Friday, November 28, 2014

All Hands On Deck: A Poem About Addiction, Sin & Hope



by Jonathan Decker:

Author's note: I wrote this poem years ago when my own struggles with sin had distanced me from God's presence through the Holy Ghost. This poem came to me as I prayed for redemption, and I wrote it down. It gave me hope and comfort then. I hope it does so for you now.


The world's a storming, tumultuous sea
With multitudes drowning, struggling, lost
So the Captain's crew fights valiantly
To bring all aboard no matter what the cost

His ship provides a place to rest
Clean warm clothes, a nice hot meal
A place one can becomes one's best
A place where one's wounds fully heal

"All hands on deck!" echoes the command
Tired sailors comply without a groan
For one of the Captain's few demands
Is that none be left to drown alone

One of their own has lost his grip
And fallen into the murky deep
He desperately cries out for the ship
And the Captain begins to weep

He stops the ship, but does not turn it round ...

"Captain, shall we not turn back?
Our friend is out there in the black!
Instead of commanding, now you weep
While a sailor sinks in the deep!"

Looking in the Captain's eyes
This crewman sees his own mistake
For he should never have surmised
His leader could leave any in the wake

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving in 32 GIFs!



by Scott Heffernan:

It's Thanksgiving! Yay!


It's important to spend quality time with family…


And stay connected to your siblings.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Orson Scott Card’s Songmaster: The Power of Songs and Negative Emotions in Mormon Music



by Peter Shirts:


I recently read Orson Scott Card's early novel Songmaster (1980). I wanted to read the book not only because I like much of Card's writing, but because I'm a musician and was curious how Card would use music in his book. The story follows Ansset, a gifted orphan who has been brought up in a singing school, one that is known throughout the galaxy for producing young singers whose talent is so powerful that people will spend fortunes to host these singers, called "Songbirds," for just a few years. Ansset ends up singing for a ruthless emperor, perhaps inspired by the biblical story of David and Saul. The book could probably be categorized as science fiction, as the story takes places in a future where Earth has become the capitol of a huge galactic empire, but Card's use of music is more like a magic system in a fantasy novel. This "magic" is based on touching people emotionally, sometimes reflecting or amplifying their own emotions, at other times changing them completely. And in the book, music changed the course of history.

Can Music Really Change People's Emotions?

In this book, music bought large swaths of lands, inspired riots and suicides, brought communities together, and changed the way people thought. But often fantasy magic is used to amplify traits that already exist in reality. Can music really do all those things? Music can certainly galvanize people, change people's moods and even hearts, and help people to accumulate wealth. I think it is possible that prolonged listening of certain music could bring someone suicidal thoughts, but only if those feelings are already present to a degree (which is what happens in Songmaster). I think that Card is right that powerful, well-performed music can amplify what someone is already feeling, letting a person swim in those heightened emotions.

What is the source of the music's power over emotions? Is it the words that accompany the music or the music itself? Music's power is often not in the words, though words can bring associations that change the interpretation of the music. It is interesting that in Card's story, words are often not the most important part of a Songbird's power. Card chooses as his highest form of music a human voice that can communicate words, so words are somewhat important, but instead of composing words for songs and presenting those as a text, as is more common in a literature (which is built on words), Card often gives a summary of the lyrics and then tries to explain how the music conveys the feeling of the words. To accomplish this musical description, he delves into more music-specific vocabulary than is usually done by novelists (music, it turns out, is hard to describe with words, and so some writers just skip this). I think Card's choice to describe rather than simply provide words was a good one—it assigns the music power, which I think it more indicative of the mostly inexplicable way music actually works. Music is a language that is often left to the interpretation of the hearer, though it gives some symbols and markers that can point the interpretation in certain ways.

Mormon Music: Something's Missing?

