Monday, December 21, 2015

The Death of Santa Claus

I spent today listening to my children sing at their School Christmas event. Two of my children stood quietly without singing during the performance out of protest and I could not not be prouder. I had not asked them to behave in this manner but I am sure the values we have taught them bore a heavy influence in how they perceived the program in which they were participating. In general I keep posts on this blog limited to non controversial scholarship but on this occasion I want to explore the American phenomenon of Santa Claus and lay out my own beliefs on the matter.

Many of my friends have often inquired of either myself or my family members as to why our family does not participate in the Santa Claus tradition. While we try to be kind to our neighbors who hold other opinions, we do not participate in movies or songs that focus primarily on Santa, nor do we keep his icons in our home. Our children are explicitly told that he is not real and we do not approve of his inclusion in Christmas. If asked to participate in Santa related activities they usually respond with something to the effect of “We don't believe in Santa Claus and would prefer to not participate in the rituals of his faith.” Yes, my six year old really talks that way.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Astronomy and the Book of Mormon

The constellation Orion under very long exposure

Examining the use of astronomy in the Book of Mormon is very different from my previous post in that there is little depth that can be explored from a linguistic perspective nor is there much that can be said from a cultural perspective with any certainty. The native peoples of the Americas had a love of the night sky and they used astronomy in construction of sacred buildings, calendar systems, and as a didactic teaching device telling the various sacred stories of their people. In these things they were similar to the old world. However, it is not possible to identify which of these cultural ideas have a direct tie to Nephite and Lamanite society.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Constellations in the Hebrew Bible

The Hebrew Bible makes several references to constellations. Sometimes these constellations are well understood and sometimes they are not. In this entry I want to take a look at four passages of scripture that reference constellations and examine what they reveal to us about the astronomy of the ancient Israelites.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Astrology

With the recent “super blood moon” and a Halloween asteroid (2015 TB 145) hurtling towards the earth, I felt inspired to do a series of posts on astrology and astronomy. There has been some press about Mormons and other Christians predicting the end of the world based on some of these phenomenon. The Church issued a statement and followed up with a blog entry which gives the details of some of that silliness. In my personal life I knew of no members of the church who were at all concerned by the blood moon and in fact I set up my scope in our tightly Mormon neighborhood and had half the ward watching the eclipse with me. The few people I did know who expressed concern were some coworkers, most of whom have no particular religion but seem to enjoy conspiracy theories and most predictions that the world is coming to an end only to disappointedly have to return to work on Monday.

Monday, August 17, 2015

On Seer Stones

This week has had a lot of buzz over the release of pictures of Joseph Smiths seer stone. As I was deeply involved in getting things ready for a trip to Nauvoo and even now am in Navoo as I write this, Church history has been on my mind. I was quite excited when the pictures were released and was soon exchanging excited texts with a friend of mine over the matter. What took me by surprise was the members who were upset about this. Some claimed that they had never heard of seer stones and were deeply bothered that the story was not as straightforward as the Primary lesson they learned as a Sunbeam. Admittedly, much of the concern I was hearing was from the “concern trolls” who never had any faith to loose over the matter but will pine away wringing their hands about the Church's “secrecy”. Somewhere in the mix though there do seem to be some members who legitimately had no clue that Joseph used seer stones. I am legitimately concerned about such members but cannot help but conclude that a lifetime of incuriosity has been the catalyst of their delima more than any action of the Church. I have known about this information since I was a teenager. I would also point out some of the fallacies that are being circulated by would be historians. Let's look at a few:

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Return to Old Nauvoo

My family and I are on vacation in old Nauvoo this week. This is the first I have been here in almost 25 years. Much has changed and much has not. For example there is no better cell phone coverage than existed 25 years ago (of course no one had a cell phone then). We arrived on Saturday morning which was the last day of the young performing missionaries on site. These are a bunch of fresh faced kids (18-26) that sing, dance, act, perform in a brass band, and generally lend their youthful exuberance to the atmosphere of the place. I engaged a few of them in conversation and watched their performances with great delight. It is wonderful to have such talent and excitement in the Church. It reminds me of younger days long gone by.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Apologetics

I have been pondering a way to explain my position on apologetics. I have a deep respect for several writers that identify as apologetical writers, including Daniel Peterson, FAIR Mormon, and much of the classic FARMS publications. These writings have been of value to me personally as I have had questions from time to time and helped others who have had questions. Most of the questions have arisen from various opposition literature that has been circulated. Growing up in the Deep South I had plenty of exposure to this literature as many well meaning friends attempted to rescue me from my certain damnation in a fiery hell due to my Mormon theology. I have over the years stayed current on claims against our theology, history, and lifestyle choices. I have assisted many people who have struggled with questions and even crises of faith, sometimes with success and sadly, sometimes not. I have watched with interest the recent debate between Bill Hamblin and Phillip Jenkins and appreciated points made on both sides and was pleased that both men were able to avoid resorting to homicide. In the end I have a difficult time explaining then why attempting to produce such writing bores me so.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Leviathan

