30 January 2008

The landscape shifts

Today brings news that the major candidates in both the Republican and Democratic presidential races are down to two (on principle, I refuse to apply the label "major" to Mike Huckabee, who has less than $3 million in the bank). It is so odd when you consider where we were only a couple of months ago, before the primaries were actually underway. Giuliani seemed like a near-unstoppable juggernaut and McCain was nearly out of money and reportedly close to calling it quits. Now in bizzaro politics world, McCain is the favorite, and Giuliani has (or later today will) dropped out. I don't think that Edwards' failure to make it any further is much of a surprise on the Democratic side, at least in a year when he is going up against two very well-funded and popular candidates.

I have to humbly confess that Romney has made it farther than I ever thought possible, but his days, too, are numbered. His ability in fundraising and his own massive fortune will probably allow his campaign to sputter on far longer than the point of its political viability. In part, I attribute his unanticipated (by me) success to the big money he has been playing with. Huckabee is the exact opposite- running on faith and hope rather than one money. Common sense would dictate a swift exit in the next couple of days, but come on, when was the last time that people like Huckabee operated on common sense? The rancor between McCain and Romney (as between Romney and EVERY Republican candidate) probably keeps him out of a VP spot, which at this point would be his best shot at the presidency, since McCain is "exceedingly" OLD and "about to go the way of all the earth."

At this point, given the choices available, I am still not likely to vote for Romney, should McCain die, say, tomorrow. But I hope that he makes a race out of it for at least the next couple of months. It is probably wishful thinking, especially if he gets the point where he has to start pouring more and more of his own money into a perceived losing campaign. Nevertheless, keeping a race going on the Republican side keeps McCain focused on his near rivals rather than on the general campaign (both in terms of fundraising and rhetoric). Since the Democratic campaign will likely go down to the wire, even into late spring, giving the eventual victor a brief time to switch gears, an irrationally prolonged Romney campaign means advantage: Democrats. Where do Mormon Republicans stand on that?

On the other side of the coin, succession in the Presidency of the Church is virtually certain. There have been no elections, no ads, no primaries or caucuses. We feel confident in our leaders' abilities and assured that no radical disruption, for better or worse, is likely to upset the equilibrium that we current enjoy.

27 January 2008

Special announcement

This blog has had a baby: Laughs with the Laughtons. At the risk of further jeopardizing my already shaky anonymity, I have linked to that site for the benefit of my readers and friends. Due to changes in the profile associated with this Blogger account, posts may appear as written by "Adam and Ariel", however I am still faithfully yours, AHLDuke.

Godspeed, President Hinckley

President Gordon B. Hinckley died tonight. Ironically, he'll be standing outside the proverbial pearly gates with Heath Ledger and Indonesian dictator Suharto.

“When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.” - Cherokee saying

I know of few people that exemplify this kind of life better than President Hinckley.

The Prophet is dead. Long live the Prophet!!
(like JI's, but with EMPHASIS!)

21 January 2008

Acceptance and tolerance

I did not plan this in this way, but perhaps this is an entirely appropriate subject for a MLK Day post.

Tell me if the following conversation sounds familiar in any way:

Gentile: Hey, I just read that X [insert celebrity name here] grew up Mormon/is Mormon, isn't that crazy?
Peter Priesthood: Uh....yeah....I heard about that too. But (s)he isn't practicing anymore, neverwenttochurchmuchanyway, isprobablyexcommunicated, andwedon'treally think ofhim/herasMormon.
Gentile: Oh.

[Ed. note- the lack of spacing above is intentional and should evoke images of a spewing forth of words]
I myself have done this more times than I care to count, and I have heard it from others at least as many times. And reflecting on it now, I am a little ashamed of how my un-Christlike, "natural man" attitude is manifest in this kind of quick dismissal of one who ought to be my brother/sister.

Now read here.

Why are we as a people so quick to cut ties with anyone (and particularly famous people) who does not appear to be following the commandments anymore? I think there is some element of not wanting to tarnish our own image as fine, upstanding, and approximately perfect people. There is also a boundary maintenance function to these commandments (and the WoW is particularly useful in that regard). But why can't we own our black sheep?

While Ms. Heigl does not keep the WoW, and probably violates a number of other commandments as well, she seems to have a strong grasp of the power of prayer and some notion of the eternity of the family unit. I have no information on whether anyone in the rest of her family remains active in the Church or not, but that seems beside the point. What she has retained, in spite of what has been lost or discarded, seems commendable, and we should treat her tenuous relationship with Mormonism at least as kindly as we would treat that inactive family in our ward who we are working to reactivate.

09 January 2008

Did we replace the worship of the Lord with the worship of our family?