While Card doesn't speak specifically about Mormon music in Songmaster, I feel that the book illuminates one critique of Mormon music. The book ends with the conclusion that songs are greater and more powerful when singers can express what might be called the negative emotions: pain, heartbreak, and tough experience. While I think there are arguments against this (certainly there is plenty of room for happy, optimistic, positive music in the world), in my study of music, I feel that the greatest music is often an exploration of negative emotions. Yet, these "negative" feelings that are mostly absent in Mormon music. Another thread throughout Songmaster is the idea of a singer expressing their own voice and songs instead of just copying others, another trait that is not necessarily condoned by Mormon culture, which places a great amount of emphasis on a fixed body of hymns, and (even outside of hymns) certain musical styles. Should we as Mormons encourage more unique voices in music? Should we also encourage art that expresses negative emotions?

I had an experience recently that illustrates how music can 1) express negative emotions, 2) amplify emotions, and 3) reflect back emotions. I was conducting the congregational closing hymn after a fast and testimony meeting. The hymn was Come, Come Ye Saints. Someone in the congregation had just given a testimony in which she talked about a friend who had died unexpectedly that week. When we got to the 4th verse ("and should we die ...") she started crying, which in turn made me start to cry, too. Clearly, the negative emotion expressed in the words was amplified by the music, causing her to re-experience her negative emotions. Then, that emotion (again carried by the music) was amplified back to me. While I can't say it was a pleasant experience, it was a powerful and testimony-building experience. And isn't this a type of experience that we should encourage in our worship services, services whose main topic is the atonement-enabled healing of negative emotions?

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 Peter Shirts has directed ward and stake choirs and has mastered the art of suggestion when he's not directing the church choir he's currently in. While at BYU, he co-founded an ensemble that played Klezmer (Eastern European Jewish music) and enjoyed teaching Mormons how to dance at Jewish weddings. After receiving 2.5 degrees in music and one degree in library science, he is currently gainfully employed as a music and audiovisual librarian in Honolulu, Hawaii, where he lives with his wife. He blogs weekly about musical things at www.signifyingsoundandfury.com.
 photo Line-625_zpse3e49f32.gifImage credit: Scott Heffernan (used with permission).

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Religious But Not Spiritual



by Reid:

This is part two of a two-part series. Part one - Spiritual But Not Religious - was posted yesterday.

My favorite photo from Thailand; a RBNS macaque in Lop Buri.

If spiritual but not religious (SBNR) is the movement that lulls the secular masses into a false sense of spiritual security, then religious but not spiritual (RBNS) is the equivalent amongst regular church goers. Whether it is the temple-going-returned-missionary whose apostasy you never saw coming, or your Christian friend whose lifestyle betrays no evidence of their born-again-and-go-to-church-every-Sunday faith, it is far too common for comfort. These are ever-present reminders that outward religiosity does not equate to actual spirituality.

Elder Donald L. Hallstrom spoke to the risking trend of RBNS in the church in the April 2012 General Conference:
Some have come to think of activity in the Church as the ultimate goal. Therein lies a danger. It is possible to be active in the Church and less active in the gospel. Let me stress: activity in the Church is a highly desirable goal; however, it is insufficient.
In Mormon circles, there is a great tendency to equate regular church attendance with having it all together spiritually. Most of us are guilty of going to lengths to cover our blemishes prior to showing up at sacrament meeting. Like a good actor, we're 'in character' for at least three hours every Sunday. Often, we become so good at it that our audience starts to believe it. In all honesty, I wouldn't have it any other way. We need as much practice as possible in being the person we would really like to be. But there is a fine line between putting on our Sunday best (literally and figuratively) and trying to appear to be someone we're not.

