Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Denied a Voice- administrative reluctance to "ruffle feathers" in the LDS Church.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Seer

One of the favorite sources to site for many critics of the 'Mormon' Church is The Seer a mid 19th century collection of writings by LDS Apostle Orson Pratt. The Seer (which I have not read) reportedly contains some of the odder statements ever made by a high ranking Church leader. It is important to note when encountering material from The Seer, its official statues, even at the time, as not of authoritative doctrine for the LDS Church. Brigham Young and all members of the Church's two highest governing bodies (save maybe Pratt himself) issued this statement in regards to the text under consideration:

"Proclamation of the First Presidency and Twelve, October 21, 1865

But the Seer, The Great First Cause, the article in the Millennial Star of October 15th, and November 1, 1850, on the Holy Spirit, and the first half of the tract, also on the Holy Spirit, contain doctrines which we cannot sanction, and which we have felt impressed to disown, so that the Saints who now live, and who may live hereafter, may not be misled by our silence, or be left to misinterpret it. Where these objectionable works, or parts of works, are bound in volumes, or otherwise, they should be cut out and destroyed; with proper care this can be done without much, if any, injury to the volumes."

Even the texts author would record his almost instantaneous acquiesce to the Church's decision (he was apparently even in London at the time):

"DEAR BRETHREN, -Permit me to draw your attention to the proclamation of the First Presidency and Twelve, published in the DESERT NEWS, and copied into the MILLENNIAL STAR of the 21st inst., in which several publications that have issued from my pen are considered objectionable. I, therefore, embrace the present opportunity of publicly expressing my most sincere regret, that I have ever published the least thing which meets with the disapprobation of the highest authorities of the Church; and I do most cordially join with them in the request, that you should make such dispositions of the publications alluded to, as counselled in their proclamation.
London, Oct. 25, 1865"

As pointed out by others some material in The Seer may be sound, as only those aspects associated with the Holy Spirit were specifically cited by the Church for disapproval. Never-the-less it is important to remember that there has always been and likely will always continue to be varying degrees of disagreement between the many leaders in the LDS Church, there for, don't believe everything you read about the Mormons, even if Mormons are the ones saying it.

The Occult, Science, and Joseph Smith

Just finished a rather interesting little article by David Grandy a philosophy professor at BYU. The article is entitled Science and the Occult: Where the Twain Meet, and appeared in the July/August 2004 issue of Historically Speaking magazine. In the piece professor Grandy talks about the seemingly contradictory beliefs held by many great scientists, that reflect the cultural Zeitgeist of their times. For example, while Sir. Isaac Newton was the founding father of our modern understanding of physics, he was also involved in a protracted search for ‘the philosophers stone’, which was said to hold the secret of eternal life (see: Harry Potter book 1). Arthur Russell Wallace co-formulator along with Darwin of the theory of evolution believed in Spiritualism (seances and such), as did Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the supremely logical Sherlock Holmes. The point is that highly capable and intelligent men who helped bring about some of the great discovers of all time, could also hold beliefs now considered anathema to reason. Therefore the logical extension, which I’m sure professor Grandy was more then mindful of when formulating his thoughts on this subject, is that Joseph Smith could easily have believed in finding treasure through seer stones and the like, and have that be historically consistent with being a great bearer of world challenging truth, or at least competent theory. Any thoughts?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Immaculate Body of Saint Bernadette

Several months ago, while flipping through the channels on a Sunday morning, I came across a program on the Travel Channel that made known me to the ‘miracle’ or the Immaculate Body of Saint Bernadette. Of course I had long been familiar with the earthly story of Bernadette of Lourdes, both through the classic 1943 film The Song of Bernadette staring Jennifer Jones and Vincent Price, and late 80’s early 90’s commercials for her collectible plate. What I did not know however was the story of what happened to her body after her death. Because this story is somewhat involved I’ll simply reproduce it from the entry there-on at

“After thirty years undisturbed in the tomb, Sister Marie Bernard's body was exhumed for examination. The cause for sainthood had begun. When the stone was lifted from the vault, the coffin was immediately seen. It was carried to the room prepared for it and placed on two trestles covered with a cloth. On one side was a table covered with a white cloth. The remains of Bernadette were to be placed on this table. The wooden coffin was unscrewed and the lead coffin cut open to reveal the body in a state of perfect preservation. There was not the slightest trace of an unpleasant smell. The Sisters who had buried her thirty years earlier noted only that her hands had fallen slightly to the left. The words of the surgeon and the doctor, who were under oath, speak for themselves:

"The coffin was opened in the presence of the Bishop of Nevers, the mayor of the town, his principal deputy, several canons and ourselves. We noticed no smell. The body was clothed in the habit of Bernadette's order. The habit was damp. Only the face, hands and forearms were uncovered."