Man has explored the sea since before history began. There lies adventure and danger as well as riches and rewards. This has called young men (and some young women) wanting to prove themselves to its excitement. Inherent to this adventure has been the fascination with the mysteries of the sea. It assuredly teems with life of great variety. Hidden beneath the waves man has always known there are massive creatures, some of them deadly and hostile. Creatures that could easily smash the fragile vessels that men rely on for survival. These same creatures live and move effortlessly in an environment where man cannot. The sea with its roiling surface and unknowable icy depths provides the ultimate example of chaos. It's waves constantly claw their way trying to overwhelm the solid land yet are held in check by an invisible force. What lies under that dark surface? What allows the solid land to stay afloat on top of it?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

They Might Be Giants

Discussing with a friend of mine the various aspects of mythology and particularly mythical creatures mentioned in the Bible and how they are sometimes sanitized in translation, I decided to complete a post I have been working on for some time. These mythic elements are there and while I do not feel bound to treat them all as literal, and I do not know if the original authors thought them literal, they must nonetheless be understood in their original context. We need not have a translator shield our eyes from what the text plainly says. This post therefore will deal with the subject of giants.

The Bible mentions various races of giants. The giant stories seem to have been restricted to the earliest, somewhat legendary histories of national origins of the various peoples in the area including some great stories of Israel's founding heroes. If you are a fan of the documentary hypothesis you will find that the giant stories do not come from a single textual tradition although some names for the giants might be specific to certain sources.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Scriptures and History

I recently had lunch with a few friends and I seem to have upset one of them when I suggested the story of Sampson was more legend than history. The thought was that I was "doubting scripture". I found this interesting as over the last few months I have witnessed and participated in several online debates about the historicity of scripture. In these debates I was generally on the conservative side arguing that scripture did describe historical events with relative accuracy. Here I found myself at a table of people I respected and was now being challenged for doubting historical accounts. I have been pondering this and trying to decide where I fit on the spectrum of scriptural interpretation.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

What is Man?

Each month my family memorizes a scripture. Every other month I make them memorize a scripture in Hebrew because I am just geeky like that. This month we are memorizing one of my favorites, Psalm 8. I would like to share some thoughts on it along with my personal translation. When choosing these verses I told my family that there were astronomy themes, creation themes and exaltation themes.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Celebrating the Passover


In this blog entry I will be publishing an older essay I wrote some years ago as an introduction to our family haggadah explaining the Passover celebration that will be happening this Friday. I worry my blogging is coming apart as competing priorities have taken precedence over writing. This year a convergence of deaths in the family, real estate purchases, and Passover/Easter/General Conference combined with the ordinary hectic life of a family of 6 have made for a shortage of spare time. Perhaps I will soon have a quite moment to catch up. Please enjoy the following. Chag Semeach.
Seder Plate

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Italics in the King James Version

I had a young sister in my ward ask me an insightful question a few weeks ago wondering about the italicized words she sees in the Bible and wondering what their significance was. I gave her a quick answer there but I thought I would expand on it a bit more here. It is a common thing that many people read past without ever knowing why it is used.

The Trap of the Long Post

It seems I have fallen into the trap of the long post. As anyone reading my blog may have observed, my posts tend to be long and involved. While they do not always reach the level of a research paper they do often contain lots of footnotes and I spend a fair bit of time making sure that I am not saying something totally stupid. At times I can get into a topic that just seems to endlessly expand from what I want to say. I have fallen into that over the last few months and I currently have a post that I am very pleased with but is only half written so far. Meanwhile my blog seems very stagnate, not exactly the way to stay on the top of anyone's reading list. Additionally it takes a great deal of mental effort to dive into a long and complicated post. The realities of life often mean that after a busy day at work I often pick up my notes and think "I should work on this...Hey the kids just turned on Scooby-Doo. That requires much less mental effort. Maybe I should just watch that instead. I wonder if Velma will loose her glasses again..." As a result I realize it's been a few weeks since I made good progress on this long post and I have been avoiding it. I think the solution is that I need to keep some lighter posts going as well and not focus so intently on a single subject at once. I have some simple ideas for shorter posts and I believe I will be working on a few of those to keep the site fresh. So I will be committing to try to post more frequently here.