I love the assessment of Fr. James Martin who speaks out against the perils of both RBNS and SBNR:
"Religion without spirituality becomes a dry list of dogmatic statements divorced from the life of the spirit. This is what Jesus warned against. Spirituality without religion can become a self-centered complacency divorced from the wisdom of a community."
RBNS is every bit as unproductive for the pious as SBNR is for the secular. In truth, outward religious behavior that is not mirrored by internal spirituality is an "abomination" in God's eyes. The Lord said "they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me (Joseph Smith History 1:19)." For the purposes of this post, the Good News Translation of Isaiah 29:13 is very instructive (here for KJV):
The Lord said, "These people claim to worship me, but their words are meaningless, and their hearts are somewhere else. Their religion is nothing but human rules and traditions, which they have simply memorized." (GNT Isaiah 29:13)
The Lord is not interested in lip service, but "requireth the heart and a willing mind" (D&C; 64:34). It is far easier to memorize the rules and customs of a religious tradition and intermittently perform it's associated rites than it is to actually be spiritual—at least as defined by God (Romans 8:5-8). To do so is the essence of being RBNS. The RBNS have "a form of godliness, but [deny] the power thereof" and spend their efforts "ever learning [but] never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 3:5, 7). In some cases it is a deliberate attempt to appear to be something we are not. In most cases, it is unintentional. Either way, it amounts to Christianity-Lite. Though it may taste great, it is definitely less filling.

Elder Hallstrom went on to say: "We need the gospel and the Church. In fact, the purpose of the Church is to help us live the gospel." You can't have one without the other.

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Reid is an endocrinologist from Henderson, Nevada. He's blessed with wonderful wife and three great kids. His interests are charitably characterized as eclectic: cycling, fly-fishing, history, travel and the coinage of the Flavian dynasty of Imperial Rome. With a deep-seated belief that people habitually do dumb things, he's trying really hard to keep things positive. People are not making it any easier these days. The gospel has helped a lot. Blog: reidlitchfield.com.
 photo Line-625_zpse3e49f32.gifImage credit: Reid Litchfield (used with permission).

Monday, November 24, 2014

Spiritual But Not Religious



by Reid:

This is part one of a two-part series. Part two - Religious But Not Spiritual - will go up tomorrow.


I've never met Reverend Lillian Daniel, but hearing her call out the spiritual but not religious (SBNR) crowd on this podcast made me an instant fan (listen to her 3 minute audio clip here, transcript here).
"Being privately spiritual but not religious just doesn’t interest me. There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself. What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you. Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself."
I particularly enjoyed her jab about sunsets and beaches. So true! Fortunately, Reverend Daniel is not the only one that is standing up to the SBNR. Alan Miller sums things up nicely as well:
"... the spiritual but not religious reflect the 'me' generation of self-obsessed, truth-is-whatever-you-feel-it-to-be thinking, where big, historic, demanding institutions that have expectations about behavior, attitudes and observance and rules are jettisoned yet nothing positive is put in replacement."
OUCH! It turns out that SBNRism is pretty prevalent. A 1999 Gallup poll on American religious life found that 38% of respondents identified themselves as SBNR. A USA Today poll in 2010 found that 72% of millennials describe themselves using terms like SBNR. Furthermore, two-thirds of the respondents that identified themselves as "Christian" did not pray, read the Bible, and rarely or never attend worship services. Not good.

SBNRism is a very convenient philosophy for those trying to find the perfect Laodicean temperature on the 'commitment to God' scale (i.e. – lukewarm; see Revelation 3:14-16). It enables the adherent to rationalize the dissonance between the moral absolutes that have been the hallmark of organized religion for 6000 years, and the desire to live without boundaries. The formula is fairly simple: reject organized religion and embrace a spirituality that is so abstract that it can't be judged by anyone but yourself. In one fell swoop you are free of all the structure, demands and effort of religious devotion, while still proclaiming that you are every bit as spiritual as devoted churchgoers.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Memories Getting Dim: I Guess Some Things Never Leave You



by Jared Le Fevre:


I'm 40 years old and am starting to lose it in the memory department. Not in an early Alzheimer-y kind of way. More in the way of: I'm 40, work a lot, have five kids who never stop talking, and there is always someone who needs my time and my brain is too full to absorb/remember it all. Under those circumstances, who can remember everything that happened years ago?

Apparently some folks get disturbed that there are multiple accounts of the first vision, wherein Joseph Smith mentions some details and not others. The Church must have sensed the concern and felt the need to write an essay explaining it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Joseph Smith, Sausages, and My Testimony



by ldsbishop:


The West Wing episode "Five Votes Down" finds the senior White House staff in a race against time to find the extra votes they need to pass a gun control bill. Leo McGarry, the White House Chief of Staff remarks, "There are two things in the world you never want to let people see how you make 'em: laws and sausages."