"The head was tilted to the left. The face was dull white. The skin clung to the muscles and the muscles adhered to the bones. The eye sockets were covered by the eyelids. The brows were flat on the skin and stuck to the arches above the eyes. The lashes of the right eyelid were stuck to the skin. The nose was dilated and shrunken. The mouth was open slightly and it could be seen that the teeth were still in place. The hands, which were crossed on her breast, were perfectly preserved, as were the nails. The hands still held a rusting rosary. The veins on the forearms stood out."

"Like the hands, the feet were wizened and the toenails were still intact (one of them was torn off when the corpse was washed). When the habits had been removed and the veil lifted from the head, the whole of the shriveled body could be seen, rigid and taut in every limb. It was found that the hair, which had been cut short, was stuck to the head and still attached to the skull, that the ears were in a state of perfect preservation, that the left side of the body was slightly higher than the right from the hip up. The stomach had caved in and was taut like the rest of the body. It sounded like cardboard when struck. The left knee was not as large as the right. The ribs protruded as did the muscles in the limbs."

"So rigid was the body that it could be rolled over and back for washing. The lower parts of the body had turned slightly black. This seems to have been the result of the carbon of which quite large quantities were found in the coffin."

In witness of which we have duly drawn up this present statement in which all is truthfully recorded. Nevers, September 22, 1909, Drs. Ch. David, A. Jourdan.

The nuns washed the body, and placed it in a new coffin that was lined with zinc and padded with white silk. In the few hours in which it had been exposed to the air, the body had started turning black. The double coffin was closed, soldered, screwed down and sealed with seven seals. The workmen again returned Bernadette's body to the vault. It was 5.30 p.m. by the time the examination had been completed.The fact that Bernadette's body was perfectly preserved is not necessarily miraculous. It is well known that corpses decompose to varying degrees in certain kinds of soil and may gradually mummify. However, in the case of Bernadette this mummification is quite astounding. Her illnesses and the state of her body at the time of death, and the humidity in the vault in the chapel of Saint–Joseph (the habit was damp, the rosary rusty and the crucifix had turned green), would all seem to be conducive to the decay of the flesh.

Ten years later, on April 3, 1919, another identification of the body of the venerable Bernadette was mandated. Doctor Talon and Doctor Comte conducted the examination in the presence of the Bishop of Nevers, the police commissioner, and representatives of the municipalities and church tribunal. Everything was just the same as at the first exhumation. Oaths were sworn, the vault was opened, the body transferred to a new coffin and reburied, all in accordance with canon and civil law. After the doctors had examined the body, they retired alone to separate rooms to write their personal reports without being able to consult each other.The two reports coincided perfectly with each other and also with Doctors Jourdan and David's report of 1909. There was one new element concerning the state of the body. This was the existence of "patches of mildew and a layer of salt which seems to be calcium salt," and which were probably the result of the body having been washed during the first exhumation.

"When the coffin was opened the body appeared to be absolutely intact and odorless." (Dr. Talon was more specific: "There was no smell of putrefaction and none of those present experienced any discomfort.") The body is practically mummified, covered with patches of mildew and quite a notable layer of salts, which appear to be calcium salts. The skeleton is complete, and it was possible to carry the body to a table without any trouble. The skin has disappeared in some places, but it is still present on most parts of the body. Some of the veins are still visible."
At 5 p.m. that evening the body was reburied in the chapel of Saint–Joseph in the presence of the Bishop, Mother Forestier and the police commissioner. Here are some passages from Doctor Comte's report :

"At the request of the Bishop of Nevers I detached and removed the rear section of the fifth and sixth right ribs as relics; I noted that there was a resistant, hard mass in the thorax, which was the liver covered by the diaphragm. I also took a piece of the diaphragm and the liver beneath it as relics, and can affirm that this organ was in a remarkable state of preservation. I also removed the two patella bones to which the skin clung and which were covered with more clinging calcium matter. Finally, I removed the muscle fragments right and left from the outsides of the thighs. These muscles were also in a very good state of preservation and did not seem to have putrefied at all."

