Thursday, March 15, 2012

How lovely was the morning

Today is an "Oh how lovely was the morning" kind of morning. It's early spring, so it's still sweater weather. Lightly clouded skies. Aromatic blooms. Small birds that sleep all night with open eyes making melody. (Fellow English lit nerds will get the allusion.)
Blessed are you, Lord God:
you renew the earth
so that it brings forth its fruit in season.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


"I am grateful we can use this space," I said,
"and I am grateful it has been preserved.
But I regret that the space is structured
in a way that reinforces hierarchy—
a select few sitting up there,
the rest of us down here in the pews,
literally boxed in,
unable, for example, to form a circle
for a different kind of devotional experience."
When I was done, someone suggested
that we subvert the hierarchy
by having all the women come forward
and occupy the pulpits.
It was a powerful symbol, of course—
also against the rules, the ushers apologetically informed us—
but it was the opposite of what I'd had in mind.

Ode to Joy

Staying with friends in Cleveland this weekend, I attended a performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. In preparation, I looked up the lyrics to Schiller's original "Ode to Joy," which Beethoven excerpted and adapted for the symphony. I'm reproducing some selections below, based on translations I found here and here, though I've done quite a bit of my own reworking of the material.

The ode is an expression of Classical-Romantic era liberalism. Which is to say that I'm torn between finding it naive and warming to its ideals.


Joy, beautiful spark of divinity,
Daughter of the Blessed Isles—
intoxicated by fire, we enter
your sanctuary, Heavenly One.
Your magic binds together again
what the sword of custom divided:
Beggars become brothers to princes
under the shadow of your gentle wing.

Accept this embrace, you millions!
To the whole world goes this kiss!
Brothers and sisters—above the starry canopy
A loving Father must dwell.

Joy, joy drives the wheels
of the great clock that is the universe.
It draws forth flowers from the buds,
and suns from the firmament.
It rolls spheres through the depths of space,
far beyond the telescope’s reach.
From Truth’s fiery mirror,
Joy smiles upon the scientist.
Up the steep hill of Virtue,
it guide the steps of the persevering.

Endure with courage, you millions!
Endure in expectation of a better world!

Sorrow and Poverty, come forward
and join in the rejoicing.
Let bitterness and revenge be forgotten.
Let even our mortal enemy be forgiven.
No tears should burden him,
no remorse should pain him.
Let the ledger of our debts be destroyed!
Let the whole world be reconciled!

Draw closer in the sacred circle.
Swear, by this golden wine,
to be true to this oath—
swear it by the Judge beyond the stars:
Deliverance from the chains of tyrants,
liberality even for the evil-doer,
hope even on one's deathbed,
grace at the final judgment bar!
All sinners will be forgiven,
and hell will be no more.

Friday, March 9, 2012


I'm at my laptop, working, watching big snowflakes falling thick outside the window. It's soothing . . . I've been needing something like this for a while. Feeling my emotions settle down as I watch the snow fall is making me realize how much this wretched wet cold snowless winter has been keeping me in a really pissy, and stressed, mood.

Have you been inside the treasuries
where God stores the snow?
(Job 38:22)

Faithful messengers
are like the cold of snow
in the time of harvest:
they refresh the souls
of those for whom they come and go.
(Proverbs 25:13)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Imagine if this were Relief Society

Just happened onto this at a blog of Church Women United. They had reblogged the text from another organization, the Children's Defense Fund. Learn more about Church Women United here.
Keeping a Close Watch on the Budget

Overall, in these tight economic times, the President’s FY 2013 budget proposes critical investments to support healthy child development and fight poverty while taking steps towards addressing inequities in the U.S. tax code. Priorities for increased funding in the President’s budget include education, early childhood development, health and vulnerable youth. Despite this overall good news for children, there is cause for concern. A number of important programs that serve vulnerable children and families face deep budget cuts at a time when the economy has greatly increased the need for safety net services. We must remain vigilant in the weeks, months and years ahead and speak and stand up for the voiceless, voteless children so they do not bear the brunt of budget assaults. Read a full analysis of the President's budget and what it means for children.

We must continue our call for Congress and state governments to choose babies over billionaires and children over corporations. Continue the drumbeat by contacting your Members of Congress and demand the rich and powerful interests pay their fair share rather than continue to receive huge and unfair government subsidies and tax cuts they neither deserve, earned, nor need.
Several possibilities to imagine here.