I would add one more thing: religions.

I began to investigate The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2002, in my early twenties. I would receive the discussions from the missionaries, and with my appetite sufficiently whetted, in between the scripture reading and prayer they asked me to do, I would turn to the internet to find extra information.

In some ways, I count myself very lucky that I was able to integrate the awkward issues surrounding Church history into my testimony. By the time I entered the waters of baptism, I was well aware of the issues surrounding polygamy, race and the priesthood, the Book of Abraham, DNA evidence for the Book of Mormon and various other topics, none of which the missionaries, I suppose correctly, discussed with me. I was able to discuss these issues with my future father-in-law who would honestly answer my questions based on his cavernous knowledge of Church history.

A rather crude analogy would be that I was able to apply the above sausage rule in developing my testimony of the restored gospel. OK, so some strange ingredients were around but the end results still tasted good to me and I wanted some of it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Maturing Mormonism



by Pete Busche:


"From small beginnings…"

Every missionary for the past ten years knows the opening phrase from the 19-minute Joseph Smith "film." With over 15 million members (in the official Church statistics, the actual number of active members open to wide speculation), the growth of the Church is undeniable. Also undeniable are the identity/paradigm shifts that have taken place and MUST continue to take place to respond to changes in the world. It began with the influx of thousands of European converts combining with the tiny band crossing the West.

With the changes to family structure (polygamy/no polygamy?), demographic makeup (still very white, but soon will likely become majority non-), "hastening the work" (from "proselytizing unto the Lamanites," to now covering the world in zealous adolescents), etc. we ask ourselves, "Who are we? What does it mean to be a Mormon?"

Mormonism: A Comparison to Judaism and Catholicism

To anyone who reads blogs such as these (I'm a long-time MMM reader, first-time writer), it is clear Mormons are in the middle of a major identity reconfiguration. Will big tent Mormonism survive the recent excommunication purges? Can a conservative, slowly-progressing Church respond to a generation of Millennials that largely supports Marriage Equality, real diversity, openness, and transparency?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Visualizing Apostolic Succession



by Andrew Heiss:

Sam's recent post on church succession, showing which apostle has inherited which of the 15 proverbial apostolic chairs, gives a fascinating look into a version of church genealogy. Some of the seats have seen incredibly high turnover, like Seat 11 and its 11 occupants, or Seat 2 and its 10 occupants. Others haven't held that many people at all - President Monson has dominated Seat 10 for 51 years!

For fun and enjoyment (and because I do this stuff for a living), I took Sam's original seat classification and compiled a dataset of each apostle's seat number, date of apostolic calling, date of release, and reason for release, based on each apostle's Wikipedia entry. I followed Sam's seat classification even when it differs from Wikipedia's timeline - for example, Wikipedia states that George Q. Morris was ordained following the death of Matthew Cowley, while Sam puts the two in different seats.

Visualizing the seat turnover reveals some more interesting insights into the histories of each of the positions. Three of the seats (1, 6, and 11) saw three excommunications, while all ten of the apostles in Seat 2 somehow escaped any church discipline. It's kind of surprising to see how relatively recent the last excommunication was, with Richard R. Lyman in 1943.

Longevity is also readily visible. Not only has President Monson been in Seat 10 for half a century, he's in the same seat previously held by two other marathon apostles: Orson Pratt (46 years), and Heber J. Grant (63(!) years). Elder Oaks occupies a similarly long-tenured seat, and if he follows Ziff's actuarial tables, he'll hold onto that seat for years to come. None of the younger apostles (Elders Anderson, Bednar, Christofferson and Cook) are in long-tenured seats, but given their projected longevity, they each can build their own long legacies.

You can see a high resolution image of my graph below, or you can download the PDF version. You can also play with the data and the code used to generate the graph.

