Defending the restored church of Christ - I created this blog several years ago to provide an alternative to what I saw at the time as a lot of bad "Mormon blogs" that were floating around the web. Also, it was my goal to collect and share a plethora of positive and useful information about what I steadfastly believe to be Christ's restored church. It has been incredibly enjoyable and I hope you find the information worthwhile.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Who was at the Last Supper? A Q&A with Tom Bissell

artwork by J. Kirk Richards

(by Emilie McFarlan Miller 3-25-16)

Tom Bissell says he doesn’t know many non-Christians who enjoy reading the Bible as much as he does.

A journalist and fiction writer, Bissell enjoys it enough to spend three years studying the stories of the Twelve Apostles and traveling around the world, from Jerusalem to Kyrgyzstan, to find their tombs. Now he’s written a book about it: “Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve.”
The author shared with RNS what he learned about the “lunkheaded and cowardly” crew Jesus first called to follow him and, later, to go and make disciples of all nations.

“I don’t think there’s ever a case where God himself picks 12 people who turn out to be so disappointing, and I find that really one of the most fascinating aspects of apostolic lore,” Bissell said.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: You write at the start of the book, “I have long believed that anyone who does not find Christianity interesting has only his or her unfamiliarity with the topic to blame. I think, in some ways, I wrote this book to put that belief to the test.” Did it pass the test?

A: It did. I think the way Christian tradition gets taught to us as children doesn’t really do anyone any favors. The average Christian thinks of the apostles as these people who, the minute Jesus ascended, looked at each other and said, “Let’s go start Christianity! You go here, and I’ll go there,” and they all marched off and founded Christian churches all over the world.

Of course, the real story is much more complicated and much more interesting.

Q: What made them so compelling and interesting to you?

A: In my 20s, I got the crazy idea to write a novel about the Apostle John. While I was working on that book, I read that John’s tomb in Selcuk, Turkey, is the only one that is empty. His remains went missing at some point in medieval times, and I thought, “Well, that’s interesting.” Then I joined the Peace Corps in Uzbekistan, and I read some Russian archaeologist in next-door Kyrgyzstan had discovered the supposed reliquary of Matthew, and I thought, “Gosh, that’s interesting, too.” Then one day in 2006, I was thinking, “What travel book should I write next?” And the thought popped into my head: An apostolic travel book.

Q: You start with Judas, who seems appropriate to talk about during Holy Week. You note the way Christians have thought about Judas has changed over the years. How?

A: Judas is a perfect window into Christian understanding of salvation. I write about Origen who came up with the idea of “universal reconciliation,” which held that all people will be redeemed in Christ eventually — even Judas. Of course, that changes as Christian theology develops. By the time Augustine is writing a couple hundred years later, Judas is the father of all evil.

And then in the last 100 years or so, you see a much different Judas take shape. Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel “The Last Temptation of Christ,” in which Judas is the hero of the book, presents us finally with the Judas I think we as people today are most comfortable with — Judas acting out of misplaced dedication to the cause of running the Romans out of Palestine.

We search for motives for Judas because he’s such a complicated figure and what he does is so theologically complicated. If Christ knows that Judas is going to betray him, is it really a betrayal? I’ve never really come up with a good answer to that.

Q: Was there an apostle you particularly resonated with or were surprised by?

A:The story in the Gospel according to John about Thomas’ doubt is super fascinating. Just think about that: He refuses to believe even though all his friends claim they’ve seen Jesus. In fact, he won’t believe until he’s put his fingers in the holes of his master’s hands, and then his master shows up: “Here I am! Touch the holes.” Despite him wanting proof of touching Jesus’ wounds, he doesn’t do it when he gives him the opportunity, and I find that really interesting.

His name means “twin,” and “twin” and “doubt” have an etymological relationship in a lot of languages — including Greek, including English. “Doubt” and “double” belong to the same cognate. This apostle named “Twin” because of the etymological idea of doubt is also the apostle who doubts Jesus.

Q: What did you learn about the apostles by going to the tombs and meeting the pilgrims and people there?

A: I call these apostolic sites “rationality cease-fire zones.” Most of the apostles have more than one resting place. That fact alone leads me to believe that in almost every case these bones do not belong to Galilean followers of Jesus. It kind of reaffirmed my sense that a huge part of what drove Christian relic collecting and relic honoring was, for lack of a better word, tourism.

The one tomb where I really felt a gust of almost holiness was Peter’s tomb under the Vatican, and that may be my residual Catholicism.

Q: You seemed particularly disappointed by your experience walking the 500-mile pilgrimage route to the Santiago de Compostela, the burial place of the Apostle James in Spain. But was your experience as a whole writing this book transformative?

A: When I started this book, it was filled with a lot of angry invective against biblical literalists. Once I let go of that angry atheist jet fuel that I had in my tank, (I had a) sense of wonder and sense of appreciation for Christian storytelling and its ability to affect even people of no particular faith like myself and to lay the groundwork for basically our entire civilization’s foundational story.