"From this examination I conclude that the body of the Venerable Bernadette is intact, the skeleton is complete, the muscles have atrophied, but are well preserved; only the skin, which has shriveled, seems to have suffered from the effects of the damp in the coffin. It has taken on a grayish tinge and is covered with patches of mildew and quite a large number of crystals and calcium salts, but the body does not seem to have putrefied, nor has any decomposition of the cadaver set in, although this would be expected and normal after such a long period in a vault hollowed out of the earth."
-Nevers, April 3, 1919, Dr. Comte

In 1925, the third and final exhumation of the body was conducted. This was the occasion during which relics of the sacred body of Bernadette would be taken. Doctor Comte was again asked to conduct the procedure. Once the surgical part was over, he had the body swathed in bandages leaving only the face and hands free. Bernadette's body was then put back into the coffin, but left uncovered. At this point, a precise imprint of the face was molded so that the firm of Pierre Imans in Paris could make a light wax mask based on the imprints and on some genuine photos. This was common practice for relics in France, as it was feared that although the body was mummified, the blackish tinge to the face and the sunken eyes and nose would make an unpleasant impression on the public. Imprints of the hands were also taken for the presentation of the body. Three years later in 1928, Doctor Comte published a report on the exhumation of the Blessed Bernadette in the second issue of the Bulletin de I'Association medicale de Notre–Dame de Lourdes.

"I would have liked to open the left side of the thorax to take the ribs as relics and then remove the heart which I am certain must have survived. However, as the trunk was slightly supported on the left arm, it would have been rather difficult to try and get at the heart without doing too much noticeable damage. As the Mother Superior had expressed a desire for the Saint's heart to be kept together with the whole body, and as Monsignor the Bishop did not insist, I gave up the idea of opening the left-hand side of the thorax and contented myself with removing the two right ribs which were more accessible."

"What struck me during this examination, of course, was the state of perfect preservation of the skeleton, the fibrous tissues of the muscles (still supple and firm), of the ligaments, and of the skin, and above all the totally unexpected state of the liver after 46 years. One would have thought that this organ, which is basically soft and inclined to crumble, would have decomposed very rapidly or would have hardened to a chalky consistency. Yet, when it was cut it was soft and almost normal in consistency. I pointed this out to those present, remarking that this did not seem to be a natural phenomenon."

A crystal coffin was made for Saint Bernadette's body. She was placed in a chapel in the Church of St. Gildard at the convent in Nevers where she lived for thirteen years. She has remained undisturbed and on view in this chapel since August 3, 1925. The Sisters of Charity and Christian Instruction at Nevers are not secretive about the body of St. Bernadette. They welcome visitors, and encourage learning about the life example and messages of their sister saint.”

Here is a link to some pictures to demonstrate:

Anyway, this is pretty crazy stuff, weird but impressive. How does one account for this? Is it a miracle? In discussion with my friend Joe on this issue he informed me that his father had visited Lourdes years ago, seen the body, and was not impressed. The theory goes that St. Bernadette was chemically treated with advanced preservation techniques by Catholics attempting to fake a miracle. However I don’t think even modern preservation techniques are that good, and if you look at the body of Lenin, preserved in Russia some 45 years later, it's not as well perseved, and I doubt even the Sovits where then half a century behind the French in that regard. So what are we to make of St. Bernadette, I for one am just totally baffled.