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Andrew Heiss is a doctoral student in public policy and political science at Duke University, where he researches international nongovernmental organizations in working in dictatorships. He also makes pretty books for the Maxwell Institute. He lives in Durham with his wife and three fantastic kids.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Nine Months With a Dumb Phone



by LJ:

So there was this one time I went from an iPhone 4 to a Nokia brick phone for nine months.

I downgraded because I was too tight-fisted to pay retail prices for a smart phone and because my inner hipster was reveling in the return to simplicity. (Or maybe it's my inner Luddite. Hard to tell.) I would eschew the time-suck of constant Internet access. I would curb the narcissist that lurks behind every Instagrammer. I would be better than all of you.

Let me spoil the ending for you: I am back in a smart phone. I took this photo with my Droid, which has a far better camera than the fancy point-and-shoot I bought in 2007. I texted it to several people, put it on Instagram, and then reveled in the validation that came rolling in.

So much for a return to simplicity.

However, this has been a return to convenience. This phone obeys some simple voice commands and frankly that makes me a little giddy. I can tell the robot inside to call my husband and it dials him for me. It makes a friendly pinging sound whenever someone validates me on social media or--even better!--tells me where the nearest QT is so I can get a giant cup of crushed ice. (Yes, I don't get out very much.)

All that being said, I don't regret the regression to Dumb Phone. It acted as a kind of reset for me, a chance to clear my head and realize I was becoming a total screen monkey. With my little umbilical charger cord severed, I spent 300% less time on the Internet. I called people instead of texting. I rediscovered how much I hated texting with T9. I paid more attention to my kids. I read more books.

Now that I find myself back among Smart Phone users, I have to find a balance. I can appreciate voice commands, the fancy camera, picture texting, mobile Skype and Voxer. (Seriously guys, it's an app that turns your phone into a walkie-talkie, which should appeal to the 5th grader in all of us.) I can also turn it off, put it down, and remember that my time is too precious to spend constantly losing on Candy Crush.

How do you find a balance?

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Laurie Jayne (LJ) Stradling began her writing career with horrible grade-school poetry (the kind with illustrations in the margins). She has since moved onto blogging and the occasional piece of fiction, which has improved slightly since she gave up the illustrations. LJ is a quiet feminist, a loud mom, a well-kept wife and a fervent believer in prayer. She also believes that most dogs came to the earth after the Fall of Adam. Twitter: @lauriestradling.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

It’s a Small (Mormon) World



by Eliana:


I have a recurring dream, maybe two or three times a year. I walk into sacrament meeting and see a new family. New to the ward that is: an ex-boyfriend, his wife and a pile of kids. In the nightmare it is just awkward all the time, not dramatic, but I don’t really want a calling with this woman and don’t want to share a pew with a man who broke my heart.

We all know the do you know? game in Mormondom, based on mission or where you once lived. The weirdest part, the reason we keep doing it despite the long odds, is that often we meet someone we are connected to. I’d like to share three stories of my own about the small, small world of church members. Some are great moments, others an unwelcome blast from left field.
  • Freshman year in college at BYU I had five roommates. One of them mentioned my name to her father on the phone. Yada yada yada, he and my dad were mission companions. Interestingly, both had first daughters whom they gave weird names to. More interesting were the stories from both parties.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

LDS Women Are Incredible [Novelists]!



by Theric Jepson:

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This year it's #GamerGate; last year it was Ohio football players. Although most of the reliable numbers say that women are doing much better on most hard measures, culturally, here in the U.S., a lot of men are still ******s. And we can't look at men threatening to kill women who wear pants to Church and claim that we as Latter-day Saints are untouched by this ugly aspect of our culture. Alas, our sad experience matches Joseph Smith's: it appears to be "the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority . . . [to] exercise unrighteous dominion." And let's be honest: we men hold a substantial percentage of the Church's power, nice little bromides notwithstanding. The problem of course is that it can be difficult to really understand what it's like to be a woman in the Church when you are, in fact, a man in the Church. But! As science proves (literally, Science), reading fiction can increase our empathy, help us understand others, make us better people. (I'm stretching the findings a bit now, but an increase in empathy fits my definition of "better people" pretty well).