Without becoming a Christian, which I don’t think I’m capable of becoming at this point, I feel like there’s a hugely rich middle ground for people to appreciate these texts as basically the central stories to our entire way of thinking about things and learning to love them as complicated and weird and hard to understand. I wish we could all come to a place of better empathy and understanding for each other, believer and nonbeliever alike.


Friday, March 18, 2016

The problem of the half-churched Christian

(by David Gushee 4-17-16)

I imagine many casual observers of the religious and political scene have been baffled by the news that self-identified evangelicals who support Donald Trump, sometimes called Trumpvangelicals, tend to go to church less often than those evangelicals who do not support Trump. Don’t all evangelicals go to church all the time?

Well, no. And it’s not just evangelicals. The definition of commitment to churchgoing has been changing noticeably. This is visible to anyone attempting to keep a church afloat. Though I will speak out of nearly forty years of Baptist church experience, the pattern goes far beyond my group.

It used to be that a committed Baptist was in church three times a week: Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. Sunday morning offered Sunday School and worship. Sunday night included an evening Bible study and then another worship service. Wednesday night was church supper and prayer meeting. The seriously committed member often had another night of church: a committee meeting, visitation of church prospects, or community service. Total weekly time commitment: 6-8 hours, at least.

Today one still finds churchgoers who are in church “every time the doors are open,” which used to be one of our favorite Baptist phrases. Of course, those doors tend to be open less often. Many churches have entirely abandoned Sunday night services, Wednesday night church is fading, and some churches have even dropped Sunday morning Bible study.

But it’s not just that the doors are open less often. It’s that a smaller and smaller percentage of church members seem to be in church on the average Sunday morning. Regular church attenders are now defined as those who attend once or twice a month on a Sunday morning. The flock looks different every week because it is in fact a different group every week, a combination of die-hard weekly attenders, numerous sometime-attenders, and a steady flow of visitors.

There are indeed a lot of visitors. That’s because there are always people coming and going in the average congregation that I know. Commitment to any particular congregation often seems wafer-thin. People skip between multiple congregations or alight briefly one place before moving somewhere else.

This is about more than the mobile nature of US society. It’s about a weakening sense of what commitment to a church means, and must also be about failures on the part of many churches to be “sticky” enough to catch and hold people for any length of time.

I am wondering whether our virtual era helps people to feel like they are committed to a faith community even if they are rarely actually present. Podcasts, Facebook groups, email chains, and other means of communication seem to meet the church needs of some who rarely darken the doorstep of the church they say they attend. This is nice, I guess, but it’s hard to hug an internet connection.

So this is how pollsters can be finding a substantial group of “evangelical” Christians who are not often in church. Many, many people consider themselves Christians, or evangelicals, or Baptists, or even members of a particular congregation, but are in fact only very loosely described as active participants — at least by historic standards. They are not exactly what we used to call “nominal” Christians, because they are not just Christians in name only. They just define true Christian commitment more weakly than used to be the case.

This has multiple effects, most of them negative from my perspective. It becomes very hard to pastor a flock when the flock always changes. It is hard to feel deeply spiritually connected, hard to want to become vulnerable, to a group that is not stable in its membership. The mere whiff of conflict can terrify church leaders because it can accelerate the churn and potential loss of membership that is always a possibility anyway.

Perhaps most germane to the politics of the moment, it is hard for church leaders to teach anybody anything in a sustained manner if hardly anyone is present in a sustained manner. The more technical way to say it is that Christian spiritual and moral formation weakens because fewer congregants commit to that formation in any particular place. And pastors have reason to fear that just as soon as they say anything challenging — like about racial prejudice, greed, or violence — congregants who don’t like that message can drift out just as easily as they drifted in.

So, America has a whole bunch of half-churched Christians, some of whom would answer “evangelical” on a survey. This, I think, explains a lot about what is happening in our churches, and in society.


Monday, March 14, 2016

Sunday, March 13, 2016

KSL's Religion Today for November 2015

November 8th - the "controversy" surrounding handbook changes regarding same-sex marriage

November 15th - the differences between "peaceful" Islam and "radical" Islam

Monday, March 7, 2016

Beginnings: The Discovery of Nephi’s Bountiful

(by Warren Aston 4-11-14)

As the “keystone” of Mormonism, the Book of Mormon has drawn attacks by critics from the very beginning of the Restoration. One such person began publishing stolen pages of the manuscript even before it first appeared in print, using them to ridicule the new book and mock the young farmer who claimed he had translated it from gold plates. From that day until now, the book has been criticized on almost every point. Few of these attacks, however, have been as strident and sustained as those heaped upon Nephi’s story of his family arriving at a place of “much fruit and also wild honey” (1 Nephi 17: 5-6) and also timber suitable for building a ship (1 Nephi 18: 1-2).

That such a place could exist in the dry and inhospitable Arabian desert seemed impossible. “Arabia is bountiful in sunshine, petroleum, sand, heat, and fresh air,” wrote one critic as recently as 1985, “but certainly not in much fruit and also wild honey,‘ nor has it been since Pleistocene times.” The same article went on to claim that there has never been “ample timber“ in Arabia for building a ship. 1 Such statements were based on usually-authoritative sources such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica and the Encyclopaedia of Islam which denied the existence of rivers and forests anywhere in Arabia. 2

They are, as it turns out, completely wrong.

