Joseph Smith Sphinx

When I was in Utah this past month, I visited the Gilgal Garden, which supposedly is on a lot of tourist information for Salt Lake City, but that very few local residents are even aware of. It’s this odd statue garden where a man named Thomas Battersby Child, Jr. handcrafted huge stones into sculptures that represented his beliefs. The garden contains a variety of sculptures, including “The Monument to the Trade” and “The Monument to the Priesthood,” though my two favorites are the “Captain of the Lord’s Host,” which is a carved figure with a big boulder for a head (how can you not like a statue that just has a big boulder for a head?) and the Joseph Smith Sphinx. 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

Reclaiming the Body

The dualism of Descartes still heavily influences contemporary understandings of the mind-body problem. It also heavily influences the church’s own form of dualism: spirit-body.

According to Cartesian dualism, each individual is made up of a mind and a body. The two are linked, but the mind has precedence over the body (who can forget Descartes famous “I think, therefore, I am”?). The source of initiative, rationality, and all other good things, is the mind, while the body is dangerous, transgressive, emotional, etc. (An interesting side-note: many feminist scholars have published on how the mind-body division was imposed onto the man-woman division, where men become assocated with the elevated, rational mind and women with the transgressive, emotional body.) In today’s society, we still have not escaped this dualism. People still trust rationality (a quality of the mind) over emotionality (a quality of the body). Bodies and 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

Mothers in the Book of Mormon

It’s Mother’s Day on Sunday and I would like to bet that at least one person in every ward is going to read the one mother-related scripture in the Book of Mormon. “Yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them. And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it.” (Alma 56:47-48) Have you ever wondered who those faithful women are? Read More

Bored by Church History

There. I said it.

The flaw is in me, not in the discipline of history, which I just don’t have much of a mind for. Kiskilili and Elbereth–who study very different aspects of it in very different ways–both have a much better intuitive sense of history than I do, and Lynnette earned a couple of degrees in it before finding her calling in theology. Me, I’d rather wander around in the abstractions of philosophy than have to deal with the tedium of what actually happened. 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

Gifted

I was that proverbial and justly despised snot-nose, a gifted child. I remember being separated out from my kindergarten class with a few others into a special group for those of us already reading. I remember taking what I’m now sure was an I.Q. test at the end of first grade, sitting on a large chair in a strange office as a strange woman read me strings of numbers from a book and told me to recite them to her backwards. (So much of childhood consists of navigating adults’ inscrutable directives.) I remember the advanced reading and math classes that provided “enriched” activities. (Who was being subjected to the “impoverished” activities, I wonder now?) I remember the gifted class I attended every morning for an hour in third grade. The work was engaging enough, but there was a tense watchfulness about the teachers. I rarely felt that I pleased them, nor did I ever feel quite at ease in that room. 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

Bored by Sex

Not THAT kind of sex. Literature-classroom sex, the wordy two-dimensional substitute for the real thing.

Although I’m firmly committed to the law of chastity, I don’t think I’m a prude. I think it’s possible and at times necessary to discuss sex publicly and that it can and should be done with both maturity and candor. For example, I don’t think youth or adults are well served by chastity lessons that consist mostly of the vague injunction “Don’t do it.” And of course, sex really _is_ part of literature. I once taught a literature class at BYU and noticed halfway through the semester that in one way or another it had come up in every single text (Montaigne, Shakespeare, Goethe, Marx, Ibsen…) we had studied. I finally threw up my hands and facetiously told the class that the chance to read about sex is the whole reason to major in literature instead of math. Read More

Mood Disorders and the Spirit

I was inspired to write and make this post because of the series over at By Common Consent on Mormons and Mental Illness.

I’m a graduate student in my late 20s who’s suffered from bipolar disorder since my early 20s. I have no formal training in psychology, but one of my academic interests is psychology and emotion in 20th century American culture (one of my specializations is cultural studies). Typically I look at mood disorders and emotions as cultural and social phenomena (as was perhaps evidenced by my last post on this blog), but I thought I’d temporarily suspend that avenue of thought and explore some thoughts on mood disorders and spirituality that stem from my own experiences. Read More

Where have all the mothers gone?

The other night, I went to see the musical “Aida” (the Elton John version, not the Opera) and I have just one question. Where did all the mothers go? For those of you not versed in the Aida story, it has a love triangle between an Egyptian princess (Amneria), the head of the Egyptian army (Ramades) and a slave from the kingdom of Nubia (Aida), who turns out to be the Nubian princess. All three main characters have a father who appears in the play. Aida’s father gets captured by the Egyptian army, Ramades’ father is plotting to kill the Pharoah and the Pharoah shows up just because he’s the Pharoah and you can’t have a story about Egypt without a Pharoah. But where are their mothers? Read More

How to Cry in Church

By most measures, I am not very feminine. My husband has to drag me to Michael’s to look at decorations for the house, I cannot be prevailed upon to take pictures, let alone scrapbook them, and I will never be accused of being a slave to fashion, as the Car Talk guys so tactfully put it. But I have at least one tentative claim to femininity. I cry. Not delicately, like the doe-eyed women in movies who dribble out a few dainty, alluring tears. I sob convulsively. I cry like a…wounded buffalo?? It’s not the kind of crying that makes people want to offer me their great-grandmothers’ handmade lace handkerchiefs. It’s the kind of crying that makes people want to put something in my mouth so that I don’t swallow my tongue. Read More