And so, to increase the Modern Mormon Man's performance as a decent human being, I present some fiction. Three novels written by two LDS women that can increase our understanding of their lives and those circumstances unique to them and separate from us.

Paso Doble and We Were Gods by Moriah Jovan

Moriah may now and then claim to be nothing more than a bawdy romance novelist, but those of us who've read her know better. With her latest pair of books, she explores the adult lives of twins Victoria and Étienne. The first novel deals with the sister, the second with the brother. But it's equally true that this is a pair of books about how women can get lost in the cultural prescriptions placed upon Latter-day Saints---the first novel about a single woman past her twenties, the second about her sister-in-law who married young.

Both books feature typical Jovanian heroes who take up as much space as Greek gods. Each character is bigger and better and broader than the last, and their clashes are epic.

Victoria, the first novel's protagonist, is brash and thoughtless and no longer has any expectation of marrying. She's too old and has too much personality. Her romantic conflicts within the Church lead indirectly to her being ostracized from the Church when she begins dating a celebrity "manslut." Victoria's extended virginity (and the white-knuckled grip with which she holds onto to it) lead to some of the most educational passages about female sexuality I've read---and her thinking about her role as a Mormon woman are similarly enlightening.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Saintspeak 24: The Letter S, Part 3



by Seattle Jon:

Another installment from Saintspeakthe mormon humor dictionary from Orson Scott Card. Previous installments can be found here. Reproduced with permission from Signature Books.

Spirit Prison  Where the missionaries will finally get to visit all the people who never answered their doors.

Set Apart  The point of no return: Once you're set apart, you can't turn down the calling.

Stake  An organization with no congregation. Half the people in your ward that you think are inactive or dead just have stake callings.

Stake Conference  The famous Mormon Mother Survival Test, in which participants are required to tend at least three children for two whole hours, struggling to keep them quiet on metal chairs in a room with an incredibly loud echo. There is no requirement that mothers be sane afterward, or even ambulatory. They only have to have a pulse and still be able to find the Cheerios bag within five minutes upon request.

Stake House  The old term for a stake center. It was changed because too many nonmembers were getting the wrong idea about what Mormons did on Sunday, for what they heard was: "Oh, I've just been over to the steak house."

Handbook of Instructions (1940): Raffling and Games of Chance



by Seattle Jon:

My youngest brother gifted me a 1940 Handbook of Instructions issued by Heber J. Grant, J. Reuben Clark, Jr. and David O. McKay. At 170 pages, the handbook is much shorter then our current versions (Handbook 1 alone is 186 pages) and contains some interesting rules, regulations and language which I'll share over time.

Raffling and Games of Chance

The attitude of the Church with respect to raffling and games of chance is clearly expressed by those who have and do now preside over the church.

President Smith said, "Raffling is a game of chance, and hence leads to gambling. For that reason, if for no other, it should not be encouraged among the young people of the Church."

President Young declared raffling to be a modified form of gambling and said that "As Latter-day Saints we cannot afford to sacrifice moral principles to financial gain."

President Lorenzo Snow endorsed and approved of these statements when he said, "I have often expressed my unqualified disapproval of raffling."

President Grant says, "I have always understood that our people were advised to raise their money for charitable and ward purposes without indulging in raffling, where chances are sold. There is no objection to creating competition in various ways in ward entertainments in order to raise money, but the selling of chances on any article has been discouraged."

It is urged that the spirit of these instructions be followed and the element of chance eliminated in efforts to raise money.

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Seattle Jon is a family man, little league coach, urban farmer and businessman living in Seattle. He currently gets up early with the markets to trade bonds for a living. In his spare time he enjoys movies, thrifting and is an avid reader. He is a graduate of Brigham Young University and the Japan Fukuoka mission field. He has one wife, four kids and three chickens.

Monday, November 10, 2014

LDS Succession Considered to Excess



by Sam Orme:

Listening to General Conference a few weeks ago (which was fantastic, and available in full online, and you should go back and read or re-read it all) got me thinking about the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The most recent addition to the quorum was Neal L. Andersen, who replaced Joseph B. Wirthlin upon his death. That made me stop and wonder: who did Elder Wirthlin replace? I did a little digging and found that he replaced Spencer W. Kimball.


