Monday, August 30, 2004

Sick, sick, sick

I'm finally on the mend after two weeks of the worst sinus infection I've ever had. Not only did it wipe me out physically, but made it difficult to think very clearly, too. The physical and the mental are closely tied. With my improving health, I'll be back to regular blogging soon.

Monday, August 09, 2004

As Sisters In Zion

Our congregational rest hymn in sacrament meeting yesterday was As Sisters In Zion. I was up front, interpreting for a Deaf member, so I got a great view of the congregation. Quite a few people, especially men, were having really hard time keeping a straight face. (This included the bishopric, who seemed to be surprised that we were singing it for a rest hymn.)

It made me wonder whether the women feel as awkward singing hymns that use exclusively male language.

American vs. Mormon religious identity

I just finished reading Kathleen Flake's The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle. It is an excellent, insightful discussion of the importance of the Reed Smoot hearings for the development of the limits of American religious pluralism, as well as the redefinition of Mormon identity within those limits. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the clear shift from 19th- to 20th-century Mormonism.

I would sum up Flake's argument this way: The real threat of 19th-century Mormonism was not polgyamy per se; polygamy was only the prime indicator of a rival governmental system (the Kingdom of God) set above the government of the nation. The resolution of this threat was the capitulation of Mormonism, which subordinated itself to the U.S. government in order to preserve its existence. The vehicle for this change was the 1903-1907 Reed Smoot hearings. Flake persuasively argues that the LDS Church, forced to give up the Kingdom and its marriage system, had to redefine itself, and did so by emphasizing Joseph Smith's First Vision and pre-Nauvoo Mormonism.

(Of course, the Church never distanced itself from Nauvoo Mormonism to the extent that the RLDS (now Community of Christ) did; I think the perpetuation of the temple ceremonies would have made such a significant shift impossible.)

Flake records that President Joseph F. Smith (sans plural wives) took a group of Church leaders back east and raised the obelisk monument to Joseph Smith at his birthplace of Sharon, Vermont. According to Flake, this was the first Church historical monument outside Utah. The group then followed some of the trail of Church history. Flake notes that while the group detoured somewhat to take in Kirtland-era sites, they did not visit any post-Kirtland sites. She sees this as an indication of the de-emphasis of Nauvoo Mormonism. I wonder, having just noticed some discussion of the Church's return to Nauvoo in the Bloggernacle (see also here), whether this return has theological significance. It doesn't seem so, given President Hinckley's apparent desire to emphasize commonalities with other Christian denominations, but I wonder...

Has Mormonism abandoned the establishment of the Kingdom of God for good, or is it just in abeyance, waiting for the time to be ripe?

Friday, August 06, 2004


The Mormon grapevine is alive and well. I have heard a rumor that a new BYU campus is being started in Keokuk, Iowa, not far from Nauvoo. BYU has a Semester at Nauvoo program at the Joseph Smith Academy, but my rumor source says that construction has already started on a very large campus -- large enough for a full-size university.

Take it for what it's worth, as it is just a rumor. But if it turns out to be true, remember you saw it here first.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Harder to repent?

We believe in repentance in the spirit world, but, so as not to give people motivation to procrastinate their repentance, we teach that it's a lot harder to repent there than it is here. So you'd better take advantage of the easier opportunity now.

On the other hand, I often hear sentiments to the effect of “We'll be so different in the next life, so we won't struggle so much with envy or all the things that our fallen condition make so hard for us.”

So, which is it? Easier or harder to change now? Is there going to be a miraculous change wrought upon us that will erase our weakness, or are we going to have to keep working on our character, even after this life?

Twenty points for guessing which way I lean. ;-)

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Meaning of death?

Well, since we have the meaning of life nailed down, let's talk about the meaning of death.

In the Western world, death was, until recently (and still is in the developing world) a very common thing for people to experience -- not themselves, but the death of loved ones. Many pioneers lost children, spouses, siblings -- and far more frequently than I or most of the people I know do today.

I wonder how this affects the meaning of death for us. Is it more feared when experienced more frequently, or less? Does one become more callous toward it when experienced more frequently, or more sensitive to it? Does it have a different moral standing; for example, is capital punishment viewed differently when death is more prevalent than when it is less prevalent? War? Other killing (cf. Nephi and Laban, or Old Testament accounts)? Is there a difference in whether death is regarded as “natural?”

I suspect that there are differences between the meaning of death for me and its meaning for my pioneer ancestors, and I wonder how this affects our views on the restoration of the gospel.

Mormonism and America

This past weekend, we took a trip to Nauvoo for a “mini family reunion.” While we weren't able to spend a lot of time in Nauvoo itself, there were a few things that made a significant impression on me.

The Nauvoo temple is, by far, my favorite temple. I love the rich architectural symbolism and wish it were more prevalent in the newer temples. The effort and craftsmanship that went into the rebuilding is remarkable. One interesting tidbit:

The murals in the ordinance rooms are strikingly North American in character. Animals include deer, elk, beavers, cougars, and bison. I was reminded of Joseph Smith's teaching that the Garden of Eden was in Missouri. However global the Church may be today, it certainly started out very America-centered, and retains much of that America-centeredness. As the City of Joseph pageant pointed out, we believe that America is a chosen land.

This explicit North America-centeredness (the New Jerusalem to be built on the American continent) seems to me to raise some questions with regard to the limited Mesoamerican interpretation of the location of Book of Mormon events. I'm not sure these ideas are mutually exclusive, but there may be some conflicts, at least with historic interpretations of events.

As noted in the many Bloggernacle discussions of Zelph (here, here, and here), Joseph Smith apparently believed that the Book of Mormon events took place on the North American continent.

It appears that Joseph was equally willing to make connections to Biblical events, as he located the Garden of Eden and the places where Adam offered sacrifices in Missouri, at and near Adam-Ondi-Ahman. This is also where Doctrine & Covenants 116 indicates Adam will return.

While the Mesoamerican placement of the Book of Mormon reduces the central place of North America in Mormonism, the Doctrine & Covenants and other teachings of Joseph Smith broaden it. Even apart from its American “character” in terms of thematic emphasis, Mormonism is clearly an American religion.