The Creation Guild

A long time family friend of mine Steve A. Jacob passed away last week after a six month battle with Bile Duct Cancer, funeral services were held today. Mere weeks before his passing Steve put the finishing touches on his first book, a fantasy novel set in the pre-existence about the battle between Michael the Archangel and Lucifer. He had been trying for some time to get it published by a Mormon press, but they where reluctant, I suppose given the speculative nature of the thing. Now a national press has agreed to publish the book, which should be available in a couple of months. As a tribute to him I thought I’d provide the address for the books website. All curious are advised to check it out at:
Thank you

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Big Love: Season 1 (2006)

(Utah, contmporary)

A quirky/poignant drama ala HBO’s Six Feet Under, only dealing with polygamy rather then undertakers, Big Love is the type of program that just gives people at LDS Church public relations headaches. They fail to see a reason for it, as do many other Latter-day Saints, to them it just brings up awkward issues from the past they would rather be forgotten. In fact the official Church response to the program, issued March 6th 2006, goes so far as to say the following: “Big Love, like so much other television programming, is essentially lazy and indulgent entertainment that does nothing for our society and will never nourish great minds.” Ouch, that’s about as hostel as their likely to get in an official statement.

Yet I wonder if this is just another example of the tendency among mainline Mormons to avoid dealing with the tricky issues that abound in our tradition. We (as a whole) don’t like to think about them, we don’t like to have to address them, whether in Church, conversation with a non-member friend, or in popular entertainment. We can handle a brief joke or two on occasion, and once in a great while spend an evening pondering “The mystery’s of the Kingdom” with friends, yet to encounter something like polygamy in a modern context is discomforting for your average LDS, and here is where I think Big Love provides a potential service.

No doubt the bulk of the audience for Big Love, like the other racy HBO family drama’s, is not going to be LDS. Though having now watched the entire first season, it would certainly help the viewer if they were. Distinct LDS references, along with those to the broader Mormon tradition are dropped with little or no elaboration, terms like “sealing” and “garment” and “temple recommend”, may not be fully understood by “gentile” viewers not immersed in our own unique jargon. Though despite this, Utah’s largely Latter-day Saint populace acts as a kind of stand-in for the viewers perspective, the ’regular people’ who encounter, to one degree or another, the polygamous Henrickson clan around whom the series centers. This ironically is something your average member could support, having the “Mormons” on the show be the ‘regular guy’s’, yet then they have to encounter the “Mormons” of a quasi-19th century variety, which brings the typical Saint back into uncomfortable territory. Before I go one I do need to stop and acknowledge the semi-explicate depictions of sex on the show, though adding that other then a cameo appearance by Bill Pullmans posterior, no real nudity is shown. This degree of sexual frankness will be anathema to many members, yet also provides a convent cover for them dismissing the show, and by extension, the things it may have to teach us.

I’m afraid I have to take some exception to the folks at PR, but my “great mind” found some nourishment in Big Love, it found a rare canvas on which is depicted the cognitive dissidence of Mormonism past and present, where big business achievement and mounting credit card debt come face to face with sister wives and communal orders. Here we have a character, a successful businessman by the last name of Kimball, who invites our major male protagonist Bill Henrickson, (the owner of a growing chain of Utah based home improvement stories) into a civic organization composed of Salt Lake area business owners.Kimball is the epitome of the modern successful Mormon, he even has a rather common Mormon last name, one shared with a dynasty of LDS Church leaders going back to the earliest days of the movement. Kimball see’s I think a bit of himself in Bill Henrickson, and is practically impressed by his compelling narrative, having been thrown out a polygamous group at the age of 14, and then building himself a life and successful career as a “true” Latter-day Saint. Bill used to tell this story on a kind of inspirational circuit, while a practicing member of the mainline Church, before circumstances thrust him back into the world of polygamy. That Kimball finds this all so compelling and heroic is ironic in term of his name and his heritage, he says he can’t get over the barbarism of the modern fundamentalist, yet they practice what in the 19th Century would have made him the definition of a successful Latter-day Saint. Heber C. Kimball by the way, was the only Mormon Church leader of his day to have more plural wives then Brigham Young.