I started to imagine the quorum as a table surrounded by fifteen chairs (twelve members of the quorum plus the three members of the First Presidency, who are also Apostles). When one member of the quorum leaves, his chair is moved to the back of the line of seniority, and someone takes his place. It's the same chair, though, in this scenario. You could imagine that Elder Andersen moved into Elder Wirthlin's office after it was vacated. So what if each man who sat in that chair, or worked out of that office, carved his name in it? What would those lists look like of who sat in each chair over the years?

It's a little trickier than you'd think, as it turns out. The quorum began with twelve members, but the practice of replacing members was much more fluid in the early days of the Church, and the practice of having three members of the quorum (again, for a total of fifteen) serve in the First Presidency didn't really gain steam until the early 1900s, so getting an exact sense of who is taking which seat and which seats are empty for the first sixty years or so was challenging. But that's no reason to back down, right?

We start with the original twelve members of the quorum, in order of seniority. Let's number each of their chairs around the table (or offices at Church HQ, if you'd prefer):

1. Thomas B. Marsh
2. David W. Patten
3. Brigham Young
4. Heber C. Kimball
5. Orson Hyde
6. William E. McLellin
7. Parley P. Pratt
8. Luke S. Johnson
9. William Smith
10. Orson Pratt
11. John F. Boynton
12. Lyman E. Johnson

Those are the twelve chairs we'll be carving names into. (The remaining three chairs come up a few years later, shortly after the death of Joseph Smith.) (You'll notice Joseph Smith's name doesn't appear on any of these chairs; he was never properly a member of the Quorum of the Twelve.) I'll spare you the chronology of men moving in and out of these seats, but just list below each seat's history. To me, at least, it's really interesting to see which seats had many occupants and which had few, as well as the relative prominence of each seat's occupants. Take a look:

Seat 1
Thomas B. Marsh
Lyman Wight
Charles C. Rich
John W. Taylor
Orson F. Whitney
Charles A. Calliss
Delbert L. Stapley
James E. Faust
Quentin L. Cook

Seat 2
David W. Patten
Willard Richards
Jedediah M. Grant
Daniel H. Wells
John Henry Smith
James E. Talmadge
Alonzo A. Hinckley
Sylvester Q. Cannon
Ezra Taft Benson
Jeffrey R. Holland

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Response to Bishop Mark Paredes



by Kyle:


Hey Bishop Mark Paredes,

I’m not gonna lie, your article over at Jewish Journal was not cool. Like really not cool. Like “omg I can’t believe a bishop actually wrote this and thought it was a good idea to put it on the internet” not cool.

But that’s okay. I believe we all make mistakes, and we can more often than not fix those mistakes. And as a Democrat I believe that you’re just so incredibly wrong. But what I want to tell you is not how wrong you are about Harry Reid (I mean…do you even know him?), or how wrong you are about the Democratic Party (again, terribly wrong), but how wrong you are as a bishop.

You see, Mark, you’re a man with religious authority and responsibility. You oversee the saints in your ward, and you have authority over them. You have used your position in the church to spew some pretty harmful words that will put you at odds with your congregation. And by so doing, I believe you have tainted the very calling in which you serve.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

How to Read More Books



by Seattle Jon:


