really going to talk about my highest ark-steadying priorities, but rather an ark-steadying proposal that I could see actually happening in the near term, especially through experimentation on the local level.

Just so you know, if I were going to steady the ark I’d do it like the tagline for the Georgia Lottery: Think Big. Think Really Big.

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“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

A Few Days Before Christmas: Notes from an MTC talk by Cheiko Okazaki

Nearly a decade ago I was a missionary, serving for three weeks in the Provo MTC before moving on to a smaller MTC in Latin America for the remainder of my Spanish language training. While I was in Provo, Sister Cheiko Okazaki (1926-2011), the former first counselor of the Relief Society General Presidency, came and spoke to the Sister missionaries. (I was sad, after hearing her, that the Elders had not been invited as well.)

I have always loved Sister Okazaki’s thoughts. In her books and public speaking, she quotes often from the Bible. Her advice that day in the MTC was both practical and inspiring, a discussion of dealing with feelings of inadequacy and hypocrisy, of “putting on Christ,” and of navigating the need to forgive ourselves and others on our journey. It was filled with metaphors from scripture about clothing and Christian discipleship. 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