Imagine that the Relief Society were committed to this kind of social advocacy.

Imagine that the Relief Society maintained a lobbying presence in Washington DC to pursue such advocacy.

Imagine that the Relief Society were de-centralized in such a way that Relief Society units at the state and national level had the autonomy to engage in these kind of initiatives.

Or imagine that the Relief Society had the kind of interfaith-oriented mentality that would prompt it to become one of the denominational women's organizations that belong to Church Women United.

Now ask yourself why these things aren't in fact happening.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

More on the Brother Bott controversy

The Church Statement Regarding 'Washington Post' Article on Race and the Church is the closest the Church has come to repudiating the teachings that were used to legitimate the black priesthood/temple ban. This is an important, if absurdly tardy, development.

But let's be clear about what happened here.

Church leaders didn't issue this statement because they were shocked and dismayed to discover that a BYU religion professor was teaching these things to his students.

Nor did they issue the statement because they had been moved by the pleas of church members, African Americans among them, that these teachings needed to be officially repudiated. I know of two instances within the past 15 years or so when members have organized in an attempt to communicate such pleas to church leadership.

Church leaders didn't care what Bott was teaching in his classes--until he communicated those same ideas to a journalist at the Washington Post. Church leaders didn't care when members objected to these teachings; they only moved to repudiate the teachings (sort of) when publicity got them worried about what non-members would think.

Why is that? Fundamentally, because church leaders are invested in the idea that members are supposed to obey them. Consequently, leaders are inclined to discount petitions or complaints from church members. Members who presume to tell church leaders what they should do--i.e., repudiate these teachings--are bad members. They don't trust that the leaders are divinely inspired. If God wanted the leaders to repudiate past teachings, he would tell them. So members should just wait for God to tell the leaders what to do instead of trying to steady the ark themselves.

But church leaders wouldn't repudiate their predecessors' teachings anyway: note that the latest statement doesn't actually say that what Bott was teaching was wrong, just that it should be regarded as "speculation and opinion, not doctrine"--i.e., not the church's official position, which at present is, "We don't know why God didn't want blacks to have the priesthood. We just know he did." Church leaders can't admit that the ban was wrong because that admission would undermine the prophetic authority of church leadership--ergo, the authority of the current leadership. If church leaders could be wrong in believing that the black priesthood/temple ban was God's will, then members would have grounds for suggesting that the current leaders are wrong when they say that certain doctrines, policies, and programs are God's will.

And that church leaders cannot abide. They want to be obeyed; they want to be beyond criticism. That's why you have Ballard repeating the Woodruff line that the Lord will never allow the General Authorities to lead the church astray. That's why you have Oaks insisting that members should never criticize church leaders even if the criticism is true.

And this is why I think gay-friendly members who hope to "change the church from within" are doomed to frustration. Maybe they can change minds and hearts in the pews, and that would certainly be a good thing. But they will never get church leaders to listen to them. Because church leaders don't listen to members whose petitions are implicitly critical, however diplomatically couched. Such listening is not part of the role to which church leaders understand themselves to be called.
Go and tell this people: Hear--
but they heard not.
And see--
but they perceived not. (2 Nephi 16:9)
But--and this is the really infuriating thing--while church leaders don't care when members criticize them, they care very much when outsiders launch certain criticisms against them. When members complain that these teachings are racist and should be repudiated, they get Gordon B. Hinckley shrugging affably and saying, "What's the problem? The 1978 revelation speaks for itself." But when a major newspaper suggests that these teachings are racist, in the middle of an election year when Church officials are on high-alert regarding their public image, then the leaders see the teachings as a problem that needs to be addressed.

What makes that seeming inconsistency consistent is the fact that the same impulse underlies both the leaders' unwillingness to respond to members' complaints and their swift response to bad press from outside. What's consistent is that church leaders don't want to be criticized. In dealing with members, that means maintaining a working fiction of prophetic infallibility--ergo, you can't admit the priesthood/temple ban was wrong. In dealing with the press, avoiding criticism requires getting your spin doctors to write carefully crafted statements that seem to offer the repudiation you would never offer your own members.