After reading forty-four books in 2009, I set a goal to read at least fifty a year for the rest of my life. Except for 2011, when I only read thirty-three, I've hit that goal. This year I've made a few changes to how and when I read and I have an outside shot at seventy books. Here is what I changed this year.
  1. Read at least five books at the same time. I've been reading 2-3 books at the same time for years, but this year I've tried to keep at least five (usually more) in my rotation. I've also tried to keep a nice mix of genres – religious, sci-fi, humor, classics, financial, historical, horror, self-help – on my nightstand. This way, when I sit down to read, I am guaranteed to find a book that fits my mood. If you only read one book at a time and the book doesn't fit your mood, you either won't read or won't read for long.
  2. Keep car stocked with small books. I am in thrift stores a few times a week. Thrift stores are a great source for cheap books, especially those 99-cent one-hundred pagers. I stock up on these and keep them in the driver's side door of my car for quick reading at lights or for those times I arrive ten minutes early to pick a kid up at soccer. My current stock includes Conan by Robert Howard, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, The Mark of the Beast and Other Short Stories by Rudyard Kipling, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and Amazon Planet by Mack Reynolds. Solitaire on my iPhone has been getting less use as a result of this change.
  3. Listen to audiobooks. Last year, I listened to every episode of nine different podcasts during my commute. I lowered that to two this year (but still selectively follow the other seven). I'll get through another 10-15 books a year by adding audiobooks to my day.
  4. Utilize my local library. I don't buy audiobooks, I reserve titles I want through my local library. I also keep a long list of books I want to read, and rather than wait for them to show up at my local thrift shop I check them out at the library. Due dates are also a great way to give yourself that extra push to finish up a book.
  5. "Finish" authors or find a list to finish. We all have favorite authors – have you read every book they've written? If not, "finish" the author and figure out a way to be alerted every time they write something new. Or, get a list from someone you trust and read all the books on their list. I've been working on Eliana's list of books every Mormon should read and have finished five of the ten books she recommends with two more waiting on my nightstand.
  6. Use Goodreads. I've been tracking what I read since 1999 and it's all in Goodreads. I also use the service to identify other books I might like or to make sure I'm not missing some book from one of my favorite authors. I don't use the site's social features, but I know some people who like them. The stats button under My Books can be motivating – at least it is to me. I want this year's bars for books and pages read to be higher than last year's!
What about you – any strategies I haven't listed that help you read more books?

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Seattle Jon is a family man, little league coach, urban farmer and businessman living in Seattle. He currently gets up early with the markets to trade bonds for a living. In his spare time he enjoys movies, thrifting and is an avid reader. He is a graduate of Brigham Young University and the Japan Fukuoka mission field. He has one wife, four kids and three chickens.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

GIF Out the Vote



by Kyle:

If you live in the U.S. then you probably know that today is Election Day. If you don't know it's probably because you live in a very red or blue state and have zero campaign ads on your TV. You lucky jerks.

I love Election Day. Not just because I work for political campaigns, but because it's the one day every two years where we get to overthrow the government, or bolster your party's influence, depending on what side you're voting for.

I'm not going to write a long post about the teachings of church leaders as to why you should exercise your right to vote. Or about how important being a part of the democratic process is to making sure Joseph Smith's prophesy about the constitution hanging by a thread and the only people who can save it are us Mormons comes to past. I'll just simply say:

This stuff is important. Federal, state, and local all have major impacts on your life.

So please. Go *vote. Don't know where your polling place is? Find out here.

If you still need a little extra motivation to go vote, then perhaps this GIF Out the Vote will help.

You don't have to be a genius to vote (but seriously, it helps if you read even just a little about the candidates and ballot measures before you vote).


Monday, November 3, 2014

That One Time CES Didn't Hire Us Because I was "Different"



by Kristine A:


Once upon a time I was a newlywed; a newlywed with a husband trying to be a Seminary teacher back in the Ricks College days that had an East Idaho Pre-Seminary (OPT) training program. So I took Religion 370, Intro to Teaching, in Fall 2001 along with my husband. I forget all the details back in the day, but we progressed through the program to where he was teaching seminary part-time at Madison, Sugar City, and Mud Lake High Schools. We were in our final semester where you are up for hire and it's pretty intense and down to the wire. I remember this last semester there are a few things they do to screen applicants:
  1. Lots of in class evaluations by OPT area supervisor.
  2. Spouse survey.
  3. Meeting with CES hierarchy, if you pass middle management interview. I think there may have been a GA interview at the end right before hire.
We had a few things going against us:
  1. The OPT area supervisor didn't like my husband. My husband didn't like him. They both thought that the other had a too high opinion of themselves and constantly tried to take each other down a notch. In retrospect it was entertaining.
  2. I don't like being manipulated and I have a strong personality.

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