The way all the mainline Mormon characters deal with polygamy is in fact fascinating. Hendrickson daughter Sarah’s (Amanda Seyfried) best friend Heather (Tina Majorino) is a “Molly Mormon” who has some “very strong views on polygamy”, yet keep’s the Henderson’s secret out loyalty to her friend. First wife Barbara’s (Jeanne Tripplehorn) sister Cindy, likewise telegraphs a desire to get her nieces and nephew away from those practicing “The Principle”, but keeps mum to the authorities because she doesn’t want to inflict any destruction on her family. Even the Henrickson’s lawyer, played by former Clinton staffer Lawrence O’Donnell Jr., chooses to treat them simply as clients and friends, making no apparent judgment calls. In fact what was once called ’the Mormon Creed’, “Mind your own business”, seems to still be in effect among many of these Latter-day Saints, which perhaps explains why practice of ’the principle’ has remained such an open secret in stretches of the mountain west.

There are those among the LDS by-and-large who might have interest in exposing the Henrickson’s, but here they take the form of the sitcom staple ’nosey neighbors’ (who’d like to fellowship that ’single mother’ across the street into the Church) and a women of obsessive tendencies. By keeping mostly to themselves and taking a few other common sense precautions, the Hendrickson’s can functioning rather well in the modern world, where the biggest issue might be who runs who to their recital or baseball practice.

The Henrickson’s have those average, every-day problems, but there dramatic significance is heightened by having them played out among three wives and seven children. First wife Barb balances a career as a substitute teacher with family responsibilities and feels as though her husband has been “stolen away” from her by his other ’responsibilities’. Second wife Nikki (Chloe: Sevigny), who grow up on the polygamous compound of Juniper Creek, has succumbed to a shopping addiction now that she is out among the modern world, and tries desperately to keep the existence of her excessive debt from her husband, lashing out at others in the family in ac effort to deflect her mounting sense of personal guilt. Third wife Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin), only 23, is suffering the standard feelings of isolation and overwhelment that affect young mothers. All the while son Ben (Douglas Smith) struggles with puberty and a sexually aggressive girlfriend, and daughter Sarah copes with intense social unease. These are all typical modern problems, very 21st Century, very contemporary Mormon, save for the marital arrangements, they could be any Wasatch area family.

No the Mormon past comes more to the front in the form of Juniper Creek, the polygamist compound in which Bill grew up, and too which he reluctantly returned seven years prior, when his wife had cancer and he desperately needed a loan. Trips to visit relatives in the desert community, and visits from members of a vastly extensive family bring that place, and that life style, to the forefront. While 19th Century in its social arrangements and cultural conceptions (one polygamist wife viewing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on television mutters “uppity”), it to, like the Henrickson’s suburban homes, is also in dissonance to a modern reality. Cheaply constructed country homes whose residents drive Hummers, plural wives tending the field and polishing the private plane. It’s a world of both pot lucks, and corporate style board meetings. All presided over by a cowboy hat wearing prophet, a former accountant who enjoys folk songs and the poetry of Emily Dickinson (Harry Dean Stanton). He’s authoritarian, yet genial, ruthless, but sentimental. At 76 years of age the importance of sex has waned in his mind, yet he keeps 14 wives including a 15 year old he seems more interested in teaching diction to then sleeping with.

The modern and primitive join hands and show there not that different, which is perhaps more disconcerting then comforting to the modern Mormon mind, even if we’re not likely to tell you that. (When you talk to a young Mormon women about polygamy, their response will most likely boil down to, “I’m glade I don’t have to deal with it, we don’t practice that anymore“.) When some long time polygamous wives are told they are to be reassigned when their husband falls out of favor with the groups leader, Bill tell’s them they don’t have to listen to him. “But he’s the one true prophet of the Lord” one responds. When Bill’s brother Joey confesses to Barb that he is a closet monogamist, but won’t tell his wife Wanda that he doesn’t want another wife, because he knows she’ll be upset, fearing they then won’t be able to go to the Celestial Kingdom, I see the modern parallels, and wonder how many other Mormons can be brought to acknowledge them. The source of the greatest meaning in their lives is also the source of most of their pain, yet they cling to ‘the principle’ as many of us cling to the Church, because it has become or axis, and we’ll never be able to see our own spirituality through any other prism. This may be good, this may be bad, but its something were wedded to as Mormons, a light by which we both see and are blinded.

