Faith

How a Mormon Scholar Went From Doubter to Believer

As an 11-year-old boy, Don Bradley went looking for gold plates.

After all, Mormon founder Joseph Smith said he was directed to a set of such plates, buried in a hill near his house in upstate New York.    

On a childhood visit to that hill, Bradley turned over lots of rocks, feeling certain he might find some sacred record overlooked by others.    

That quest for Mormon gold became a metaphor for Bradley's lifelong spiritual journey. It led him first to dig into Smith's history to enhance his LDS devotion and then to uncover uncomfortable facts and omissions in the faith's story, which bred disillusionment and distance.    

Eventually, Bradley's research helped bring him back to the Mormon fold, this time with a broader view of Smith's spiritual abilities.    

"I could describe many of the events of Joseph Smith's life, but I couldn't explain the thing that really mattered: why it all worked," Bradley, now 42, said in a July speech at the annual Sunstone Symposium, a conference in Salt Lake City for Mormon intellectuals. "Joseph Smith wasn't of interest because he'd been a merchant, a mayor, or even a much-married husband, but because he was the founder of a religion. And it was precisely the religious dimension I couldn't account for."    

Besides rediscovering Mormonism, Bradley learned how to balance faith and facts, science and spirituality, reason and revelation.  

Women's Rousing Political Convention Speeches Make Their Silence in the Church Deafening

I’ve attempted to catch some of the Republican National Convention last week and this week’s Democratic National Convention. Some of it has been educational, others infuriating, others confusing, and still, others very inspiring.  

I am listening and watching as I want to be more deeply educated and informed so I can steward the privilege of voting with care, prayer, and discernment. But thus far (and I know that the DNC has just gotten underway), one clear observation for me from both the RNC and DNC has been the amazing voices, words, leadership, and speeches from…the women.

The three that obviously stood out for me were the speeches delivered by Ann Romney, Condoleezza Rice, and Michelle Obama. Ann’s speech was heartfelt and compelling. Condoleezza’s speech was inspiring and dare I say it…”presidential.” And wow, Michelle Obama’s speech was simply riveting. I found myself in tears on couple occasions during the FLOTUS’ speech.

As I soaked in the inspiring speeches from these women, I was mindful of the incredulous fact that the 19th Amendment to the American constitution — allowing women to vote — only took place in 1920. Just 92 years ago and with that, America became just the 27th country to support “universal suffrage.”

Without any offense intended to others — especially the male speakers — their speeches were the clear highlights. I don’t care what others will do or say during the DNC from here on out, no one is going to top the speech delivered by Michelle Obama.

But this isn’t my attempt to say that women are better than men, more articulate than men, more intelligent than men, or any other nonsensical comparisons. Rather, I want to simply communicate how incomplete the conventions would have been without their voices, words, challenges, and exhortations.

Imagine if only men were allowed to speak.

UPDATE: Democrats RESTORE "God" to Party Platform

UDATE: (Posted 9/6/12)

Criticized by Republicans and some members of their own party, Democrats voted to restore the word “God” to the Democratic national platform late Wednesday (Sept. 5). The GOP had seized upon the omission as a failure of their opponents to appreciate the divine's place in American history.

GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan took to the airwaves early Wednesday to blast the change from the Democrats’ 2008 platform. “I guess I would just put the onus and the burden on them to explain why they did all this, these purges of God,” Ryan said on “Fox & Friends.”

Ryan also attacked the Democratic platform’s initial failure to affirm Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, an issue important to some American Jews and conservative Christians. After a voice vote at the party's convention in Charlotte, language about God and endorsing Jerusalem as the capital was added.

God is mentioned 12 times in the 2012 GOP platform. The 2008 Democratic platform made one reference to God: the “God-given potential” of working people. The 2004 platform had numerous references to God.

Sometimes Love is a Battlefield (Even with Jesus)

Jacob Wrestled the Angel. Photo by Tim & Selena Middleton via Wylio.

Jacob Wrestled the Angel. Photo by Tim & Selena Middleton via Wylio.

I've learned that women want things.

And this is good.

And mothers? They want good things — the best things — for their children.

Nestled almost dead-middle of what's considered to be the most Jewish of the gospels, we're presented with an unnamed, non-Jewish mother who is out of her element in almost every way. Her daughter is going through hell-on-earth: she's suffering from a demon. She needs a little bit of heaven to invade and save this situation.

So she heads to a Man, Who:

  • has been favorable towards women,
  • has been favorable towards non-jewish people,
  • has some experience with getting demons in line,
  • has proven to be the Expert of heaven-on-earth.

She pleads (loudly). Jesus blows her off (quietly). others get involved:

"Jesus, we really need You to do… a little bit more here."

So, Jesus, already seemingly out of character, acts in a manner continuing to be unlike Him:

"I'm not here for you."

Bromosapien: The Evolution of the Postmodern Male (Part 2)

Bromosapien hat. Image via Zazzle.com.

Bromosapien hat. Image via Zazzle.com.

A few examples of how clueless I am about male identity, and how mixed-up the gender roles are becoming, just in my own family:

I’ve never killed anything, at least on purpose. The only time I ever shot a gun was when my dad took me to the range and handed over his Ruger for a few rounds. I hated it. The noise was deafening, and the recoil scared the shit out of me.