This is a reflection on Christmas. (Isn't it a little late? you say. No, especially since I am reflecting on my observations of the holiday season just past, both of my own and that of others.)

It is customary and practically expected to hear and read denunciations of the commercialization and secularization of the Christmas holiday. That is not the purpose of the post. Materialism and greed are subjects that truly concern me, but others have addressed it far more ably than I could.

My own concern is that we have moved the focus of our worship away from our Heavenly Father and his Son Jesus Christ, and towards ourselves and our own family. Our obedience to commandments and participation in the rituals of the Church and Gospel are done not because of our perceived duty towards God, or the fact that he deserves the worship that we give him. Rather we undertake those activities because of what we want from him, namely to be with our families forever. While, among the pious, it is axiomatic that "Jesus = the Reason for the Season", do we truly celebrate his advent simply by being with our family, laughing with them, and eating tons of food at the common table(lets ignore the subject of presents for now)? How much emphasis is placed on togetherness relative to our meditation on what Nephi termed the "condescension of God"?

I am not aware of how much my own observed experience comports with that of members of other faiths. I am aware that, to a certain extent, this emphasis on the family is the result of the peculiar LDS teachings on the eternity of the family unit.

I am interested to see whether others' observations or experiences confirm or differ from the questions and concerns I posed above. Of course, even their confirmation would not conclusively establish whether such an emphasis is misplaced or wrongful in the eyes of God. I think from the scriptures one could certainly discern that the togetherness of His family is the object which our Heavenly Father desires. But can our (premature?) focus on the end harm our pursuit of the divine means of achieving it?

06 January 2008

Ritual studies

My experience at the annual AAR/SBL meeting last November got me thinking about an interesting new area in Mormon Studies. Looking over the agenda of sessions and speakers, there were a couple devoted to ritual studies. None of the participants or sponsors was Mormon. On its face, this is not entirely surprising. Most of our public rituals (baptism, the sacrament, etc.) are fairly unremarkable from an academic perspective, at least in my opinion, and they have only a brief history (from an outsider's perspective). The most interesting rites, and the ones most ripe for study, are secret (or sacred to follow the typical Mormon response)- the temple rituals.

My question, then, is: does this need to be so? I think that we can do a better job of delineating what parts of the ritual are necessarily kept from the world and which can be revealed in a way that contributes to an outsider's familiarity with those rituals and can help members of the Church educate our own in preparation for their own participation in the temple ceremonies. As a matter of public relations, revelation of some of the temple ceremony could go a long way toward helping to evaporate notions of cultish behavior in our temple rites. Having grown up in the South and being the only member in my family, I have heard all of the weird temple rumors- orgies with bishops, sisters doing naked clogging, members being paid by the families of the deceased for the vicarious work done on their behalf. Shedding a little light on what is actually done in the temple might lend some credibility to our frequent and emphatic disavowals of "anything weird."

My own sense is that we are obligated by sacred covenant to keep certain matters secret, particularly in the endowment. However, as a matter of practice, we keep far more of the ceremonies secret, even if we have not promised to do so, simply because we are wary of crossing lines.
Because I myself and unsure where these lines ought to be drawn and for the protection of the sensibilities of my readers, I will not speak in particulars. I will go far enough to say that clearly some of the gestures and passwords of the endowment are to be kept under strict confidentiality, based on explicit instruction. How much does this extend to the filmed drama of the ceremony. I find its allegorical or metaphorical nature fascinating, but if that part of the ceremony is to be kept secret, I am not sure what is the origin of such an injunction. Likewise with the liturgy of the sealing ceremony, I am unaware of any commandment that the words of the ritual have been sealed as secret by the Lord, and are thus to remain unanalyzed.

I am genuinely interested in seeing some of these things opened up for study, at least where it is possible to avoid offending divine mandates. But I am too wary to say confidently that I know where all the lines ought to be drawn. Any ideas? Or ideas for where ritual studies within Mormonism ought to go?

Note: In responding to this post, please be sensitive and careful with any comments. Refrain from discussing details.

01 January 2008

Read this.

Go here. Read (especially the paragraph beginning "Our possessions are a metaphor, then, for our inability to practice empathy....") (Channeling Linda Richman) Discuss amongst yourselves.

I wish I had run into this a couple of weeks ago. As it is, in the aftermath of Christmas and New Year's, reflect on how we spent the season accumulating more stuff we don't need. Think and say a little prayer for those who don't have enough of what they need.

Ed. note- For those who don't know, Ashley Sanders is a recent graduate of BYU, one of the organizers of last year's Alternative Commencement, and an intern at Sunstone. She has one of the most thoughtful and eloquent voices in the Bloggernacle and her episode of Mormon Stories' Spirituality of the Rising Generation series is a must-see (along with the other episodes in that series).