I am thankful for Big Love. Thankful for the odd kind of Mormon every-family that are the Henrickson’s. Their adventures in dissonance truly nourish my soul, and expand my mind.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

What's your Theological Worldview- I guess I'm Emergent Postmodern.
The Death Clock. The second time I tried this, after adjusting my stats to better reflect my present state, it eerily gave me a date of death within six months of my long held fictional death date, May 28th 2058. Creepy.
The Book of Zelph. A Cynical satire on certain aspects of Mormonism, but I appreciate a certain exactness, and that you really have to know a fair bit about Mormonism to truly appreciate it.
"It's a Two Way Street"
Boise's Basque sister city
Predestination Vs. Calvinism. These to things are intemently associated with each other, yet there is a apparent difference, as I've heard an increasing number of Calvinists assert over say the past five years. I always found Predestination to be a particularly loathsome doctrine.
I remember hearing people talk about the World Wide Church of God on my mission. Apparently they were considered quite a scandal in the Protestant world, for daring to embrace some theological innovations pioneered by Mormons, Adventists, and Jehovah's Witnesses.
A New Direction for Sunstone, I remain dubious

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Lazy Faith- Couldn't have said it better myself.
Things to do in Boise.

James E. Faust: 1920-2007

Let’s pause a moment to morn the passing of James Edras Faust, a General Authority of the LDS Church for nearly 35 years, and since 1995 the second councilor in that institutions highest earthly governing body, The First Presidency. In effect Elder Faust was the 3rd highest ranking figure in the LDS Church, yet he always carried himself with such a great sense of humility, and of being a servant not a leader.

James Esdras Faust was born July 31, 1920 in the rural town of Delta Utah, though by the time he reached high school age his family had moved to south Salt Lake. At Granite High School he played football and ran track, the latter of which he would continue to do competitively at Utah State University. However before starting his University studies James served a three-year mission to Brazil (1939-1942). He would come to love that country, and in later positions as a General Authority, was often given assignments related to the affairs of the Church in that nation. In 1998 Elder Faust was given a rare honorary citizenship by the Brazilin government, in account for his decades of service on behalf of the citizens of that country.

Upon returning from his mission Elder Faust served in the United States Air Corp during the Second World War, he achieved the rank of First Lieutenant. In 1943 he married Ms. Ruth Wright, whom he had known in High School, in the Salt Lake Temple. The couple had five Children, and as of his death on Friday, had 25 grandchildren, and 28 great-grandchildren.

After graduating from Law School Elder Faust got work at a Salt City law firm, he also became active in Democratic party politics. He served in the state legislator, and as Utah Chair for the party. He was appointed by President Kennedy to serve in the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights and Racial Unrest. At the time of his passing Elder Faust was probably the second most visible Democrat (next to Senate majority leader Harry Reid) in a Church that is very Republican by reputation. Faust would also serve on the board of the Deseret News Publishing Co. from 1970 to 1996, as well as a trustee of Ballet West.

In Church service Elder Faust became a Bishop at the young age of 28, and later a Stake High Councilor and Stake President, before being called to the now defunct position of Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1972. When that position was eliminated by President Kimball in 1975, Elder Faust was transferred to the newly restored First Quorum of the Seventy, and put in charge of the Church in South America. He was involved in the construction of the Temple in Sao Paulo, but also loaned out to do legal work involving Church efforts to build a permanent extended studies facility in Israel, a feet that was eventually accomplished.

In 1978 Elder Faust was called to fill the vacancy in the Quorum of the Twelve occasion by the death of Elder Delbert L. Stapley. An unassuming man, he was plucked out of relative obscurity in that body in 1995, when incoming Church President Gordon B. Hinckley taped the 75 year old Faust to serve as his second councilor. In that position he became a much loved figure, whose distinct slightly warbly voice, made him a combination of Jimmy Stewart and sage. He suffered from a very visible shaking in later years, necessitating his delivering some of his General Conference and other addresses, from a high-backed red chair. Elder Faust made his last public appearance at festivities in honor of President Hinckley’s 97th Birthday in June. He died early Friday morning, surrounded by his family, from what is being described as causes incident to old age. Elder Faust will be missed by all who have had the honor to be affected by his extraordinary life.

Friday, August 10, 2007