I own a pathetic amount of tools for a man in his late thirties who has owned two homes. By my age, my dad and grandparents had staked their claim on the garage as exclusively male territory by covering every wall and bit of floor space with table saws, drills, vices and every wrench – standard and metric – anyone could ever need. I have more guitars than screwdrivers, and it was only a few years ago that I finally got straight in my head what the difference between channel locks and regular pliers is.

I like potpourri; my wife digs the nickel defense.

I changed more diapers in the first month of my son’s life than my dad ever did on me. I take care of the kids when Amy goes to meetings in the evenings, and I work from home every day.

I cry every time I watch Extreme Home Makeover. Amy records every episode of Real Sports on HBO. Oh, and I always cry when I watch that, too.

Damn you, Bryant Gumbel.

Expanding the Debate around Circumcision

A court in Cologne, Germany, recently ruled that circumcising young boys represents grievous "bodily harm." The court found that the child’s "fundamental right to bodily integrity" was more important than the parents’ rights. According to the court, religious freedom "would not be unduly impaired" because the child could later decide whether to have the circumcision.

In response to the ruling, some Jews and Muslims who practice circumcision for religious reasons have protested vehemently. Subsequently, German politicians pledged to pass a law to protect ritual circumcision of young boys. Israeli Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger even traveled to Berlin to defend Jewish circumcisions, and a complaint against a Bavarian rabbi for performing circumcisions drew the anger of the Anti-Defamation League. The legal and cultural dilemma inherent in the issue makes prompt resolution unlikely.

Most of Germany (and the world) does not circumcise. It is instinctively viewed as harmful. Here's why...

Q&A with ‘Nonbeliever Nation’ Author David Niose

[Editor's Note: David Niose is president of the American Humanist Association and vice president of the Secular Coalition for America, a group that lobbies on behalf of nontheist and secular Americans. In his new book, “Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans,” he charts the development and growth of the religious right and what he sees as the increasingly organized response from Americans who are committed to the separation of church and state. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.]

Q: You write about the 1912 presidential election as one in which all four candidates were sympathetic to evolution, science and religious skepticism. Today, a presidential candidate favors evolution at his or her peril. What’s changed?

A: What has changed is the environment of politics, particularly the level of political discourse. Thanks to the rise of the religious right, many candidates today actually emphasize their anti-intellectualism as a selling point to voters. Conservative Christians have always been part of the voter pool, of course, but only in recent decades have they been organizing and flexing their muscle as a voting bloc. Many candidates get mileage by pandering to conservative religion, by openly rejecting science and emphasizing their biblical literalist views.

Unification Church Founder Sun Myung Moon Dies at 92

(Date unknown) RNS photo by Chris Sheridan

Gesturing enthusiastically, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon delivers a sermon. (Date unknown) RNS photo by Chris Sheridan

The Rev. Sun Myung Moon, revered as a messiah within his Unification Church but regarded by many others as a vain and enigmatic man who blessed mass weddings, built a sprawling business empire and presided over a personality cult, died on Monday in South Korea. He was 92.

Moon had been in intensive care at a Seoul hospital since Aug. 7, according to his church. The cause of death was complications from pneumonia, including kidney failure.

Moon was born in 1920 in what is now North Korea, and rose from a home in which five siblings starved to death to become an ambitious man who harbored a lifelong hatred of communism, craved respect from the rich and powerful and professed a divine mandate to restore a fallen world. 

A Conversion of Connections in the Global Village

Global interconnectedness, Denis Cristo / Shutterstock.com

Global interconnectedness, Denis Cristo / Shutterstock.com

We are connected with people and places through ways and means unlike any previous generation. We live in a “global village." 

We are connected through worldwide round-the-clock television networks, rapid international travel, mobile phones, Skype, and wonders of the Internet. But while such connections are indeed profound, the bonds of our global village run far deeper, for we are also linked through global events and international endeavors. Whether it is sporting events like the Olympics, a royal wedding, or various natural disasters that capture worldwide attention and compassion, the reach and depth of our global village passes through time zones and crosses national boundaries. 

While these characteristics of the global village are astounding, our connections run even deeper as a result of the global process of production, distribution, consumption, and waste. In other words, the architects of our global economy intentionally linked local communities with others that are thousands of miles away. And so, while these massive multinational connections are often unnoticed in daily North American life, once we take a deeper look, we recognize that they are not only evident, but are also far from impartial.

Church No More: Part 6 — Back to Church Again

"Going Home" by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners, 2012. All rights reserved.

"Going Home" by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners, 2012. All rights reserved.

Editor's Note: This is the sixth and final installment of Presbyterian pastor Mark Sandlin's blog series "Church No More," chronicling his three-month sabbatical from church-going.

They say you can never go home again.

The thinking is that, having left and experienced new things, you have changed and the people back home have continued in their lives just as you left them. Your experience of going back home again necessarily will be very different from your experience of home as you remember it, even though it may have changed very little.

In many ways, Church is one of my homes and I left it. I walked away for three months and experienced a bit of life outside of it. The three months are up and I'm going back home. This coming Sunday (Sept. 2) will be my first Sunday back.

The saying “you can't go home again,” probably originated from Tom Wolfe's novel, You Can't Go Home Again. It's the story of an author who leaves his home, writes about it from a distance and then tries to go home again. It doesn't exactly go well. The folks in the town are none-too-happy about him airing their dirty laundry so publicly.

So, you can't go home again? Well, I'm going to try.

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