This is the story of how actual exploration in Arabia trumped armchair critics, revealing one of the most profound vindications of the Book of Mormon yet and shedding new light on Nephi‘s account.

(for the rest of the article please follow link)


Thursday, March 3, 2016

What Happened to the Cross?

What do we as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints really believe? What causes us to act as we do? How are we like other Christians? In what ways are we different?

At a time when the spotlight of the public scrutiny seems to be turned ever more intensely on the Latter-day Saints, respected author Robert L. Millet clearly describes the Church's crucial teachings in a way that's easy to understand — and to explain those of other faiths.

About the author

Robert L. Millet, Coordinator of Religious Outreach and former dean of Religious Education at Brigham Young University, is a professor emeritus of ancient scripture. After receiving bachelor's and master's degrees from BYU in psychology, he earned a PhD from Florida State University in religious studies. Brother Millet is a beloved speaker and the author of numerous books. He and his wife, Shauna, are the parents of six children.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Artist inspired by 'power and beauty' depicts LDS scripture, spiritual works

Christ Among the Lepers by J Kirk Richards

(by Celeste Tholen 2-29-16)

Using rich earth tones and deliberate, gritty brushstrokes and sculpting, J. Kirk Richards shapes his mediums into deeply religious pieces of art.

A gamut of artistic periods influence Richards; he draws inspiration from prehistoric art, as well as refined renaissance and baroque art, French naturalists and symbolists, as well as modernists, and religious artists like Carl Bloch and Minerva Teichert. Richards combines these influences into his unique style that feels all at once old and new, thanks to familiar color combinations and modern portraiture.  In recent years, Richards' work has been recognized by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through its International Art Competition, and he has collaborated with Deseret Book to publish an illustrated version of the Christ child's birth in "The Nativity." His work appears as the cover art for Jeffrey R. Holland's book "Broken Things to Mend," and the LDS Church has printed his work in various magazines.

Currently, his work hangs in the west lobby of the Church Office Building and a grouping of nearly 150 paintings hangs at the church's museum of history and art.

His exhibit "Beholding Salvation: The Life of Christ in Word and Image" was prominently shown at the Brigham Young University Museum of Art, and he also contributed to the PBS Frontline documentary "The Mormons: An American Experience."  But, he said, he has always created art for himself. He uses oil paint mostly, though he explores acrylic and mixed textural media, and in recent years, he has been sculpting clays and plaster. "It's important to me to resist being backed into a stylistic corner," Richards said. "I didn't paint for the LDS Church, for example, in my early career. I painted for myself and my friends. Fortunately, those friends have grown in number over the years and allowed me to continue to develop my own visual language. And it's nice that the church has deemed some of my work useable too."

Richards grew up in a creative home in Provo, where his parents enrolled him in music lessons for the piano and French horn at BYU. The fourth of eight children, Richards learned early to create. Inspired by the work he saw at the BYU fine arts building where his music lessons were, he switched his focus to visual arts as a teen.

"Music taught me to put feelings into my work," he said. "It taught me about phrasing, about texture, about emphasis, about variety — there are many principles that cross over from audio to visual." His mission for the church to Rome, Italy, gave him a chance to observe great religious art. Later, he graduated from BYU with a BA in visual studio arts and he apprenticed with an artist in Princeton, New Jersey.  He has since dedicated himself to his art. His work mostly explores Mormon scripture and Jesus Christ.  "I'm inspired by poetic phrases in the scriptures, by the power and beauty of the human figure, by devotional objects and architecture, by the beauty of the natural world," he said.

"I return to overtly spiritual themes again and again because I care about them. I care about community, service, healing, helping, reaching for individual potential. I love the poetry and romanticism of certain scriptural ideas and doctrines. Religious imagery ties me into a tradition of art making that's thousands of years old. Also, creating artwork helps me work out my own inner conflicts in constructive ways. I try to make work I would want to hang in my own home."

Richards lives in Woodland Hills with his wife Amy and their children. His wife is also a skilled artist, who focuses on small rural paintings.  "Amy inspires me in many ways. She is a hard worker and is as committed to our success as I am," he said. "We have similar, but of course not identical aesthetic tastes."

Richards said it is important to them that their children be creative in whatever way they choose. Their children play instruments, make art, explore film and pursue other creative outlets.

Richards actively shares his creative life online, utilizing Instagram to document it, show the progress of his pieces, and explain techniques or thoughts on processes.  "Technology has democratized artwork in many ways. It's easier than ever for an artist to show their work to the world," he said.

In addition to locations mentioned above, his artwork can be seen at Illume Gallery in Salt Lake City, at Writ & Vision in Provo, at Authentique Gallery in St. George, and at Foursquare Art in Mesa, Arizona. Prints of his art and books can be found at Deseret Book, the BYU Store, and other local galleries. In September, he will have a solo exhibit at BYU-Idaho's Spori Gallery.